The four candidates battling to see who will represent the northern Hudson Valley and Catskills in Congress faced off over the economy Sept. 20 during the 19th District’s first debate at an Ulster County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Kingston.
The candidates are sitting Republican Congressman John Faso; Democrat Antonio Delgado, a lawyer and former hip-hop artist; Greene Party Candidate Steve Greenfield, a musician, volunteer firefighter and former New Paltz School Board member; and Diane Neal, an actress famous for her part in Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit.
Faso and Delgado attacked each others’ positions during the hour-long debate, which began with opening statements and continued with the candidates’ two-minute responses to questions submitted by audience members. The two major-party candidates left Neal and Greenfield alone, allowing them to stake out their policy positions and to try to make a splash less than seven weeks before the mid-term elections.
Faso had refused to debate Delgado without the inclusion of third-party candidates.
Responding to a question about how to lower healthcare costs, Faso referenced his vote for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a modified version of which ultimately failed in the Senate.
The AHCA would have protected people with pre-existing conditions and provided subsidies to low-income Americans so they could secure private insurance, Faso said.
The notion the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — often called Obamacare — would lower premiums had turned out to be false, Faso said, and deductibles had continued to rise.
Businesses with less than 500 employees — the threshold under the ACA is 50 employees — should not be subject to the ACA’s employee mandate, which forces employers to insure their workers, Faso said, and a re-insurance system shielding insurers from the price of high-cost patients should be created.
These proposals were developed by the Problem Solver’s Caucus, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers that includes Faso.
Faso brought the caucus up several times during the debate, as well as his rank as the 18th-most bi-partisan member of the 438-seat House of Representatives, according to an analysis by the Luger Center .
Democrats have attacked Faso for voting along with party leadership in an attempt to cast the Congressman as a sycophant. Faso has voted with President Donald Trump’s positions 90 percent of the time, according to an index by FiveThirtyEight.
Delgado — who has made whipping Faso over his vote to repeal the ACA a mainstay of his campaign — again pointed to Faso’s vote in responding to the healthcare question.
Delgado also wanted to “make sure that Medicare has negotiating power with Big Pharma — that’ll be a big driver down of all the costs we’re dealing with here in healthcare,” he said.
Medicare is unable to negotiate down the costs of prescription medications with pharmaceutical companies.
“My opponent has never uttered those words,” he added, referencing Faso’s silence on medication negotiations.
Greenfield and Neal contrasted themselves against the major-party candidates during their responses, saying they support single-payer healthcare, both arguing it was a fiscally responsible idea.
“People want to know, ‘where’s the money coming from to pay for [single-payer]?’” Greenfield said. “You’re already paying it. You’re paying (for it) in your property tax rates.”
Fifteen-to-twenty percent of property taxes go to paying public employee’s healthcare costs, Greenfield said, something which would cease if single-payer became a reality.
The U.S. economy would also benefit on the world stage from single-payer, Greenfield said.
“Every industrialized county in the world does not include the cost of healthcare for the people of their country in the cost of their products,” he said. “There is no way that people that are manufacturing and distributing products in this country can be competitive in the world economy when we have 20 percent of our GDP being eaten up by healthcare every year.”
Responding to a question about lowering the national debt, Delgado pointed to the debt’s rise since Trump took office.
“That sounds like bloated government,” he said. “It sounds like there’s a lot of debt being accumulated under a Republican-controlled House and Senate.”
Delgado blamed the recently-passed Tax Bill for the debt’s rise, saying he would vote to repeal it and use the resulting increase in tax revenue for infrastructure projects.
He also swiped at Faso for the Congressman’s stances on the bill. Faso voted nay, saying he opposed it because of the capping of state and local tax deductions, which disproportionately affects New York and other states with high taxes.
But Faso championed what he has characterized as certain beneficial results of the bill since. During the debate, Faso celebrated the repatriation of billions of dollars from Apple, profits which are not subject to “double-taxation” due to the Tax Bill, as well as suggesting a lower corporate tax rate was bringing jobs back the U.S.
“[Delgado] wants to raise taxes on those very companies who are bringing jobs back the United States,” Faso said, referencing his opponent’s desire to repeal the bill. “It doesn’t make sense. He would raise taxes on small businesses and individuals — that is not a prescription for growth.”
Greenfield agreed with Faso’s assertion that economic growth would lead to lower national debt but had a radically different approach to accomplishing this.
“Growth is dependent on whether people actually have a consumption budget,” he said, arguing stagnant wages for the middle- and lower-class dampened the economy by decreasing consumer spending.
“Today’s minimum wage would have to be $25 an hour to have the purchasing power it had in 1978, and obviously that’s not realistic, so we need some big changes on how we set tax policy,” he said.
Neal attacked the variety of tariffs President Trump has placed on imports from the European Union and China when responding to the debt question, calling them “totally unnecessary.”
The tariff’s impact on farmers leads to the necessity of further farm subsidies, she said.
“Where will be get the money for the subsidies?” she asked archly. “Oh, let’s bring in the money from China. Great, (now) let’s pay interest on this,” she said, referencing interest payments on foreign debt.
Responding to a question about government regulation, Neal took an opportunity to lay out why she would be a valuable member of Congress.
“The blue wave, if the economy holds, is not going to be as big as people think it’s going to be, and that’s just the way it is,” she said. “This is going to be a split House for the first time in a long time.”
As an independent House member, she would wield more power for the 19th District in a split Congress, since both parties would be vying for her vote, Neal said.
Faso would vote along with the Republican House leadership, and Delgado with the Democratic House leadership, while her vote “will be for the people of this district,” Neal said.
Responding to the regulation question, Steve Greenfield said voters often inaccurately associated the Green Party with top-down government control.
Environmental regulations were economically advantageous for the 19th District, protecting the Hudson River from pollution, which enriches the region’s agricultural and tourism industries, Greenfield said, but regulation should be local, as opposed to centralized, to avoid “creating vast bureaucracies.”
Faso called “over-regulation” a “chronic issue” when responding to the question.
Faso said he “proudly” voted to partially roll back Dodd-Frank, the regulatory bill passed to reign in banks in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
The bill forced onerous regulations on small banks, Faso said.
“So many in Congress on the left — and so many on the radical left that’s part of the Democratic Party, that’s [steering] the boat with [House Majority Leader Nancy] Pelosi and Mr. Delgado — frankly, they basically want to raise taxes because they want government control — their view of the system and the country is we lack government control — they want more,” he said.
The roll-back of Dodd-Frank favored big banks, whether it was promoted as being for community banks or not, Delgado said.
The election is Nov. 6