Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2015

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Harry Reid, Sharron Angle polar opposites with views of economy

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Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid debated economic and other issues only once, on Oct. 14. Vegas PBS' Mitch Fox, center, moderated.

With early voting under way in the race that will serve as the nation’s No. 1 referendum on Washington’s response to the recession, the Clintonian adage “It’s the economy, stupid” seems like a gross understatement. Nevadans have been thrust front and center as they decide whether to keep Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or replace him with Sharron Angle.

Although the candidates may agree on what the problem is, they couldn’t disagree more on how to bring about solutions.

Republican — and Tea Party favorite — Angle and Democrat Reid are about as far apart as you can get on the spectrum of economic philosophies. She’s a free-market purist; he believes the government has to play a direct role in creating jobs, providing services and regulating the type of industry behavior that led to the cataclysmic crash.

That basic difference in approach is at the root of nearly every acerbic fight that has permeated this campaign, often to the point of overshadowing what tangibles each candidate offers to improve Nevadans’ lot.

Perhaps the bitterest barbs have been traded over health care. Angle has stated unequivocally that she wants to “repeal Obamacare,” referring to the health care overhaul that Congress passed, under Reid’s stewardship, this year.

The bill, which Reid says is necessary to protect Nevadans from a runaway industry that dominates about 20 percent of the national economy, would impose a series of mandates on insurance companies, including requirements to cover people regardless of pre-existing conditions. That all comes with a cost, although Reid points out that the cost of Medicare will fall in Nevada.

In their only debate, Angle said she doesn’t think insurance companies should be held to any coverage mandates, and that the free market will weed out the more expensive agencies that operate in bad faith. Reid scoffed at the idea of letting insurance companies go unregulated: “Insurance companies don’t do things out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it out of a profit motive, and they have almost destroyed our economy.”

Angle also promotes a limited government role when it comes to replenishing jobs lost during the recession.

“It’s not your job to create jobs,” she said to Reid during the debate. “It’s your job to create policies that create the confidence for the private sector to create those jobs.”

Reid says he’s tried to do just that through a small-business investment bill that Congress adopted last month, through funding research and development in renewable energy and by creating incentives for those firms to do business in Nevada.

Reid has identified the green jobs wave popularized under the Obama administration as Nevada’s best ticket out of the recession. His plan focuses chiefly on renewables that, in Nevada, mainly means solar power. Reid has said he wants to turn the Silver State into the Silicon Valley for green jobs.

A new renewable energy standard that Congress is expected to at least try to adopt during the lame-duck session — 15 percent renewables by 2021 — would give that industry another push.

Angle’s energy and job-creation plans steer clear of Reid’s renewables, instead promoting domestic oil exploration, coal mining and harvesting natural gas. But she promotes energy-related job creation through a controversial means here in Nevada: Yucca Mountain.

Although Angle maintains she’s against using the area as a dumping ground for the nation’s nuclear waste, she promotes turning Yucca Mountain into a reprocessing facility. That would bring jobs to the state, Angle says, in a cutting-edge industry that would also help the nation keep its energy costs in check.

Although that may address one concern about the Yucca proposal — dumping spent fuel straight into the ground — it doesn’t address what are in some ways the more widespread concerns about safe transportation. The fuel, not yet reprocessed, would still have to be brought to Nevada and once it gets here, Reid says, there “isn’t enough water in the whole state” to guarantee that reprocessing could be effective.

On other local issues of import, the candidates’ stances are less clear. For instance, it’s difficult to pin Angle down on gaming and tourism — long the backbone of the state’s economy — except that she blames Reid’s policies for exacerbating the state’s woes. The centrality of gaming and tourism is also what’s helped precipitate Nevada’s continued free fall through recession, while other states have begun to show signs of recovery.

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President Barack Obama signs the tourism bill.

Although our senior senator has made disdainful quips about smelly tourists in the Capitol, he’s eager to bring them to Nevada, backing, along with Sen. John Ensign, a tourism-promotion bill that recently took effect. The measure establishes a national marketing agency for U.S. tourism, paid for by a one-time $14 entry fee for visitors — although that last bit is causing some grumbling from Europeans used to preferred status travel under the U.S.’s various visa-waiver arrangements.

But both Reid and Angle have shied away from endorsing Internet gambling, the fastest-growing gambling market, and a subject of which Nevada’s casinos are of mixed minds. Angle has almost completely avoided the issue; Reid has taken steps to support online poker, although he has also made recent statements that he won’t extend that support to other casino games. The push to legalize Internet gambling seemed set to make bold steps forward next Congress under the stewardship of Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., but it’s not clear where that momentum will turn if the House flips to a Republican majority.

It’s similarly tough to do a direct comparison between Angle and Reid on high-speed rail. Beyond criticizing Reid for wasting federal dollars on the all-but-run-aground maglev project, Angle hasn’t voiced an opinion about high-speed rail. Reid, meanwhile, now backs the steel-wheel-on-rail DesertXpress.

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A rendering shows a DesertXpress train, which is expected to reach a top speed of about 150 miles per hour and travel between Victorville, Calif., and Las Vegas.

When it comes to mining, both want to see the 1872 Mining Law remain intact, although the traditionally conservative industry has come out in vociferous support of Reid, saying he’s the only one who can guarantee that the state arrangement for miners will be preserved.

The heads of these local industry associations — gaming, tourism, mining — have come out in support of Reid.

But except for those directly involved, Nevada’s boutique issues aren’t moving people to the polls. Rather, it is Nevadans’ lot as the nation’s worst-off in areas with national sweep — unemployment and foreclosures.

In its heyday, Nevada floated on the housing bubble; now burst, lawmakers haven’t been able to do much to stem the tide of foreclosures. Reid did push a loan modification program for underwater homeowners through Congress, and under pressure from his office, Bank of America agreed this month to issue a moratorium on foreclosure proceedings. But that was perhaps more because of a national scandal about faulty procedures than congressional pressure in the wake of the housing crisis. (The moratorium has since been lifted for 23 states, but still exists in Nevada.)

Reid has promised that new government regulations on big lenders recently adopted by Congress “will stop these greedy bankers on Wall Street from taking advantage of homeowners,” but he acknowledges, “We have to do more, of course.”

It’s a similar story on unemployment. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the stimulus saved 3.3 million jobs of the more than 8 million lost in the recession, but that’s still a net drop of almost 5 million jobs. Nevada is also one of those states where unemployment has risen steadily, especially for the long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work so long that they have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment checks and are no longer being counted as part of the workforce.

That picture of only partial remedies has made it difficult for Reid to get any rise in the polls because of his work on the stimulus, even if, as independent economists say, it was successful in making a massive economic disaster less destructive.

Angle has been able to capitalize on these statewide frustrations without having to get into specifics on counterproposals. But her calls for “lifting the fog of taxation and regulation” on businesses as a remedy for the economy do fit with her overall message of getting the government out, and things will right themselves.

To bring about that end, she says she has a prescription: privatize, localize and downsize. The first part of that recipe is to keep taxes low. Angle supports an across-the-board extension of the Bush tax cut plan that, without congressional action, will kick up tax rates by 3 percent at all income levels at year’s end (affecting 2011 taxes).

That proposal would add $4 trillion to the national deficit over 10 years. President Barack Obama and Reid back a more limited extension of the same tax cuts, affecting the first $250,000 of every family’s income only, a ceiling that 97 percent of the country falls below. That proposal would add $3 trillion to the deficit over the same time period.

Beyond that, Angle says, we need to start cutting. Cut spending, scale back unemployment insurance, privatize Social Security and get rid of federal institutions such as the Education Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Reid doesn’t support those cuts.

But that’s perhaps the best illustration of how in the end, as tangible as Nevada’s problems are, the decision for voters on whom to trust to fix them really will come down to a decision between philosophical opposites. Insider versus outsider. Big versus small. Chisel versus hacksaw. The guiding hand of government versus free market. It’s not exactly Keynes versus Smith, but it’s close.

This story first appeared in the current issue of In Business Las Vegas, a sister publication of the Sun.

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