PARKSIDE—With strong endorsements from four prominent Jamaica Plain elected officials, US Rep. Mike Capuano made a high-energy pitch for why he should be promoted to the US Senate at Doyle’s Café Nov. 22.
The Sunday morning event drew over 100 people to a back room at the storied Washington Street political pub—“The church of politics in Jamaica Plain,” said Capuano, who represents most of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Chelsea.
“I may be looking at every voter in JP right now,” Capuano quipped to the audience. The expected low turnout in the Dec. 8 primary election appeared to be both a source of frustration and a strategic consideration for the Senate candidate.
“This is the most important election in 25 years…It is critically important…Whoever wins will be the next US senator and will probably be there for 20 years or more,” he said. “What are they going to do, and can you be sure?”
He later described the projected turnout as “obscene,” but said he expects that well-informed voters will have an outsized influence at the polls.
Capuano’s 11 years in the House have proven he is an effective federal legislator, he said. He used the race’s hottest issues to date to make his point.
Earlier this month, Capuano and candidate Attorney General Martha Coakley got in a dust-up over an amendment included in recently passed House health care legislation that would not allow federally subsidized health care plans to cover abortions. Capuano voted for the bill. Coakley said she would have voted against it.
Capuano hammered Coakley for her statement, saying in a press release that it “demonstrates the fundamental lack of understanding of the legislative process as well as underlining a fundamental difference between Martha Coakley and me…[A] legislator must have the skills to build consensus and the courage to make difficult decisions, and the wisdom to know when to choose progress over perfection.”
The day after that Nov. 9 press release was issued, Capuano issued another statement clarifying that he would vote against a final health care bill that includes the abortion restrictions.
At the Nov. 22 “Open Mike” session—one of over 50 he has hosted throughout the state—Capuano attempted to recast what seemed like a public relations gaffe as a lesson about the legislative process.
Legislators have at least “three bites at the apple” regarding health care—in the House and Senate, and then in conference committee when the bills passed by the two bodies are reconciled— Capuano said.
“The leading candidate [Coakley] said, ‘No, kill the bill, end the debate.’” That would have “killed it at the first step,” he said.
But, Capuano said, he was also not impressed with the position taken by the two other Democratic challengers in the race, City Year founder Alan Khazei and businessman Steve Pagliuca.
At a recent Greater Boston Interfaith Organization candidates forum attended by the Gazette, both of them said they would vote for a final bill that includes the abortion-restriction amendment, and would then fight to have it overturned.
“I am not going to make a vote to send poor women back into alleys to die,” Capuano said at his Nov. 22 event. He said he is confident the abortion restrictions will not be in the final bill.
All of the candidates’ positions have been presented in the press, but Capuano said he was frustrated that the implications of those positions have not been analyzed more closely. “People who want to make a big deal out of this have an obligation to figure it out,” he said.
And he said he is keeping an eye on other pieces of the health care legislation as it moves forward, including mechanisms to insure that geographic dispersions of federal health care funding take local cost of living into account.
The idea, he said, is that since “you can live better on $50,000 a year in North Dakota,” than in Massachusetts, subsidies should be higher for Massachusetts families living on $50,000.
While geographic dispersions are not “part of the great debate” on health care, the Massachusetts delegation is working to secure close to $2 billion a year for those cost-of-living subsidies, Capuano said.
He also said he is relying heavily on standing relationships with health care professionals to help him vet the over 2,000-page health care bill.
“I have over 100,000 people in my district who work in the health care industry,” Capuano said, comparing mastering the details of the bill to having instant recall of the fine details of “Moby-Dick.”
When asked about cuts in Medicare spending, he said his discussions with people “in the health care business” have not unearthed any major concerns about those proposals. If serious concerns emerge, “I will change my position,” he said.
Throughout the event Capuano repeatedly emphasized that his goal was to answer any questions put to him.
In response to audience questions, he said he supports comprehensive immigration reform. “I think we need a full-blown immigration policy,” he said, calling for yearly reevaluation of labor needs in the United States as a basis for how many new residents will be accepted into the country.
“Some years, that means you don’t bring anybody in,” he said.
Capuano said he believes arguments that immigrants to the United States place downward pressure on the job market are false. He said that with an annually adjusted policy, “The argument that immigrants are coming in and taking our jobs” would be harder to make.
Capuano said that policy should be combined with “strong border” policy and a “path to citizenship.”
He said it is unlikely amnesty will be offered to undocumented immigrants in the absence of new immigration policy, and he is not confident that the Obama administration will have an easy time getting one passed next year because it is an election year.
He said he thought the American Relief and Recovery Act was not “big enough or targeted enough,” saying that he would have liked to see tax breaks offered in the bill “tied to the creation of jobs.”
Capuano also said he had pushed for more funding for public infrastructure improvements, partly because that is the fastest way the government can create jobs. “We know how to get a bridge fixed and a subway system expanded,” he said.
With the recession continuing to drag on, “We are not going to create jobs in the private sector alone,” he said.
Capuano has written to Obama urging the president to use $260 billion in available funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program—funds initially dedicated to bailing out troubled financial institutions—for job creation.
Capuano said he believes the President would be able to re-direct those funds without congressional approval.
He said he has consistently voted against and is opposed to the No Child Left Behind Act because of its emphasis on high-stakes testing.
He said he supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which would loosen the rules for shop-votes to join unions by counting individual workers signing up for membership in the union as votes for union representation. He also said he supports strengthening shareholder oversight of corporate boards as one way to improve corporate fiscal responsibility.
Asked about reports that he had missed a lot of votes in the House, Capuano said he had a 98 percent voting record heading into the Senate Primary in September. “I never missed [an important] vote, and I never will, ever,” he said.
Capuano received endorsements from state Reps. Liz Malia and Jeff Sánchez as well as JP’s district City Councilor John Tobin, and newly minted citywide “at large” City Councilor-elect Felix G. Arroyo—all of whom said they have strong, long-standing relationships with the legislator.