The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent questions to the candidates about seven key issues. The questions were generated in part via input from AJC readers. Here are the candidates and their responses:
Bourdeaux is a Georgia State University professor who previously served as the Georgia Senate’s budget chief.
Dr. Rich McCormick
McCormick is an emergency room doctor and U.S. Marine Corps and Navy veteran.
1. Democrats in Congress recently pushed for a $3 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill while Republicans backed a scaled-down proposal of $500 billion to $700 billion. Which approach would you have preferred and why?
Bourdeaux: More than 200,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. The pandemic is one of the greatest challenges our country has ever faced. We need solutions that address this public health crisis and ensure sufficient support for families and small businesses to get them through this tough time. We also need a relief package that will adequately fund state and local governments, including support for our first responders, our police, our firefighters, and our teachers and schools as they rise to the challenges of this moment.
I recognize that this money has to come from somewhere, and we need strong transparency and accountability for every taxpayer dime spent. When I was Senate budget director, I worked with both parties to balance Georgia's budget during the Great Recession. I will bring this experience to Congress to find fiscally sound ways to support working families and small businesses through this crisis.
McCormick: There is no question COVID-19 represents an unprecedented challenge for the American economy. I believe Congress responded appropriately when it passed the $2 trillion CARES Act in April. The Paycheck Protection Act, assistance to states and unemployment insurance certainly alleviated the financial paid of COVID-19 on many Americans. Unfortunately, the government cannot borrow and print enough money to buy our way out of the COVID-19 crisis. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a 2020 federal deficit of $3.3 trillion for the fiscal year ending September 30. With approximately 143.3 million taxpayers, this one-year deficit equates to more than $23,000 per person.
Adding another $3 trillion in COVID-19 stimulus to an already massive federal deficit is not responsible fiscal policy. The single best thing we can do for the American economy is to reopen safely. That means isolating high risk individuals while encouraging businesses to enact safety protocols so they can resume operations. It is working here in Georgia and can work in other states as well.
I support additional limited stimulus to help American’s who may have been permanently displaced from their jobs. This should include additional federal unemployment assistance. However, I have concerns that the original $600 flat rate enacted in the CARES Act creates an incentive not to go back to work.
2. The severity of recent hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters has been tied to climate change. What, if anything, should Congress do to reverse the impact of human activity on the climate?
Bourdeaux: As the mother of an eight year old, I am deeply worried about the planet we are leaving for future generations. As the devastating wildfires and hurricanes sweeping the West and Southeast demonstrate, climate change is an existential threat to our way of life. The science is clear: It’s time that we pass serious measures to curb the troubling trends of heightened levels of CO2, warming temperatures, and rising sea levels while we still can. That starts with rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, but that alone is not enough. We need a Marshall Plan for the environment. Georgia's 7th District is positioned to do well by doing good. We already have a significant need for investment in infrastructure such as transit. By investing in clean energy technology, transit, and transportation infrastructure, we can take important steps to curb pollution, tackle our transportation gridlock, and stimulate jobs and economic growth.
McCormick: Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. Proposed domestic solutions like the Green New Deal could cost as much as $93 trillion, or $600,000 per taxpayer. The United States cannot and should not enact drastic, economically harmful legislation to address climate change until ALL nations participate.
China is the world’s largest emitter of CO2 and produces double the CO2 emissions of the United States and if looking at per capita CO2 emissions, 10 countries emit more CO2 than the United States. In fact, Brazil, the European Union, Mexico, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, and the Russian Federation – 8 of 9 largest CO2 emitters in the world that remain signatories of the Paris Accords – are not meeting their obligations under the agreement.
Climate change doesn’t stop at the United States border and our response to climate change must not either. We need enforceable, global commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the largest polluters before we enact any domestic policies that could harm our economy.
3. What legislation would you back to lower prescription drug costs for seniors and those with chronic diseases?
Bourdeaux: Health care policy is personal to me. For 10 years, my father suffered from a debilitating illness and my mother cared for him. They drained their bank accounts to pay for my father’s prescription medications. Now, every day I hear from Georgia families struggling with the rising costs of prescription drugs, health insurance, and medical care. The Affordable Care Act is in jeopardy of being repealed in its entirety, a move that would reduce access to health care and end protections for those with pre-existing conditions. We must do better.
In Congress, I'll fight to increase access and affordability of health insurance through strengthening the ACA, create an affordable public option health insurance plan for individuals and small businesses, and end surprise billing. I will also prioritize legislation that allows the federal government to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs.
McCormick: Development of new medications and the associated regulatory approvals is an expensive proposition. The median cost of bringing a new drug to market can easily exceed $1 billion, with some estimates reaching nearly $3 billion. Balancing the cost of research with the price consumers pay has always been the intended effect of the Hatch Waxman Act since it first became law in 1984. The availability of generic pharmaceuticals is the single most important price control for prescription drugs. I am pleased Congress included an approval pathway for follow-on biologics was included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to lower the cost of these medications.
However, by the time most new drug applications receive FDA approval, very little time remains on their patent and as a result, pharmaceutical companies charge exorbitant prices to recoup their R&D investment and turn a profit for shareholders. This problem is compounded by countries that impose price controls on medication imported from the United States.
One free market solution that I propose is to give branded pharmaceutical companies extensions on their patent protection under the Hatch Waxman Act in exchange for price controls. This gives the inventors of new drugs more time to recoup their investment and lowers the cost of drugs for consumers. But ultimately, insulin, epinephrine injections and other pharmaceuticals that have been around for decades should have a variety of generic producers to ensure a low-cost supply. Congress must intervene when the market leaves a sole supplier or when regulatory loopholes (like auto injector patents) allow for price gouging.
4. What is your biggest concern about ensuring elections are fair, secure and accurate, and what would you do to address it?
Bourdeaux: Georgia’s unacceptable pattern of voter roll purges and long lines at polling sites means this election isn't just about important issues like health care and rebuilding our economy, but about the right to vote itself. We must ensure that everyone who is eligible and wants to vote, can vote. I support same-day voter registration, and, given the current crisis, we also need comprehensive vote-by-mail programs so that we can vote without endangering our life or health.
I'll proudly sign on to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as one of the first things I do when I'm elected to Congress. I will also support legislation to ensure that our election systems are secure from hacking and protected from foreign influence. Additional steps to protect the right to vote include ensuring federal oversight of Georgia’s elections, fixing our broken campaign finance system, and minimizing the influence of special interests.
McCormick: COVID-19 creates unprecedented challenges for voters and election officials. As we learned during the primary, many traditional poll workers are advanced in age and in the COVID-19 high risk population which forced many municipalities to consolidate polling locations while training new poll workers. That resulted in long lines and difficulty voting in some jurisdictions. Anyone that is registered to vote and wants to vote in the 2020 election should have the opportunity to vote whether in person or by absentee ballot.
Georgia has invested heavily in its new voting systems. As a result of these investments, in person voting is the most fair, secure and accurate method of voting. Georgia also has three weeks of in person, early voting to alleviate crowds on election day.
For those that decide to vote absentee, ballots should be returned via the United States Post Office or personally delivered to county approved ballot drop boxes. Any effort to allow political operatives and campaigns to collect and return ballots should be prohibited.
5. Do you believe the federal government has done enough to support unemployed workers and their families? What is your long-term strategy to keep these workers and their families from plunging into financial desperation?
Bourdeaux: The economic collapse due the pandemic has resulted in hundreds of thousands of Georgians out of work and thousands of small businesses — the backbone of our economy — shuttered. Stimulus payments, expanded unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program have given Georgians a lifeline, but more relief is sorely needed to keep families afloat and allow small businesses to keep their doors open. In Congress, I'll put families and small businesses first by funding existing programs and, if necessary, the creation of new programs to ensure the small business grants and loans are available to all that are in need. I will also ensure that the social safety net has the resources to help families in need support themselves until we can get our economy back on its feet.
McCormick: The single greatest gift you can give to an unemployed worker and their families is not a government handout, but a job. As we recover from the COVID-19 economic crisis, we must ensure that job creators have the tools they need to reopen and rehire workers safely. For those that have been permanently displaced by COVID-19 we should offer additional federal unemployment assistance, but that unemployment assistance should not create a perverse incentive to not work. In addition, I support additional direct financial payments to Americans so they can pay bills and spend money in their local communities. Federal aid should focus on helping businesses provide jobs or keep employees employed which is the best long-term solution for recovery.
6. COVID-19 looks like it will continue to be a part of our lives well into next year. How will you balance scientific guidance with the economic needs of Georgia?
Bourdeaux: We are suffering from a terrible lack of leadership on COVID-19. This pandemic is no one's fault — but Donald Trump's failure to protect us from it is. Georgians deserve leaders who won’t play politics with their health, who listen to the scientists, and think carefully about solutions that make sense. Our economy is not going to recover until we can feel comfortable going to a restaurant or grocery shopping without being afraid we will catch COVID-19 — so listening to health experts to defeat this virus is critical to our economic recovery, too. We won't get through this crisis by contradicting the experts and spreading misinformation about this deadly disease. We need to make sure we carefully follow scientific guidance around testing, contact tracing, and mask wearing, and expand health care access for uninsured Georgians.
McCormick: The scientific guidance on COVID-19 is fairly clear. According to CDC data, for anyone under the age of 55, the death rate for COVID-19 is less than 0.01%. For those 55 years and older, the data shows considerably higher risk that must be taken into account.
Getting young, healthy, low risk populations back to work is critical to our economic success. I believe we can do it today by encouraging mask use, washing hands and social distancing. For more vulnerable populations, I support continued shelter-in-place protocols and limited government assistance to ensure these populations can remain isolated if necessary.
Finally, I support President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed to streamline the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine. I trust the medical professionals at the FDA and believe that a safe and effective vaccine can be made available to most of America by 2021 if not sooner. On an average year, around 30,000 Americans die of influenza every year. I am hopeful that the new disease protocols developed in response to COVID-19 will help diminish the deadly effect of influenza as well.
7. Do you think the killing of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks were isolated incidents or a sign of broader problems in the treatment of Black Americans by police? If you believe the incidents reflect a broader problem, what should Congress do to address it?
Bourdeaux: The deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks were horrible tragedies and the result of systemic discrimination and racism Black Americans face. I'm committed to building a country where every mother and father, regardless of skin color or background, wakes up in the morning unafraid and excited about the future for their children. Defunding the police isn't the answer — we need to restore the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. In Congress, I will work to pass the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, which amends existing law and bans the use of chokeholds, and to establish a National Registry of Police Misconduct so the federal government can track police violence with reliable data.
McCormick: Whether isolated or not, we cannot deny that racism is something that must be addressed in our country. However, good solutions are bipartisan solutions. American cannot effectively tackle the issue of racism while simultaneously politicizing it. The single best thing we can do to solve this problem is to depoliticize it.
Ultimately, racism in America is a people problem, not a political problem and it is best addressed through community dialogue not legislation. Improving police-community relations is an important first step to opening a dialogue about accountability, police training and methods of accountability. Improved community relationships also foster trust in public safety which allows police to work with citizens to prevent crimes rather than react to them.
After the death of George Floyd, I worked with Black community leaders of various backgrounds and political leanings to co-sponsor a “let’s talk” movement. At these events police and community leaders were able to constructively discuss solutions like de-escalation training that can be enacted by law enforcement agencies across the country without federal legislation. I believe more of these dialogues should take place around the nation before Congress tries to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to public safety.