To Kevin Boyd, first-term U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman is part of the problem.
Boyd, the Democratic candidate for Congress in northeast Indiana's 3rd District, says he agreed to run because he wants to change the partisan gridlock in Washington – a problem he blames largely on Stutzman and his fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives.
“What convinced me to run is, I've watched Congress and it's been so dysfunctional, for the last few years especially,” Boyd said. “When it's time to do the work, they haven't done it.”
But the challenger faces an uphill climb to unseat Stutzman. A pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne and an employee of Brotherhood Mutual Insurance, Boyd is running against the well-funded incumbent in a district that went for Stutzman by almost 30 percentage points two years ago.
Listing some of his key issues, Boyd said he would like to raise taxes on upper-income people; raise the national minimum wage; protect Medicare, food stamps and other entitlements from cuts; and reduce federal control of education.
Stutzman, meanwhile, says his priorities include reforming the tax code – by getting rid of most deductions and loopholes while keeping rates flat – getting the $16 trillion national debt under control and fighting off regulations on business.
Anxiety over these issues is hurting family income and making businesses reluctant to expand, Stutzman said.
“I'm hearing a lot of uncertainty, that we don't know what the tax rates are going to be, the regulatory environment long term,” Stutzman said.
Here's how Boyd and Stutzman stack up on a few key issues.
Boyd says Congress ought to let current tax rates – widely known as the “Bush-era” tax cuts, even though President Obama granted an extension – expire for households that earn at least $250,000 a year.
He told The News-Sentinel that he supports an increase of the maximum tax rate to 39.5 percent – the maximum rate under President Clinton – from the current 35 percent. He also said Congress should raise capital gains taxes and get rid of practices such as carried interest – the concept that allowed Mitt Romney to pay a 15 percent tax rate.
However, even though Boyd disagrees with Romney's now-famous assertion that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes, he also said he would support a minimum income tax rate – perhaps 2 percent – to broaden the tax base and ensure that even low-income people contribute.
Stutzman said he believes the Bush-era tax cuts should be allowed to continue, arguing that to raise taxes on anyone in the slow economy would only make matters worse.
“For Washington to let (the tax rates) expire would be irresponsible,” Stutzman said. “Right now is not the time to let taxes go up on anybody.”
However, Stutzman said he would like to see the entire federal tax code revised, establishing a flat income tax rate for most Americans while doing away with almost every deduction and loophole.
The Republican called for the elimination of every tax deduction except for the mortgage deduction – which he said encourages homeownership – and write-offs for charitable giving. Getting rid of deductions and loopholes would allow the government to set up a lower, flat tax rate, he said.
Boyd criticized the idea of using deep spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit, saying cuts to social programs would hurt the poor and elderly. Instead, he voiced general support for “sensible” cuts where possible, but mainly for increased taxes on the country's top earners.
“We can't just cut our way out of the deficit and debt we have,” he said. “You don't harm those who are most vulnerable.”
In contrast, Stutzman said he would leave everything on the table – including some cuts to military spending – when it comes to reducing the roughly $1 trillion annual deficit. He also pointed to Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps as possible areas to cut.
“We need to go back to the drawing board and look at everything,” he said.
Stutzman made two specific proposals. First, Congress should employ “flat-line” budgeting that assumes no automatic spending increases from year to year. Then, Congress ought to cut all government spending by 1 percent across the board from this year's budget and hold spending at that level for 10 years, he said.
Under a deficit reduction deal passed by Congress last year, $100 billion in across-the-board annual cuts will automatically kick in at the end of 2012 unless lawmakers can agree on other ways to cut spending by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
As an example of the partisan – some call it “toxic – atmosphere in Washington, Boyd pointed to the failure of Congress to pass a full farm bill or emergency relief for farmers who faced a devastating drought this year.
Two different packages of drought aid stalled in a standoff between the two chambers of Congress.
The Senate approved a disaster aid plan as part of a full farm bill, but House GOP leaders refused to bring the bill to a vote. The House later passed a $383 million drought relief package, but Congress left town for recess before the Senate could vote on it.
“We didn't have any emergency drought relief because the houses couldn't work together,” Boyd said. “Our farmers are dealing with the effects of the drought, and it adds another level of uncertainty going forward.”
Stutzman said he opposed the Senate farm bill because 80 percent of its funding – about $80 billion per year – would have gone toward the federal food stamp program, not farms.
Stutzman said he supports a farm bill that would cut about $20 million annually from the food stamp program and another $20 million from farm programs. But Congress also ought to split food stamps and farm policy into separate bills to avoid wasteful spending, he said.