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Gibson v. Shreibman in first of three NY-19 debates

Republican New York Congressman Chris Gibson faced off against his Democratic opponent Julian Schreibman last night in the first of three scheduled debates in the race for the state’s newly formed 19th Congressional District.

Freshman representative Chris Gibson - the retired U.S. Army colonel from Kinderhook who won his seat in 2010 as part of the so-called ‘red-tide’ of Republicans who helped the GOP gain the House majority, and former CIA prosecutor Julian Shreibman took questions submitted from a large, and at-times boisterous, crowd at M. Clifford Middle School in the Ulster County hamlet of Lake Katrine.

It wasn’t the first time Shreibman had graced the stage. A graduate of Kingston city schools, the candidate joked in opening remarks about performing in the school band, before taking the first of several swipes at what he described as the congressman’s “unimpressive” voting record.

“Instead of focusing on jobs and the economy he’s made his priority ending the guarantee of Medicare and making it a voucher program… Our middle class voices are not being heard in Washington…”

Citing ratings from the Washington Post and National Journal for bi-partisanship, Gibson defended his record with references to votes made with Democrats on issues like broadband expansion and recovery funding in the aftermath of hurricanes Irene and Lee.

“I’m focused on serving everyone… I’m honored to be here to talk about my record and to address the false attacks that have been rendered against me.”

While both men touted familial working class credentials, and both appeared to agree in large part on several questions of foreign policy and national defense, one issue that was returned to throughout the night was Medicare, with Shreibman repeatedly attacking Gibson’s vote for the 2011 budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman and GOP presidential running mate Paul Ryan, which called for an end to direct payments for future program recipients…

“He has voted to end the guaranteed coverage of Medicare and replace it with vouchers. He has voted to privatize Medicare, costing seniors thousands more, turning them back over to the health insurance companies that are funding his election campaigns. And voted to raise the eligibly age…”

Gibson again defended his record, citing online fact checker PolitiFact, which last year ranked claims that Republicans, “voted to end Medicare,” as the “Lie of the Year” – adding that money shouldn’t be removed from the program, an line oft-repeated by GOP candidates referencing President Barack Obama’s health care reform package.

“I voted for two concepts to get the conversation started.. and under both concepts you have to get the same amount of coverage as  traditional Medicare.”

“… I never voted to increase the eligibility age, ever. That’s just flatly untrue.”

Another point of contention came in response to a question on climate change as Schreibman cited Gibson’s support for a new nuclear power plant in the district as expressed during his 2010 run.

Citing “self imposed” term limits he says would limit his Congressional tenure to 8 years, Gibson backed away from that position.

“Over a year ago I decided not to pursue it.”

It wasn’t only the policy positions of President Obama and the Romney-Ryan ticket that found their way to the stage, but some of the buzz-phrases of this year’s presidential campaign also made appearances. Here’s Congressman Gibson, in his rebuttal to Mr. Shreibman’s answer to the question, “what does bi-partisanship mean to you?”

“I don’t know how you’re going to represent everyone when you divide us. Whether it’s, ’47 percent,’ or Tea Party…”

Shreibman seized the opportunity, expanding on Gibson’s mention of remarks made by Mitt Romney at a private fundraising event secretly recorded and released last month in which he said 47 percent of Americans considered themselves, “victims,” and entitled to government handouts.

“That’s a dark and terrible vision for America… It’s not just the vision that Mitt Romney wants to put in place though; it’s the vision that Congressman Gibson’s been voting for for the last two years.”

Speaking after the debate, Gibson repeated his position for the continuation of Medicare, adding that he had faith that a Congressional compromise to reform the program would be reached.

“The concern of course is that we come together… I believe that we’re going to come together.”

Shreibman meanwhile said Gibson’s goal for the debate appeared to be to highlight, “obscure examples,” of bi-partisanship among what he maintained was a consistently party-line voting record.

“I encourage folks to look up his voting record, look up his public statements…”

Gibson maintained that his plan to remain in office for a limit of 8 years have made any drive for local nuclear power infeasible, also noting that the state doesn’t currently have the electric transmission infrastructure to support another plant.

The second debate between Gibson and Shreibman is scheduled for 8 p.m. next Thursday, October 18 at the studios of WMHT public television in East Greenbush.

The new 19th Congressional District encompasses all of Ulster, Sullivan, Delaware, Columbia and Greene counties along with all or part of six others.