With just two weeks to go in the race, Richard Tisei's message remains the same: it's time for a change.
Tisei, a Wakefield Republican and former state legislator challenging eight-term Congressman John Tierney for the 6th District, says he's taking nothing for granted; however, according to one poll last week and analysis from national political commentators, Tisei now has a sizeable edge over Tierney.
"I feel like I have 200,000 people that I have to meet in the next two weeks, so I'm not going to leave any stone unturned," Tisei said Tuesday at a campaign stop at Brooksby Village.
As a state senator, Tisei represented Melrose, Malden, Stoneham, Reading, Wakefield and Lynnfield for 20 years, but the 6th District, in comparison, spans 36 cities and towns north of Boston where, in many cases, Tisei is not well known to voters.
"As people get to know me, they're making a choice that it's time for a change and they feel very confident with me," he said.
An endorsement from the Boston Globe certainly furthers that message, Tisei believes, and he said he was "thrilled" to discover that upon opening up Tuesday's newspaper.
"They've been watching me for 26 years...I took 10,000 votes in the legislature and for the Globe to cross over and take a chance and promote me, I think should tell people that a lot of the flyers they've been getting in the mail are off track and untrue," Tisei said, referring to campaign material from Tierney and Democrats that characterizes Tisei as a Right Wing extremist.
Tuesday afternoon, Tisei spent about an hour with residents at the Peabody senior housing complex, talking about his background and key campaign issues, particularly Medicare, Social Security and the nation's debt.
"[For] the first time in the history of the country, we're about to pass off a country to the next generation that is in really, really bad shape," he said.
Tisei also spent a lot of time arguing for a philosophical change needed in the nation's capitol.
Two different worlds
"I really do have a good sense...of what is going on in people's lives right now and the struggles that people have and the fact that so many people are hurting," Tisei said.
As a local Realtor, he said, he's had many discussions with homeowners, now jobless, facing bleak prospects of selling their homes in a struggling housing market. He added that seniors are also hit hard by depreciating home values.
"And then if you look at what's going on in Washington and what's happening the last five, six or seven years, it's the total opposite," Tisei said.
Tisei said a recent study shows the nation's capital is now the wealthiest region in the country and there appears to be a development boom on. While all other metropolitan areas experienced economic hardships and plunging real estate values, Washington D.C. saw the opposite.
"That's because Washington is totally isolated pretty much from the rest of the country; it's the government that's the business that runs the whole place," Tisei said, adding there's a big disconnect with the rest of America, which is struggling in many areas. "That's a huge problem."
He said that problem transcends to partisan gridlock in Congress.
He said there are many legislators from both parties voting nearly 100 percent of the time with their party leadership. By comparison, during budget crises in Massachusetts, Tisei said, he and fellow lawmakers set aside their differences and worked together to balance the budget each year.
"Nobody got what they wanted, but there are different ways to do things...we all got together and moved things forward," he said. "That's really what has to happen in the country right now."
Tisei said Medicare and Social Security are important programs for seniors and he wants to help preserve those programs for the generations to come.
Tisei was clear on one point -- he doesn't support U.S. Rep Paul Ryan's budget plan. He said he doesn't think it's the right solution, overall, for the country and neither on its Medicare provisions, but did praise Ryan for making a comprehensive proposal.
"At least the guy had enough guts to put something on the table to start the discussion," he said, arguing that the prevailing pattern in Congress is to demonize anyone who comes up with a plan as an extremist.
There are grave concerns for the vitality of both programs beyond the next 10-20 years, he said, noting trustees for both programs have respectively forecasted there will only be enough federal money for Medicare to last until 2024 and after 2035, Social Security will only be able to pay out 75 percent of benefits to seniors. A big part of the problem is the aging Baby Boom population.
"Obviously something has to be done to ensure that the program is around for the long term," Tisei said, to make sure seniors' children and grandchildren will also be able to rely on Medicare in the future.
He admits he does not have his own plan for saving either program, but he does know what he will and won't support on principle.
First, he said, he would not vote for a bill that affects services to those 55 and older, nor support anything that isn't a long-term solution to the issue -- there are too many Band-Aids created by Congress as is -- and lastly, he wouldn't support taking money from Medicare to pay for "Obamacare."
That last point refers to $716 billion that was taken from the federal program, not by reducing benefits to seniors, but by reducing reimbursements to medical providers, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals.
Tisei said an important point, however, is that President Obama's actuary for Medicare put out a memo that said 15 percent of all Medicare providers, over 10 years, would no longer be able to offer those services due to the drastic cut in reimbursements.
"All the doctors are saying, 'How can I continue to practice if I have a big Medicare clientele?'" Tisei said, arguing that local hospitals and hospices will also be forced out of business.
What to do about healthcare reform
Answering a question from an audience member in regard to national healthcare, Tisei said, the federal government should provide incentives to individual states to pursue healthcare reform and bring insurance costs down -- that's a better approach than a one-size-fits-all plan, ala the Affordable Care Act.
He said one difference between Massachusett's reforms and the ACA is that there's no interference with client/doctor relationships in the former, and the ACA in fact turns the healthcare system on its head.
Tisei touched on the independent advisory board the health care act creates, which he argues inserts the government into medical decisions that should remain between doctors and patients. He said the intent of the board is to keep costs down, but in reality it serves as an actuary to determine what sort of medical procedures will be reimbursible under Medicare.
He said the board is also largely autonomous from the president or Congress.
Tisei said many people have been gravely concerned at that component of healthcare reform -- even Democratic Bay State congressmen Barney Frank and Michael Capuano filed legislation to repeal the board.
"Every major medical organization in Massachusetts has come and said 'this board and the power they've been given, there are no checks and balances, it's really scary and board needs to go,'" Tisei said.
Dealing with the debt
Tisei also addressed the national debt, saying most people would not survive, nor most businesses or municipalities either, if they had to borrow 40 cents for every dollar they spent for basic living or operational expenses, but that's what the federal government is now doing.
He said President Obama and Congress keep adding to the deficit -- it's now at $16 trillion -- and keep increasing the limit to go higher and higher. "There's no end in sight.
Again, he doesn't support Ryan's budget, but that plan only adds $5 trillion to the debt over 10 years and takes 40 years to balance the budget, Tisei said. Obama's plan would bring the deficit to $26 trillion, he said.
Tisei briely addressed declining income levels for the middle class and the fact that many businesses are unwilling to hire due to uncertainty on all sorts of taxes that are now expiring -- rates too.
"And then people look at what's going on in Washington, the fact that nobody will work together...both Democrats and Republicans are responsible," Tisei said.
Tisei said analysts are saying now that Republicans will be in the majority no matter what after Nov. 6. and it will be good for Massachusetts to have at least one Republican in the room with influential party players to represent the Bay State's best interests.
"I can't change the world, I know that, but I can go down and I know what I believe in and going to try to be a good advocate for programs and people [affected by those programs]," he said.
"I really think this is one of the most important times in our country's history and this is probably one of the most important elections in our country's history," Tisei said. "We are sort of at a cross-roads right now and we have to decide which way to go."