The debate, hosted by The Times-Herald Record and held on the SUNY Sullivan campus, was pierced by cheers, hisses, boos, clapping, derisive laughter and occasional yelling, as the rule about only applauding after the opening and closing statements was quickly discounted by the often-raucous crowd.
Delgado ripped Faso on his record in Congress and the state Legislature while claiming Faso was misrepresenting the Democrat’s stances to voters. Faso sought to cast himself as a thoughtful bipartisan with thorough knowledge of federal policy, and questioned Delgado’s connections to the district and whether his views would work in the real world.
Faso responded to a question about new requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP, also called food stamps] by saying taxpayers shouldn’t be burdened with footing the bill for able-bodied adults, and the new restrictions would help lift up the unemployed.
Able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 without children were already required to work 80 hours a month, or engage in the same amount of workforce training, to receive SNAP, but now adults up to the age of 59 must fulfill this criterion to receive the benefits, as well as adults with children over the age of six, according to the United State Department of Agriculture, which administers the program.
Though there are more open positions in the U.S. today than unemployed people, millions of able-bodied adults without children receive SNAP benefits, Faso said.
“The best way to lift families, and lift their economic status, is to have a job, and so we’re talking about training programs,” Faso said. “This is not cruel — this is logical.”
Delgado did not understand the need “to make it harder for folks to get access to food” in a time of economic prosperity, he said, adding SNAP was rarely defrauded.
Faso argued during an Ulster County Republican brunch last April the program was often defrauded, saying county Sheriffs “tell me every drug dealer they arrest has a SNAP card in his pocket,” according to the Times-Union.
The sheriffs of Columbia and Greene counties backed up Faso’s assertion in statements made to the Register-Star, with Greene County Sheriff Greg Seely saying 85 percent of drug dealers were on some kind of government assistance.
When asked a question about his stance on the recent tax cuts, which permanently slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and cut income taxes more modestly for ten years, Faso said “the sole reason” he voted against the Republican bill was because it capped State and Local Tax [SALT] deductions at $10,000, which disproportionately effect residents of highly taxed New York.
However, Faso embraced the other aspects of the bill, he said, such as the doubling of the Standard Deduction, the elimination of “double taxation” for American companies doing business overseas, and the corporate tax cuts.
When asked about the income tax cuts expiring, Faso said he would like to see those cuts made permanent.
“It’s a little confusing if the Congressman is for or against the bill,” Delgado responded, mentioning Faso’s procedural vote to move the bill towards a final vote.
“It doesn’t make any sense, unless you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too,” he said.
The bumps to individuals’ paychecks were good, Delgado said, but these “strings are attached to big, massive, grossly disproportionate giveaways to big corporations and a wealthy few — there’s no need for that.”
The country needed “meaningful tax breaks, without strings attached, to working and middle-class families,” Delgado said.
When asked about abortion, the candidates unequivocally stated their opposing views, with Delgado saying he was “pro-choice,” and Faso saying he was “pro-life.”
“I believe we should not legislate a woman’s body,” Delgado said. “[Abortion] is a moral choice — it’s a choice between a woman and her god, and the government should not be interfering with that choice.”
Delgado also took issue with Faso’s support of a ban on most abortions after five months, a ban passed by the House, then defeated in the Senate.
Faso responded he was “shocked” Delgado considered a five-month ban unreasonable, a view he found “truly radical.”
“People of good faith are going to disagree on this topic,” he continued. “It’s a matter of deeply held moral beliefs…you’re not going to change anyone’s opinion on that.”
Questions about Judaism and Israel came up several times during the debate.
Sullivan County, where the debate was held, has a permanent Jewish population of 10 percent, according to New York Jewish Week, and this population swells during the warm months as tens of thousands of Ultra-Orthodox Jews from New York City come to summer in the area.
One of the questions revolved around last week’s massacre of 11 Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Both candidates agreed the event was terrifying but had vastly different opinions about what should be done about it.
The mass shooting was a “horrific reminder that antisemitism is alive and well,” Faso said, though he added “what caused the twisted and deranged person to commit this horrific crime is something that we should find out about.”
The issue was one of gun violence, Delgado said.
“We still have a gun manufacturing lobby essentially taking over the NRA and preventing any real progress on this issue, and it’s important that we get individuals in Congress who won’t take money from the NRA and stand up for protecting communities from gun violence,” he said.
The statement was a swipe at Faso, who has received about $10,000 from the NRA, though this represents about one-quarter of one percent of total contributions to the candidate, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.
The country should “revisit” the Assault Weapons Ban, a law passed in 1994, Delgado said.
The ban was not extended once it expired at the end of 2003.
“Proof had shown that [the ban] had not been particularly effective,” he said.
An extensive study by the federal government released in 2004 could find no evidence the ban reduced gun violence in the U.S.
It needs to be understood “what motivates [mass shooters] to become deranged, to act out in these evil and pernicious ways,” Faso said. “Mental health is a big issue.”
Faso attacked Delgado for saying Israel “as currently constructed” was not a “Jewish democracy” during a debate on WAMC last week.
“The fact is…Israel is our main ally in the Middle East, and we should be supportive of the state of Israel,” Faso said.
Delgado shot back with his family’s history.
“My wife (filmmaker Lacey Schwartz) is Jewish, my children are Jewish,” he said. “We actually go to synagogue. She’s been to Israel 4 times…we are of the culture,” he said.
Delgado then questioned Faso’s attacks.
“Are you really trying to have a debate with me, the individual who’s just a few feet away from you, or just some made-up individual who you feel like you have a better chance of beating?” Delgado asked. “I don’t understand — we could have a real debate about the issues…but at every turn, you keep trying to create another person to debate against. Just debate me — I’m right here.”
On immigration, Delgado said the nation needed a “clean DREAM Act” — a law giving a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants brought here as children — as opposed to a bill involving other immigration reforms sought by President Trump, such as the border wall.
It was easy enough to say this, Faso replied, but a clean DREAM Act would go nowhere.
“This (Presidential) administration is going to want to have border security attached to a fix on [the DREAMERS], and I think that’s something that’s a political reality we have to recognize,” he said.
The border needed to be fortified with “physical barriers” in some places, though it was not cost-effective to have them everywhere, Faso said, adding this measure should be paired with an increase in judges processing immigration and asylum cases.
Immigration has “vexed” presidential administrations far before Trump’s, and an overhaul was in order, Faso added, but not to “create an amnesty-type situation, where [undocumented immigrants] are getting in line ahead of people who have gone through the process and followed the law and followed it the appropriate way.”
Monday’s debate was the last of four (or five, if you include this one) leading up to the midterms. Green Party Candidate Steve Greenfield and independent candidate Diane Neal were not included.
The latest 19th District poll, released Tuesday, has Delgado leading Faso by five points, 49-44.
The election is Nov. 6