The four candidates for New York's 19th Congressional District debated for 90 minutes Monday afternoon at The Linda, WAMC's Performing Arts Studio.
At the WAMC-WNYT debate, first-term Republican John Faso said he's running on his record. Democratic challenger Antonio Delgado emphasized his support for working families. Green Party candidate Steve Greenfield singled out war and peace and poverty as key issues, while independent Diane Neal of “Law and Order” fame described herself as a resident, a friend and a neighbor.
Among hot-button issues the candidates discussed: healthcare. Faso has a problem with the Affordable Care Act and was asked about his vote for the American Health Care Act. "While it works for some people, it also doesn't work for many others. And we've seen consistent spikes in premiums and deductibles. What good is insurance if you have a deductible of $8000? So what we need to do is address the deficiencies of the Affordable Care Act while protecting the things and keeping the things that work."
Greenfield says Medicare-for-all is the only system that can assure 100 percent of Americans will have full health care. Neal says she's not a fan of Medicare-for-all, believes healthcare is already subsidized and advocates for a not-for-profit system.
Delgado says he supports some form of universal health care. "It'll drive down premiums, it'll drive down deductibles, it'll free up the costs for small business owners and employer-based insurance and it'll also free up employees, who often times feel trapped where they work, because of a fear that they might lose the care that they want."
Quizzed on Brett Kavanuagh's Supreme Court nomination, Faso leaped to the justice’s defense, contending Democrats engaged in a "political assassination." "Senator Feinstein, Senator Schumer should be the ones to take the heat on this issue. Not Dr. Ford, not Justice Kavanaugh. And not anyone else. They manipulated the process. They abused and undermined the rule of law. And unfortunately they undermined the confidence in our court."
Greenfield said of the confirmation hearing: "I believe for the first time in history we have a proven perjurer under oath now sitting in the highest court of the land. I sure wish more of the conversation had focused on that."
And Neal: "I was absolutely shamed by both parties and how they behaved."
Delgado criticized Faso's support of Kavanaugh and called the hearing "difficult for the country." "I was against the confirmation of Kavanaugh before even the allegations came out."
Taxes, Social Security and Medicare have been the focus of many campaign ads. Faso says a growing vibrant economy is critical to these issues. "Four percent economic growth is critical, not the 1 percent or 1.5 percent that the Obama Administration said was the new normal. Higher growth means better ability to constrain deficits and pay our bills."
Greenfield says people are raising illegitimate fears about Social Security. "Because they don't want you looking at the places in the federal budget where trillions of your dollars are being wasted every year."
Neal agreed. "Steve's right about this one, people are always inciting fear."
Delgado says he has a lot of problems with the GOP tax overhaul. "That same bill is now being used by Congressman Faso and his Republican allies in Congress to cut the programs you're talking about. We're talkin' $500 billion he just voted for to cut from Medicaid and in essence turn it into a voucher program."
In closing statements, Neal mused on being elected to Congress: "We need somebody that is not beholden to the parties. We need somebody that is not paid for, that can go and say 'I will do this for you.'"
Greenfield criticized lack of discussion about the drug crisis, wages, poverty and lack of economic growth. "It's time to get these conversations out onto the floor of Congress, out on to C-Span where everyone can talk about it."
Reciting his accomplishments as a freshman in Congress, Faso said “it has been a great honor to serve the 19th.” "This is a great country because its people are good. God bless you, and may God bless America."
Delgado, in a virtual tie with Faso in the latest polling, underscored a need for fresh voices and promised to serve the community. "With decency, with respect, with strength and with love. I will always be straight with you. I will always be accountable to you. I will not hide from you, I will not mislead you."
The debate can be watched or listened to at WAMC.org. It airs Saturday on WNYT and WNYA television.