With roughly 10,000 constituents listening through a teleconference call, Rep. Scott Peters on Monday night unveiled an economic and job creation package with a heavy emphasis on cutting taxes, streamlining regulations and increasing government research funds.
Peters' proposals ranged from broad issues such as speeding product approvals at the Food and Drug Administration to narrower programs that could benefit San Diego's niche industries, such as cutting the excise tax for small breweries.
The plan was unveiled as the Democrat faces what promises to be one of the country's toughest election battles against former San Diego City Councilmember Carl De Maio.
The 52nd congressional district, which stretches from the Silver Strand to Escondido, is almost evenly split among Republicans, Democrats and independents, making it a key partisan battleground. So far, each candidate has raised more than $2 million, but even larger amounts are expected to flow in from independent political committees.
The De Maio campaign quickly dismissed Peters' economic proposal.
"Scott Peters is all talk and no action when it comes to jobs," said Dave McCulloch, DeMaio's communications director. "Quite the contrary, his policies to date have resulted in higher costs for small businesses and fewer opportunities for working families."
Among other things, the DeMaio campaign criticizes Peters’ support of the Affordable Healthcare Act and his vote last year to raise the federal debt ceiling.
But Peters' plan won praise from some local business leaders, including Mark Cafferty, head of the San Diego Economic Development Corp., who was the first caller to ask a question on the teleconference.
"I have great faith in your abilities to lead the charge for us (on Capitol Hill)," Cafferty told Peters, noting that they had recently worked together to pave the way for a 300-worker expansion by Illumina Inc. (Nasdaq: ILMN) in Kearny Mesa. "My main concern is how we attract and retain high-tech manufacturing jobs in San Diego."
Peters responded that he wants government to provide more funds for scientific research and then to "get out of the way of innovation" by easing taxes and regulations.
His economic plan included:
• Creating a permanent tax credit for research and development. Peters wrote a bill for a permanent R&D credit last November and voted for a different version that has since been passed by the House. He said he has been urging the Senate to pass it as well.
• Repealing the excise tax on medical-device sales. Citing research by the conservative Hudson Institute, Peters said the tax on medical devices could cost the national economy more than 40,000 jobs. He said the impact would be particularly hard in San Diego, where device makers NuVasive (Nasdaq: NUVA), CareFusion (NYSE: CFN), Volcano (Nasdaq: VOLC) and ResMed (NYSE: RMD) employ 3,200 workers, with an estimated impact of $2.7 billion.
• Speeding approvals at the Food and Drug Administration. Peters said product approval takes an average of 54 months in the United States, compared to 11 months in Europe.
• Expanding wireless health care services. Peters has introduced two bills that would spur the use of wireless health care technology, with one bill specifically aimed at veterans and another targeting all other federal health care programs. "Incorporating innovation into the federal health care mindset can, as we know in San Diego, improve the delivery of care at a lower cost," he said. Wireless health technology has become a major niche industry in San Diego, thanks partly to the presence of Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM).
• Boosting federal research funds. Last year, San Diego received $785 million in research and development grants from the National Institutes of Health alone. But Peters said federal R&D funding has been dropping steadily since 2003, putting the United States at a competitive disadvantage against countries that have been increasing spending, such as China and Germany. He said he wants to increase NIH funding from the current $30 billion to $35 billion.
Other ideas include issuing more travel visas to boost the tourism industry; promoting more uses for drone aircraft; cutting the interest rate on student loans; simplifying the corporate tax code; allowing U.S. companies to repatriate their profits from abroad; and extending the excise tax credit on alternate fuels such as algae-based fuels developed in San Diego.
During a brief question-and-answer period, about a dozen listeners asked questions ranging from supporting veterans (Peters backs a new GI Bill) to the use of "fracking" to tap into underground fuel sources.
"It's not practical to ban fracking but we have to make sure that if it's going to be done, it will be done responsibly, with protections against leakages that could be very harmful to the environment," he said.
Peters' emphasis on high-tech issues reflect the concerns of some of his top donors. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that his campaign has received nearly $62,000 from the pharmaceutical and health-device industry, $40,000 from military aerospace firms and $30,000 from telecom firms, almost wholly from Qualcomm.
DeMaio, on the other hand, has received much of his money from local real estate and construction firms, with $169,000 from local real estate concerns, led by Gutierrez Co. and Sudberry Properties, and $105,000 from builders, contractors and construction suppliers, led by Echo Pacific Construction.
DeMaio has not yet released an economic plan, but he did create an infrastructure plan in May, coinciding with an endorsement from the Associated Building Contractors.
His plan would increase competition and speed the approval process for infrastructure projects; secure more funds for projects in San Diego, including border crossings, airport expansion and completion of the new Navy headquarters; and ensure that each state can use all the federal gas tax funds it collects for its own highway programs, rather than being pooled and redistributed for use by other states.