U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D- Pennsylvania) and U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) were in Philadelphia Saturday to tape a televised debate – the first and likely last before the midterm election on Nov. 6.
The two men sparred over health care, climate change and the economy. But they didn’t completely disagree on everything.
During the hour-long debate at WPVI-TV, Casey and Barletta both said they support a health care system that provides coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions, a hallmark of the Affordable Care Act.
“The worst thing we could be doing is scaling back on protections,” said Casey, referencing the short-term, more affordable health insurance plans being pushed by President Trump. Under those plans, applicants with pre-existing conditions aren’t guaranteed coverage.
Barletta called Obamacare a “disaster,” but insisted he wouldn’t back any proposals that don’t cover people with pre-existing conditions — “regardless of the millions that have been spent on TV to convince people otherwise.”
Barletta acknowledged that he’s voted to repeal Obamacare, but said the intention was always to replace it with a policy that guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions.
“What more do you want from me?” said Barletta after the debate, moderated by longtime anchor Jim Gardner.
In his closing statement, Barletta raised the matter of a Casey TV ad that he objected to last weekend when it began running. Barletta contends it is particularly cruel to his family because it mirrors the plight of his toddler grandson, a twin, who is fighting cancer.
The TV ad accuses Barletta of voting to let insurers strip coverage for pre-existing conditions and features a woman, Stacie Ritter, whose twin daughters were diagnosed with cancer.
Barletta challenged Casey again to take the TV ad down.
“Could you tell me why you did that?” Barletta asked, looking at Casey and his voice shaking. “And why you won’t take the ad down?”
Casey, hand over his heart looking back at Barletta, said he was sorry if the ad had caused Barletta and his family any pain, and that he had not intended that. Any similarity, he said, was unintentional.
“The reason I didn’t make the connection between that ad and your grandson was very simple: I was thinking about Stacie Ritter and her story and her daughters’ story about pre-existing conditions,” Casey said.
Barletta, speaking to reporters later, questioned how sorry Casey is if he hasn’t taken the ad down. (Casey did have the ad withdrawn from the Scranton TV market, which is close to Barletta’s home, but continues to air it elsewhere.)
The candidates also called for the country to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, though Barletta was evasive when asked whether humans are responsible for driving climate change.
Earlier this month, the United Nations released a dire report on global warming. It warns that immediate – and unprecedented – action is needed to cut greenhouse gases to avoid human suffering.
Casey said the U.S. must rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which calls on nearly 200 countries to reduce carbon emissions. President Trump announced this summer that the U.S. was quitting the global pact until the terms were more favorable.
“The United States of America should lead on this,” said Casey. “This is a mission of a great country.”
Barletta said he supports “reasonable” regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, but opposes the U.S. taking the lead on the issue because it would drive jobs out of the country to places that “pollute more, are hurting the planet more.”
Barletta wouldn’t say whether he believes global warming is man-made,
“I don’t know if it matters,” he told Gardner. “What matters is we should do what we can in the event that it is.”
The debate, set to air Sunday morning at 11:30, also included questions about immigration reform, the Mueller investigation, and the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
A recent Franklin and Marshall College poll shows Casey with a double-digit lead over Barletta.