The four men running to fill Delaware’s lone seat in the U.S. House traded words over who was best qualified to break the stalemate in Washington and help solve the nation’s problems.
Democratic incumbent Congressman John Carney squared off against three challengers in a debate produced by WHYY and WDEL Radio. Over the course of the 90 minute debate, Republican Tom Kovach, Green Party candidate Bernard August and Libertarian Scott Gesty tried to show how they’d be a better choice for voters than Carney.
Throughout the debate, the discussion kept returning to the divide between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Carney says he’s been working across the aisle, even taking part in a regular breakfast gathering with members of both parties. “We focus on areas where we agree, not where we disagree,” Carney said in his opening statement. “Too many people in Washington are putting the next election over the next generation.”
Kovach proposed that to truly be bipartisan, you have to stand up to your own party, something he says he’s done. “My only client is the people of Delaware, it’s not my party, it’s not special interest groups, it’s not the PACs who donate so much money to so many campaigns.” He also points to his refusal to sign a pledge to not raise taxes as a sign of his ability to stand up to his party. “I refused to sign that pledge because I’m not your typical Republican.” He also took a shot at Carney’s claim that he can reach across the aisle. “What we need is leadership that will stand up, not just reach across the aisle, but stand up to their own party.” Kovach said if elected he would model his approach in the House in a similar way that former Congressman Mike Castle used during his time in Congress.
Not surprisingly, Green Party candidate August Bernard blamed both parties for the gridlock in Washington. Bernard, who calls himself a proud member of Occupy Delaware who spent part of the past year occupying Spencer Plaza in downtown Wilmington, says both D’s and R’s are aligned too closely with corporate interests. “You’re not going to get rid of corruption in Congress, not unless you completely vote them all out.”
Libertarian Scott Gesty says his party takes the best parts of both major parties and that makes him the best candidate to break gridlock. “I think I could work together on both sides of the aisle because I think there are a lot of similarities there.” But he says he would “dig his heals in” on issues like fighting to repeal health care reform, resisting tax increases, and not supporting war without a declaration of war.
One issue that’s been pushed forward by Congressional gridlock is the looming fiscal cliff, coming at the end of this year which would result in a 2% tax increase for workers, the end of some tax breaks for businesses, and automatic spending cuts in areas like defense and Medicare. Kovach got the first crack at answering that question, saying Congress has put off solving the problem for too long. “Making these draconian cuts aren’t the answer. What the answer is, is making reform to the system that we need.” Kovach says Congress needs to reform Social Security, Medicare, and non-discretionary spending to solve the problem.
Carney says he was one of only 38 in the House to vote for the Simpson-Bowles plan that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years. “It’s fair, it’s comprehensive, it’s balanced,” Carney said. “We need to avoid this fiscal cliff, we need to reset our tax rate, we need to have a strong fiscal plan for the next ten years.”
Gesty, the Libertarian candidate, says falling off the fiscal cliff would mean a very large tax increase. Instead, he says the “sacred cows” of both Democrats and Republicans should be on the chopping block. “You have domestic welfare and you have the military. Both have to be cut if we’re ever going to get to where we need to be with a balanced budget.”
Green Party candidate Bernard August painted a doomsday scenario. “The fiscal cliff is already here. And there’s no way in any direction that we can go but fall of it.” He blames chronic spending and chronic money printing for putting the nation on the edge. “We’re going to have to totally revamp the economic model because it has failed.”
Health care reform
All four candidates agreed that extending the length of time children could stay on their parents policies was one of the best parts of the Affordable Care Act. They also agreed that it was right to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions. From there, the agreements faded.
Gesty would get rid of the whole thing. “I believe I’m the only candidate who has gone on record to repeal Obamacare completely.” But even after saying that, Gesty said he still supports the age extension and the pre-existing conditions clause.
Carney says the while massive legislation is not without some flaws, those who want to repeal it haven’t provided any viable alternatives. “The House Republican majority has voted 31 times, maybe up to 33 times now, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, yet they have no proposals to replace it.”
Kovach says the major problem with the health care reform bill is what it doesn’t address. “This bill does little to contain the actual costs,” Kovach said. “We’re ignoring the fact that this does not address cost containment.” But despite it’s flaws, Kovach has said he would not back a wholesale repeal of the bill.
August said the reform measure was only a “stop-gap” effort, “The present system is a stone complete disaster.”
The U.S. House debate will air on WHYY TV this Friday at 5 and 11 p.m. Next week, WHYY will present the U.S. Senate debate along with WDEL Radio. The debate will take place Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. at Widener School of Law. It will air on WHYY TV next Wednesday at 5 and 11 p.m.