With only 29 days to go before Election Day in what national pundits are unanimously calling a safe Democratic Congressional district, Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) was out campaigning like a challenger.
She says she is trying to run the last days of her campaign against Republican Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) as she has run her Assembly career.
“We’re just going to continue what we were doing in the primary season — reaching out to people,” she said.
The top issues she has been coming across on the campaign trail have been jobs and the economy. And she said working to fix both can work hand-in-hand with her desire to direct more federal funds to the district.
Mass transit, she said, can do both.
“I would like to call more attention to our mass transit system,” she said. “LaGuardia Airport is one of the busiest airports in one of the biggest cities in the country. It should have access to rail and subway lines. It is right near the tennis center, the baseball stadium — I still call it Shea Stadium. It would promote tourism and stimulate the economy.”
Paying for that rail extension and other things, she admits, will be a challenge with a federal budget in steep deficit for the foreseeable future.
Meng would consider raising top income tax rates on people making more than $1 million or $2 million, rather than the current level of $250,000 being advocated by President Obama and Capital Hill Democrats.
“There are households in Queens that bring in $250,000, and you have a family of four with a college graduate and maybe grandparents living with them. They’re not necessarily wealthy.”
She said she does not yet have percentage rates for top tax brackets or the higher capital gains tax she is leaning toward supporting.
Meng said she would consider Social Security and Medicare off the table in any negotiations aimed at avoiding automatic across-the-board budget cuts that are looming in January if President Obama and Congress cannot agree on a budget deal.
Meng said cuts to both programs were two areas she did not like in the Simpson-Bowles budget commission report that for the most part she liked for its bipartisanship and hard choices.
“It was a good start, but it focused too much on cuts and did not pay enough attention to revenue,” she said.
Meng said she would support a number of cuts to the military budget, and that the troop drawdown in Afghanistan would save billions of dollars per month.
She also believes the Navy does not need 11 aircraft carrier strike groups.
“Eliminating even one would save a lot of money,” Meng said, adding that numerous Pentagon weapons systems should be reviewed.
The assemblywoman acknowledges that there are structural problems with the current Social Security and Medicare systems, but that the solutions should not include cutting benefits. Meng would consider higher FICA taxes and possibly a tiered benefit system for wealthier earners.
Social Security is one of myriad areas where Meng says she disagrees with Halloran, particularly if he champions investing Social Security funds on Wall Street.
Meng also opposes Halloran’s support of gun legislation that would allow people with carry pistol permits in other states to legally carry their guns in New York.
Meng said she supports stronger federal handgun regulations like those Congresswomen Carolyn McCarthy (D-Nassau) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) have been pursuing for years with no luck whatsoever.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t advocate for it,” she said.
And she is steadfastly opposed to Halloran’s call to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, known in the vernacular as Obamacare.
Meng declined any comment whatsoever on a report in the New York Post that Halloran is under investigation for failure to file financial paperwork for his council campaign dating back to 2009.
On the Presidential front, the Obama supporter acknowledged that Gov. Mitt Romney won the first debate.
“But I think the bar was set very low for Mitt Romney, and very high for President Obama,” she said.
Meng also says bluntly that she understands why Romney could have some appeal.
“I think Mitt Romney without Paul Ryan may be acceptable to some moderate or conservative Democrats,” she said. “Mitt Romney with Paul Ryan changes the game a lot.”
She believes Ryan’s budget rightfully scares people such as senior citizens. She also believes the president did not play up Romney’s recently released remark about the 47 percent of the country that does not pay taxes.
“Seniors are in that 47 percent,” she said. “Veterans who have fought in wars are in it. College students are in it. That 47 percent encompasses more of moderate America than I think Mitt Romney thinks.”
And she opposes Romney’s call for cutting money for public television.
“Big Bird isn’t the reason we have economic issues in the world and in the country,” she said. “Get rid of Big Bird and we’re still borrowing money from China.”
Meng is disturbed by conflicting statements from the White House and State Department in the wake of the murders last month of U.S. Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. She disagrees with calls to use the killings as an excuse to cut off foreign aid that would be better used to leverage governments in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt.
“They have a peace treaty with Israel,” she said. “We need all the allies there we can get.”
Meng also believes sanctions against Iran may not yet have stopped the country’s nuclear program, but are having a desired effect of crippling the Iranian economy and fostering internal opposition to the Tehran regime.
On immigration, Meng, the daughter of immigrants, said she fully supports President Obama’s Dream Act initiative that allows children of illegal immigrants who came when they were young “through no fault of their own.”
She said the young people and the country both benefit by letting them attend college, get jobs, pay taxes and get on the road to legal status.
But she is not as quick to allow their relatives to come or in some cases, stay illegally, especially with a huge backlog of immigration cases involving people who have been playing by U.S. rules and still are making slow if any progress.
“A lot of people who have come to me say it is unfair that they have been trying legally for 10 or 15 years and the Dreamers seem to get to jump to the head of the line,” she said. “People deserve a path to citizenship, but it has to be done in a fair way.”
If successful on Nov. 6, Meng’s choice of committees would include Transportation and Infrastructure, as well as Financial Services, Judiciary and Foreign Affairs. And she hopes one thing does not change in the transition from the Assembly to the House of Representatives.
“I tell people that your life may not magically change if I am elected, but it will be my job to be responsible to you,” she said.