Jobs and health care were the dominant topics of discussion in a live televised debate between Congressman Charlie Dent and challenger Rick Daugherty on Tuesday night.
Following a similar script to a Tea Party forum 11 days ago, Republican Dent tore apart the Affordable Healthcare Act and blamed the country’s unemployment woes on President Obama, while Daugherty defended and praised Obamacare and blamed joblessness on free trade agreements that he said shipped jobs to China and Mexico.
The two 15th Congressional District contenders also differed on deficit-reduction measures and military spending.
Though very little time was devoted to women’s issues, the candidates’ differences on abortion got a brief spotlight. Dent remains one of the few elected Republican officials who favors legal abortions with some restrictions, while Daugherty proclaimed himself a “pro-life” candidate, a rarity among Democrats.
The debate was broadcast live by PBS39 in front of a studio audience at the television station’s new headquarters in South Bethlehem and was also sponsored by The Morning Call.
The station will host and air another live debate between the two 17th Congressional District candidates tonight at 8. The 17th District includes a large portion of Northampton County.
The program was hosted and moderated by Amy Burkett, the station’s manager. Questions were posed by Morning Call Washington bureau reporter Colby Itkowitz and Christopher Borick, the director of Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion.
Questions were also asked by a few members of the studio audience, including Tony Iannelli, the president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. During one segment, the candidates also got to ask each other some questions.
Here are some of the highlights in question-and-answer form:
Itkowitz: What would you do to reduce the deficit?
Daugherty: “We can no longer be building weapons systems designed to fight the Soviet Union. We’re looking to build a new aircraft carrier. It will be our twelfth. China just got one. Russia has an old one that is diesel-powered. Yet for some reason, we are looking to build our twelfth one. We need to focus our national security spending on current threats, not against the Soviet Union. I believe we should eliminate the tax cap on Social Security, which will make that program solvent for generations. And I do support the Buffet Rule in terms of a minimum tax for millionaires.”
Borick: What policy reforms are needed to keep Medicare solvent for future generations?
Daugherty: “I really like what the president has proposed through the Affordable Healthcare Act because what he is looking to do there, and this is very substantial, is to pull away from the exclusive fee for service part of Medicare and to include health outcomes as being a huge financial incentive for hospitals, so that if I go to the hospital because I got injured – the hospital gets paid for that currently. If I get an infection in the hospital, the hospital gets paid again. The president is looking to focus on health outcomes as more of a priority, as opposed to strictly fee for service. Seventy-five percent of health-care dollars are spent against chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. It’s a huge part of our health care spending. So when we are looking at dealing with preventative care, we’ll be saving a lot of money and we’ll be providing better patient services.”
Dent: “Ten thousand Baby Boomers are becoming eligible for Medicare every single day, 15 million over the next decade. We have an obligation to protect people on Medicare who are on it now or people who are nearly on it. My 83-year-old widowed mother is here today. I want to make sure the program is there for her. Doing nothing is a choice. It’s a bad choice. It means insolvency. It means when my mom is in her 90s, I’m going to have to explain to her why her Medicare benefits are going to be cut because her kid didn’t do something about it. So the bottom line is, we can shore up that program. And there are some ideas to do that. The whole notion of Premium Support is an idea that came out of the Clinton Administration, Alice Rivlin and the Brookings Institute, not a right-wing think tank. Basically, that’s one idea. I’m prepared to deal with others but I want to make sure that seniors can keep their Medicare as is or opt for something else. And think that something else would be a federally approved program, similar to what Medicare Part D is, similar to what members of Congress are eligible for today and other federal civilian employees for our younger generation.”
Itkowitz to Dent: Some have called your positions on abortion contradictory. Would you call yourself pro-choice?
Dent: “I oppose partial birth abortion; I support parental notification; I oppose federal funding consistent with the Hyde Amendment; I oppose gender-selection abortions. Beyond those restrictions, I don’t want to criminalize abortion. I’m pro-choice, but I support reasonable restrictions and no federal funds.”
Daugherty: “I would be considered pro-life. I do believe that life begins at conception. And therefore I do not support embryonic stem cell research.”
Itkowitz: What role does government have to create jobs?
Dent: “The role of the federal government is to provide an environment where individuals can create jobs. I think the best way for the federal government to create jobs is to really excite and induce the creative juices of American entrepreneurs. I think we need to have a pro-growth tax code. Specifically, let’s broaden the base, lower the rates for individuals. We can do this in a deficit-neutral way. We can do it in a revenue-neutral way. Let’s allow for greater American energy production. That will enhance our industrial and manufacturing bases significantly. We need to open markets. Also, we are going to have to deal with the national debt. The national debt is very much affecting our job picture now. We have a jobs crisis and we have a debt crisis. The two are very much related. To the extent we deal with the long-term debt issue that will help free up investment in the short-term and give people certainty and confidence now to invest and create the jobs we need in the shorter term.”
Daugherty: “It is a federal issue. Since China was included in the WTO, our manufacturing jobs have been decimated. Thirty-four percent have been eliminated. They’ve gone overseas. NAFTA allowed Hershey Foods to send 1,000 jobs to Mexico. And just recently, T-Mobile sent 600 call center jobs overseas. The federal government is responsible for making sure that our workers, who are the best in the world, have a level playing field dealing with other nations. You can’t have a company just go over the Rio Grande and be able to pay pennies a day to workers there, pollute at will and then send products back to us and expect us to be able to compete with that. From the beginning of the nation, we have had tariffs in place to protect our manufacturing and to protect our businesses. Beginning with NAFTA, that has ended. And you’ll see a direct line of job loss once these free trade agreements started to get in place.”
Dent rebuttal: “T-Mobile, we lost 600 jobs in this county because the Obama administration Justice Department basically didn’t allow them to merge with AT&T. We have the documentation. They said they would bring the jobs back from overseas – 5,000 – maintain the call centers here and seven others around the country. It was because of the actions of the Obama administrations Justice Department and FCC that we lost those T-Mobil jobs. This was not because of foreign competition. It was because of the Department of Justice and the FCC.”
Iannelli: What action would you propose to allow business to confidently jump in with both feet into this economy?
Dent: “There is a lack of certainty out in the community. People don’t know what their tax rates are going to be at the end of the year. They don’t know what the regulatory environment is going to be. What we need to do is once and for all establish permanent tax rates, provide greater regulatory certainty, reign in these bureaucratic entities, whether it’s EPA or the National Labor Relations Board or the FDA, which takes forever and a day to approve a new therapy or a new device or drug. If there is greater certainty, there will be greater confidence. When there is greater confidence, people will invest. Trillions of dollars are sitting on the sideline in small, mid-size and larger businesses because they are afraid. They have seen an administration that is very hostile to their interests, very hostile to job creation. There are all sorts of rules coming out of the health-care law alone. People don’t know what their costs are going to be and that’s why people are holding back. That’s why we’re going to have to take strong action on this health-care law.”
Daugherty: “I disagree, Tony. What I would look at is customers. My parents had a travel agency in East Allentown. It was a small business and they mortgaged their home, they put up their life savings, as many small business people do. They took an enormous risk. And there was no safety net for them. And when they opened up their business, they weren’t worried about government regulations. They weren’t even worried about taxes. When they put the sign up that said Daugherty Travel Agency, the only thing they were worried about was customers. At that time, we had a strong labor movement and their customers often came from Western Electric, Mack Trucks and Bethlehem Steel. So when jobs come back to the community, especially manufacturing jobs, and people have good, stable employment, everybody benefits. Small businesses benefit. The entire community benefits. So my focus is to have customers. And to have customers people need to have good paying jobs.”
Daugherty to Dent: What is your health-care plan for all Americans, including how it would be financed?
Dent: “Rick, I think you said that the Affordable Healthcare Act will lower the deficit. If you believe that, you will believe anything. The truth is that the Affordable Care Act is going to destroy, according to the Congressional Budget Office, 800,000 jobs over the next 10 years. What I would recommend that we do is deal with the cost drivers of health care. Specifically, let’s deal with comprehensive medical liability reform. Let’s give small businesses the same ability to purchase insurance just as large businesses do. Let them pool together. Large businesses self-insure. Let’s give small businesses the ability to pool together and get those same kinds of discounts that a larger business would receive. Allow people to purchase insurance across state. Take care of pre-existing condition exclusions. Allow them to participate in existing state-run high-risk pools, but make them work.”
Daugherty response: “ ‘The CBO estimates that the legislation on net will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount, roughly a half-percent, primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply.’ What that means isn’t that jobs are going to be leaving, it’s that workers – and these are middle-class workers who have assets who have to stay employed for health care so they don’t lose their savings – they will now have the freedom to decide whether they want to continue to work or not.”
Dent rebuttal: “The employer mandate by itself will force many employers to reduce payrolls. That means they will either have to move people from full-time to part-time status or they will have to reduce positions in order to comply with the mandate that they must provide insurance. That’s the issue. There are 21 new or higher taxes in the law, many of which are going to have very, very real impacts. You’re going to see many, many consolidations in the health insurance field. You’ll have far fewer health insurance companies. I can tell you that. You’ll have a few big ones left. And they’re going to look like regulated public utilities. That will generally force up costs, not bring them down."