Editor's note: This is the second in a three part series following the League of Women Voters debate held at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House on Thursday evening.
By MICHAEL RUKAVINA
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Two candidates vying for a seat in the U.S. Congress, incumbent Brian Higgins and challenger Leonard Roberto, debated at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House during Meet the Candidates night sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
Like all other candidates participating each were asked what they felt the pressing issue in America was today and how it can be resolved.
"Job growth," Higgins stated. "The best way you eliminate the debt and deficit is to create jobs. The only way you create jobs is to embrace change and embrace new technology and innovation to achieve what I refer to as productivity gains trying to figure out whatever it is you do today, how you can do it more efficiently tomorrow. America has lost its way but we're not lost, and it's (not) a failure to make investments into infrastructure, into human capital. Our preoccupation for two wars and every dollar spent in Iraq and Afghanistan is a dollar that is not spent here in the United States."
Roberto, who first stated that the economy is the number one issue and that the national debt needs to be corrected, took offense to Higgins remarks.
"I'm getting a little older and a little less tolerant in my old age ... but these one line statements that are taken as fact are beginning to bother me in my old age, like 'America has lost its way' ... listen, America has not lost its way, America is being dragged kicking and screaming down the socialist ladder by an elitist political class that's destroying our country," Roberto said. "We are not losing our way; we are losing our freedom is what we are losing."
One questioner said it was very arrogant on the Democratic party to pass a health care plan, stating companies are not hiring because the costs are so astronomical. He then asked why Higgins supported the bill after he knew what the costs were.
"The Congressional Budget Office which is the independent budget arm of Congress estimated over 10 years there would be a $100 billion savings because of health insurance reform," Higgins said. "Secondly, last year at this time an insurance company could deny coverage for someone because of pre-existing conditions - if a kid was stuck with diabetes, or childhood cancer, the insurance company could deny you coverage. You can't do that anymore. Insurance companies also use a term called rescission, which basically says to a small employer if someone gets seriously sick, they'll find a technicality in your policy to cancel the policy despite the fact you played by the rules. You can't do that anymore."
He said the country spends $2.5 trillion a year on health care, 17 percent of the American economy, more than any other country. But he said the quality outcomes are very poor.
Roberto argued that Higgins has quoted a number relative to the cost of the health care bill, which preceded the passage of the bill.
"As Nancy Pelosi said, we have to pass it before we can know what's in it ... the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) didn't even know what was in it when that number came out. The CBO issued a new number, $1 trillion more, not $100 billion less than previously reported," Roberto contested. "That's as of Thursday, Oct. 21. The CBO is telling us that this health care is going to cost more, so much more that 114 major corporations including McDonald's and the National Federation of Teachers have applied for and will probably all receive waivers from the mandates in this bill. This bill is so expensive that if those waivers had not been granted to McDonald's and the NFT they would already have laid off a half a million people."
Another questioner claimed Higgins the new numbers are $115 billion higher. "It is not deficit neutral but you continue to claim that it's $100 billion savings and you ignore the CBO numbers from May of this year, that you should be very involved with," the questioner stated.
Higgins said the numbers are not false and stated they are projections by the congressional budget office.
"For example there are 44 million people in this country that are receiving Medicare. The problem with our health care costs is that they grow at a rate that far exceeds the rate of inflation, so wages don't keep up with health care costs," Higgins said. "The savings will result by controlling the growth of Medicare, but controlling the growth of Medicaid. We're not cutting Medicare, we're not cutting Medicaid, but you have to control the growth of these programs in order to sustain their viability moving forward."
Roberto rebutted. As far as the cost of health care is concerned he agreed with Higgins that health care is very expensive but he takes issue with the fact that Higgins refers to the United States as having the 37th on a list compiled by the World Health Organization.
"We have the best health care system in the world," Roberto said, receiving a few grumblings and a few claps. "We have people all over the world come here for care, people with brain tumors come here, people with heart disease come here, and people who need organ transplants come here. Nobody in the United States is going to Uruguay to get an organ transplant; you're not flying to France to have brain surgery. People are coming here to health care. What's wrong with our system is that it's too expensive and it's too expensive because lawyers have litigated our doctors into defensive medicine and they're trying to protect themselves from litigation. That was never addressed in this health care bill and that's what we're going to address when you elect me as your congressman."
Do you think the tax cuts that are expected to expire should be allowed to expire, continued up until the first quarter million of income, of continued as they are?
"I'm a big proponent of cutting taxes," Roberto said. "What has been referred to as the Bush Tax Cut, should be continued in their entirety for everyone from the highest income level to the lowest income level. There are people out there proposing a compromise in letting these sunset or not sunset and the compromise is to just tax the people at the upper end of the economic ladder, well that's a falsie; you can't tax the people at the upper end of the ladder because they have the ability to pass that cost on to the people at the lower end of the ladder."
He pointed at programs that can be cut to support tax cuts, like the National Education Administration and the National Endowment of the Arts, with the NEA operating as a $120 billion program.
"What do they do that our state educators can't do for us? What is the NEA doing for us? I'm not a big proponent of the NEA and let's get rid of these non-essential functions of government and get that money back into the pockets of the people who earned it," he said.
Higgins said he supports permanent tax cuts for everyone up to $250,000 a year, but notes the reasons why the debt exists - two wars and two previous tax cuts.
"The problem is the vast majority of the debt we're experiencing right now came from two tax cuts that weren't paid for. One administration inherited a huge surplus from a previous administration and figured they would use that money to cut taxes disproportionately for the very rich, which is an economic theory called trickle down," Higgins said. "The idea was that they would pay for themselves with increased economic activity it didn't work."
CAP AND TRADE
How will cap and trade help small business and farmers in Western New York and do you support cap and trade? Emissions trading (also known as cap and trade) is a market-based approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants.
Higgins said he supports cap and trade and he supports pursuing alternative energy sources.
"Our dependence on foreign oil is hurting us economically. It's a national security issue, it's an environmental issue and other countries are pursuing alternative energy sources very aggressively," he said. "For the agriculture industry, for the economy generally, we have to encourage through strong tax credits, strong tax incentives, to aggressively pursue alternative energy sources. We produce about 3 percent of the power supply in the entire world. We consume about 25 percent of it ... it's not sustainable."
Roberto pointed to nuclear power as the energy answer.
"We have an energy source in America today - we have nuclear power. In the entire time we've had nuclear power we haven't had a single incident in this country. We have a fleet of naval vessels powered by nuclear power. It takes over 10 years to get the permits to build a nuclear power plant. That's insanity. If we're dependent on foreign governments for power, we should expedite the process of getting power generated here in the United States. We have untold amount of natural gas, we have untold amounts of oil reserves that we could be tapping which we're not tapping, we can build nuclear power plants to provide all of the energy that we need," he said. "Cap and trade is going to raise the cost of everything. It's going to raise the cost of fuel by the administration's own admission, it's going to make fuel costs sky rocket ... that's going to put farmers out of business. I am a manufacturer it will put my manufacturer company out of business and nearly every manufacturer company in this country. We can not afford cap and trade; it would be the last nail in a very big coffin."
WAR AND IMMIGRATION
One questioner had an issue with Roberto's previous comments about war and illegal immigration and he was asked to explain his justification of his position as an ordained minister and right to life candidate.
"The border. National sovereignty begins with a secure border. If you don't have a secure border you don't really have national sovereignty. You have people coming across the border, one, that you can't identify and two, that you're ultimately going to end up paying for. There is 80 miles of U.S. border that is not currently protected by the United States government. We have 1.2 million coming across that border, we have paramilitaries from foreign countries on American soil killing American people that has to be stopped. It's not going to be stopped by your local Sheriff, it's going to have to be stopped by people in the military and if it's going to take and if necessary bringing our military into our country and put them on our border to prevent or correct this problem then that's what we should do," Roberto stated.
Another questioner referred again to the September 26 interview in the OBSERVER, when he was asked about Afghanistan and war.
"As a veteran, this sounds very bad to most people I'll give you that. But this is the truth. What prevents the next war is the horror of the last war," he said during the debate. "People do not want to repeat a very horrific event and that's what war has been historically in the past. What we've done over the last 50 years is sanitized war and we've embolden in our enemies and trained them over the last 50 years that they can continue to work in these sanitary wars and what you do is you increase the number of casualties and you protract the length of the conflict and you never resolve anything. We need to change our mindset on war. If we do go to war we do not go to war without a declaration of war, we have to galvanize the opinion of the American people and get consent from the United States congress."
Higgins said the federal government's failure to come up with a comprehensive immigration policy is a problem with both parties, Democrat and Republican.
"It sometimes leads to extreme measures because people are frustrated. I think it's a wrong way to deal with it," Higgins said. "I as a Democrat supported strengthened border security at the southern border, I was the only democrat in New York state to support the Patriot Act and the reason why I supported that is that some argue very convincingly that the 9-11 attacks on the United States could have been avoided, because the law enforcement agencies couldn't share the intelligence information that they had. The CIA, the FBI, they had the intelligence but there was a wall that existed that they didn't share that information and the Patriot Act was designed to remove that wall so they can share that information."
For more comments from Roberto with regard to his stance on war, nuclear power, and both candidates comments on economic competition with China visit to the www.observertoday.com to view a portion of the debate.
Part three of the debate can be found in the Monday edition of the OBSERVER and will feature a brief debate on candidates for Town of Pomfret Justice, incumbent Ron Johnson and candidate AJ Pulci.
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