Last night I dropped in on Congressman Chris Murphy’s town hall on his jobs plan. The event was originally cast as a debate between Murphy and Linda McMahon, the Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Connecticut, but McMahon chose not to attend. In spite of this she sent a large cohort of her supporters to the waive signs outside the venue and occupy the seating. Politically I’d say this event was a wash. The room was packed with partisans from both sides and nobody was going to switch. However the media showed up. So did Chris Murphy.
The night began with Murphy laying out the foundation of his economic plan: tax reform, strengthening American manufacturing, and investing in transportation, education, and renewable energy. A signature of the campaign has been his push to have the government to buy more goods from American companies. He explained that we need to tackle our spending but by moving that spending back to America we can cut the budget and increase or maintain economic activity at home. I think most people can get behind these, but Murphy astutely noted some of these will be easier than others. For example many tax deductions or loopholes have groups of people that fought for them and are there for a reason. Murphy is both a dreamer, unafraid to set big goals, and a realist at the same time.
Then he took audience questions. Murphy, unscripted and raw, tackled the intricacies of policy from the impact of Dodd-Frank to farm subsidies. Murphy was unafraid to get into specifics like suggesting we stop providing the farm subsidies for large agro-businesses but keep them for smaller farmers. Murphy also told the story of a pizza shop owner who he met that explained how much paperwork and cost goes into starting a business. Chris made it clear that he did not want to suspend important regulations that ensure the air and water are clean but that we should take a look at the regulations impacting small businesses and eliminate the ones that are not helpful or phase them in at a later stage in the life of the business. Murphy’s solutions were not just off-the-cuff; it was clear he searched for data and stories from his constituents and used that information to formulate these policy suggestions.
Linda McMahon’s staff people handed out copies of her economic plan at the debate. I took a copy and there were some places that she agreed with Murphy. For example Linda supports getting rid of the agriculture subsidies as well (although her plan seems to indicate she would eliminate all of them). She also wants to get rid of tax loopholes and reduce regulation on businesses. However they support removing different types of regulations. Murphy supports healthcare reform and Dodd-Frank while Linda opposes it. So while they might concur on a few basic principles, they quickly diverge when it comes to the details.
The biggest difference between Murphy and McMahon seems to be the approach to creating jobs. McMahon wants to make a large number of changes to the tax code. For example she suggests increasing educational tax deductions. This might be helpful for an older person that is going to school but for full-time students that don’t make enough money to pay taxes it does little to nothing. In contrast Murphy proposes doing things like investing money in transportation infrastructure which has been shown to produce economic activity in Connecticut since we are so close to New York City and Boston. The takeaway is that Murphy is an investor while McMahon will fight for tax cuts and prey that if people have more money they will spend it.