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Steelman rolls out Reagan era adviser to boost her standing on international issues

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 12, 2012 - In a move to bolster her credibility on international affairs, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman has enlisted the guidance – and support – of retired Lt. Col. Robert "Bud" McFarlane, former National Security Adviser to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

On Thursday, the duo concluded a two-day, cross-state tour in Clayton, where McFarlane lauded Steelman for her financial expertise as former Missouri state treasurer, and her recognition that a strong national defense depends on strengthening the economy.

"Sarah is committed to balancing the budget and understands the importance of a strong economy to a strong defense,” McFarlane said at every stop.

He added in Clayton that Steelman is the only U.S. Senate candidate in the country that he is actively supporting. And McFarlane emphasized that she wasn’t paying him.

McFarlane said that he, like Steelman, believes that federal spending must be trimmed dramatically. The United States’ most serious problem, he said, is “debt, living beyond our means.”

McFarlane added that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security “need to be reformed,’’ to cut their costs, and that he supported raising the eligibility for Medicare and Social Security.

But McFarlane’s chief focus was on energy and oil. He said the United States would continue to see rising oil prices, because the OPEC nations – in the Middle East and South America – control 80 percent of the oil fields and are controlling production. He called for the U.S. to delve more into alternative sources of transportation fuel, such as altering car engines so that they can run on fuels besides gasoline.

McFarlane , who had been linked during the Reagan years to the Iran-Contra affair,asserted that the U.S. will likely have to deal with Iran militarily to block its development of a nuclear weapon – unless, he added, Israel steps in.

If Iran becomes a nuclear power, McFarlane said, other Middle East countries will seek that as well. His stance is shared by Steelman, and her GOP rivals, who all have called for U.S. action to prevent such nuclear capability for Iran.

But McFarlane and Steelman don’t agree on everything. He, for example, said he was OK with the current federal income tax system regarding individuals, calling the current rates “about right.” Steelman favors “a flatter tax.”

He also called for getting rid of the $40 billion a year in federal tax breaks to the oil industry, saying they don’t need it. That one issue puts McFarlane on the same side as the Democrat that Steelman hopes to replace: U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Steelman and her two GOP rivals -- St. Louis businessman John Brunner and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood – have supported keeping the tax break as a way to encourage more oil production.

As the Steelman/McFarlane tour was underway, Brunner’s campaign questioned Steelman’s “readiness to serve” because of her “repeated inability to answer direct questions on key foreign policy issues facing the United States,” said Brunner campaign spokesman Todd Abrajano.

Abrajano cited Steelman’s radio comments during her travels with McFarlane, and blasted her “conspicuous lack of knowledge and facts regarding U.S. foreign policy…”

Steelman replied Thursday that it was Brunner who appeared to lack the knowledge, saying she was at least offering concrete proposals regarding foreign policy and other matters before the U.S. Senate. “He’s put out one press release after another attacking me,’’ Steelman said. “But he puts out none of his own solutions.”

Meanwhile, Steelman said that McFarlane would continue to offer her advice if she succeeds in winning election to the U.S. Senate. Even if they don't agree on everything.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.