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Rep. Paul Tonko Debates Challenger Jim Fischer

Composite image by Lucas Willard

Two candidates vying to represent the Capital Region in Washington squared off in a live televised debate Thursday evening.

In a debate hosted by WHMT-TV and the Times Union, incumbent Democrat Paul Tonko and political newcomer, Republican Jim Fischer, answered questions from a panel of journalists and viewers at home via the internet.

Immigration policy was the first question for Fischer. This summer he spoke publicly against the possibility of the federal government housing thousands of illegal immigrant children in Albany. Fischer responded by criticizing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ plan to create “sanctuary cities,” arguing that they were a burden on local schools.

“I believe that we need to create, frankly…work on the entire immigration system which would start with securing our border, but then would also work on dealing with these young people who have come across and their families in a charitable way and a way that’s compassionate while they are here, but then getting them back to their home countries as quickly as possible, and then giving them the opportunity to immigrate legally.”

Tonko responded by calling on Congressional Republicans to pass immigration reform in Washington.

“We are missing a golden opportunity by not doing the bipartisan Senate bill that secures our borders, allows for visa reforms, and allows for a sound pathway to citizenship. It’s as simple as that, we need to promote the immigration reform that has languished for far too long in the House. It’s a deficit reducing outcome of nearly a trillion dollars.”

On the Affordable Care Act, Fischer, a business owner, said he supports the law’s guarantee of health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions and supports the ability for young people to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. However, he said a one-size-fits-all approach is leading to higher costs.

“And a thing I’ve learned is that competition drives prices down and quality up. I believe we need to enhance the level of competition in our health care system by allowing healthcare providers and insurance companies to compete across state lines.”

Tonko said he’s signed on to a measure that would eliminate the medical device tax. He added that he also supports bulk purchasing of drugs for Medicare, and the expansion of tax credits for small businesses.

“This is a private sector solution that fits individuals and families, whatever their needs may be. It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

Both candidates agreed the most important issue facing the middle class is jobs. Fischer outlined his own economic plan that would focus on taxes, healthcare, regulatory reform, infrastructure, and energy independence. Tonko said closing tax loopholes on the wealthy would benefit middle income families.

On the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s newly proposed carbon emission standards, Tonko said the regulations will bring efficiency and innovation.

“We need to make certain that we move forward aggressively on a climate change agenda. If you can’t buy the concept that’s supported by 97 percent of the scientist community, at least see it as an innovation economy-job growth opportunity.”

Jim Fischer said America has been leading in the way in cutting carbon emissions…

‘However, I do not support hamstringing our economy any more than we already have when we don’t have people following us, including China and India.”

On reducing student loan debt, Tonko criticized inaction by House Republicans.

“The House was looking to cut Pell grants for our students. An unacceptable outcome. I voted on measures that would have reduced the interest rate on some of these loans, but that’s not enough. I think the refinancing is better.”

Republican Fischer responded by saying he doesn’t support his party’s leaders in this case.

“I’ve actually signed a commitment to not vote for the current leadership in Congress, so if you’re looking for change in Congress top-down on both sides of the aisle, I’m your guy.”

On concern over the transport and processing of Bakken crude oil to the Port of Albany, both candidates agree on making improvements to rail transport. Fischer said transport by pipeline, including the Keystone XL project, is a better alternative to rail.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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