Exclusive Q&A: Senators John McCain & Barack Obama

Hispanics are more likely to be uninsured than all other major ethnic groups in the U.S. What would you do to ensure that health care is not a luxury?

Obama: If you already have health insurance, we’re gonna work with your employer and the system as a whole to reduce your premiums by up to $2500 per family per year. If you don’t have health insurance, then we are going to provide you insurance similar to the insurance that I have as a member of Congress. You will have choice of doctors, we’ll crack down on insurance companies who are denying claims, we’ll negotiate for the cheapest available price on drugs and we will emphasize prevention so that people are getting regular check-ups, regular screenings. We are going to focus on making sure that the system is more efficient so that we’re getting more for our dollar and we will subsidize those who currently can’t afford it. So my goal is to make sure that there’s nobody out there who wants health insurance who can’t get it through our program.

McCain: I would give every family in America a $5,000 refundable tax credit so that they could go across state lines and get the health insurance policy that they need and want. And then I would attack the issue of affordability and availability, and [create] government-approved plans for those who are the “uninsurables” so that we will make sure that they have an ability to acquire insurance, and many other reforms that need to be made. But it’s not government-run healthcare. I want the families to make the decisions on healthcare, not the government. That’s another big difference between and Senator Obama and myself.

Would you approve funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which takes care of children whose parents don’t qualify for Medicaid or private insurance? Ed. Note: McCain voted against expanding SCHIP and supported Pres. Bush when he vetoed the bill that would have granted additional funding for the program.

McCain: The SCHIP program is a very important one. Our key now is that we have to sign up those children who are eligible yet have not been signed up to the program. I would certainly approve the funding, [but] I am not in favor of expanding the eligibility in the ways that the Democrats want to do, which then is no longer a child health insurance program, it is an expansion of an entitlement program that’s not paid for.

According to a Pew Hispanic survey late last year, 66% of Hispanics want our troops to come home now. What is your plan to make that happen?

Obama: First of all, I have consistently opposed the war in Iraq, I thought it was a bad idea. We’re spending $10 to12 billion a month in Iraq that could be spent here at home rebuilding our schools and providing college scholarships for students. So I have said that we should withdraw our troops at a careful pace of one to two brigades a month. At that pace, we can have our combat troops out in about 16 months time. And that I think will allow us to refocus our attention on Afghanistan and also put our military families, who have born such a difficult burden, on a better rotation and start bringing many of them home.

What does success in Iraq look like?

McCain: What it is becoming today: significant success and winning in a variety of areas. The Iraqi military and government are gaining control. Casualties are down. There are tangible results of the surge, which Senator Obama opposed and said wouldn’t work. The surge is succeeding. Al Qaeda is on their heels but they are not defeated. And we will be able to, with the success of the surge, have our troops withdrawn with honor and victory, not in defeat, risking a wider war in the region.

How can we reconcile this recession with the estimated $526 billion in funding that Congress has approved for the war so far?

McCain: Because if we lose this conflict we will have a much greater expense in American blood and treasure. This is a conflict that we cannot retreat from or withdraw without having succeeded. And that means that if we did, we would have Al Qaeda establish a beachhead, increased Iranian influence, chaos and the risk of a wider war, which would be far more expensive than what we are experiencing now. As we withdraw troops, which we will, we will be able to dramatically reduce the costs of this conflict.

Why should our readers vote for you?

McCain: ‘Cause I understand their issues, I understand their challenges. I understand the difficulties that they’re in today. And I have led, whether it be on immigration reform, or other issues which are important to their future and their children, and I will always put my country first.

Obama: Not only have I been a consistent champion of the issues that are important to the Hispanic community—starting as a community organizer, working with Hispanic leaders in Chicago through my work as a state legislator, my work on comprehensive immigration reform, my work as a civil rights lawyer, championing the cause of equality in the work place and at the polling place—but I’ve also been a champion of issues that matter to women. I’m a strong supporter of equal pay for equal work and John McCain is not. I’m a strong supporter of things like paid sick leave, John McCain is not. Latinas are disproportionately represented in jobs that don’t provide healthcare, don’t provide sick days, they can’t take advantage of family leave, even though they’ve got enormous responsibilities for their families. On issues that really matter to working women, I’ve been there fighting for them and John McCain has not.

- Kenrya Rankin Naasel