U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., is facing opposition from a former federal agent in the Democratic primary race for the U.S. House of Representatives District 1 seat.
Dan Whittacre, a retired U.S. Air Force captain and Vance County teacher from Henderson, made his first bid for political office Feb. 28 when he filed to challenge Butterfield.
“The great issue facing us now is the role of the federal government in providing a social safety net for low-income and middle class families,” Butterfield said. “The government spends $3.6 trillion per year in providing support for the American people, and most of that money goes to good causes like Social Security, Medicare, low-income heating assistance, food stamps and unemployment compensation. We have to make some cuts in federal expenditures.”
Those decisions are about evaluating values and whether or not the cuts should come to social programs, he said.
“We should balance the budget by cutting where we can, but I also believe in increasing revenue and requiring millionaires to pay more in federal taxes,” Butterfield said.
Medicare also is a program that needs to be reinforced, Butterfield said.
“It is a very expensive program which will exhaust all of its assets unless we reform,” Butterfield said. “However, it is irresponsible to reform Medicare by ending Medicare (as Republicans are calling for).”
As a blue dog Democrat and former federal agent with the Department of Health and Human Services, Whittacre said his job was rooting out Medicare and Medicaid fraud and his goal is to conserve money and spend it where needed.
“We need to institute simple changes, like making Medicare a secondary payer for individuals who already have medical insurance from their previous employer. That would save quite a bit of money,” Whittacre said.
He also said he would like to focus on fulfilling the promises made to veterans returning from war zones.
“When they transition from military life to civilian life, we need to focus on all of their needs,” Whittacre said. “I’m also the only candidate calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. We need to maintain a stabilizing force there and help them rebuild their country, but we need to bring our troops home.”
Butterfield said Democrats already have proven their commitment to supporting veterans.
“We are proud of what we have been doing to support the needs of our veterans. We made a commitment that, if you serve our country, you will have benefits the rest of your life,” Butterfield said. “We have dramatically improved services at the VA, and have invested billions of dollars in supporting them.”
Whittacre said he would like to see the No Child Left Behind Act repealed, he said.
“No Child Left Behind has mired the education system in my opinion. We need to put education back in the hands of the state,” Whittacre said. “We need to revitalize vocational and technical training as well, and any funding from the federal level would be a boom to education.”
It takes money to fund public education, Butterfield said, and Eastern North Carolina has not had the resources to invest in public education as some of the more affluent areas of the state.
“Many of the facilities are not 21st century facilities – the technology is lacking, there are a lot of homes with no high-speed internet access and performance at rural schools is down,” Butterfield said. “Our job as policy makers is to level the playing field, so a student in Edgecombe County Public Schools has the same education as a student in Chapel Hill or Orange County.”
Republicans say the government has no role to play in housing, infrastructure and economic development, Butterfield said.
“The N.C. state government does not have the resources, and the counties don’t have the capacity to do it by themselves,” he said. “I want to continue to advocate for better infrastructure. That is more than just water and sewer. It is recreation, educational facilities and safe streets. We’ve got to start improving infrastructure now.”
The economy has been in the tank for years and people want to see faster growth, Whittacre said.
“Coming out of the Depression-era, growth was substantially faster because of the (Civilian Conservation Corps camps). We’re paying an entire segment of our society to not work right now,” Whittacre said. “That needs to change. If you are receiving funding, we’ve got a job for you, whether it is cleaning up parks, working on roads or supplementing janitorial staff at schools.”
The government needs to instill in the American people that sense of pride that suffered as a result of massive job loss, he said.
“We need to be true stewards of the dollars and cents of the American people,” Whittacre said.
Whittacre said he supports not just a balanced budget, but rather a surplus budget.
“There is a lot of lip service in politics because politicians don’t want to put out an idea for fear it might be ridiculed,” Whittacre said. “We need leaders, not mere legislators, and that is what I propose to be. I’m going to go to (Washington) D.C. and put forth legislation when it needs to be put forth, and repeal legislation that isn’t working.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face Republican candidate Pete DiLauro of Weldon and Libertarian candidate Darryl Holloman of Goldsboro, in November’s general election.