Congressman Jim Himes and his Republican opponent State Senator Dan Debicella engaged in a lively discussion of issues presented at a debate Wednesday morning sponsored by AARP before 200 folks at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn.
Both candidates were passionate in their answers, Himes hammering home his message of starting the process to reverse the financial mess he says was created by Republican policies, Debicella emphasizing Himes bought into Democratic policies that spent far too much and most of it in the wrong places.
Panelists included OIB friends David Smith of www.doingitlocal.com and Connecticut Post veteran scribe Ken Dixon.
Himes appeared more at ease as the debate opened, Debicella strident in his opening remark by contrast, jabbing Himes hard on the DC stimulus spending. Himes told the audience the stimulus was far from perfect but necessary in light of the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression.
But then Debicella found his footing, drawing a clear line between what Himes has stood for in two years versus his economic approach. He told the audience if you like what you’ve seen from Himes in two years and his votes supporting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send Himes back to Washington.
I entered some thoughts live from the debate starting 10:30 a.m. See below.
First question about Social Security. Himes: my opponent’s party wants to look at private accounts. We will not privatize Social Security.
Debicella: privatization is not an option. Same scare tactics Himes’ party has used. Only small changes needed to be made to program. Says SS is basically strong.
Question about Cost Of Living Adjustment. Debicella says it was the right thing to do not to offer it this year. We cannot afford a COLA because of a spending spree in Washington. Says it was better to cut payroll tax.
Himes: Debicella is referring to the debt that his party ran up starting in 2001. We can afford two wars but we can’t help seniors to pay for their heating bills? Himes says that Debicella took credit for stimulus funds that came into his state senate distrct. Debicella, says Himes can’t have it both ways … you cannot do away with stimulus that he says helped his state senate district.
Medicare question. Himes: We must reduce the 15 percent annual increase we’ve seen for decades.
Debicella: Himes voted for a $500 billion cut in Medicare. Doctors cannot afford to take Medicare patients because of the cuts. We need to reduce costs such as tort reform, incentives for preventative medicine. We must repeal heath care bill that passed. We must defund the bureaucracy to support Medicare. Too many new agencies. We can repeal this bill by 2013.
Himes: I voted for a permanent fix. Himes says he feels like he’s in the Twilight Zone. Criticizes Debicella for distorting record. He’s scaring this audience by claiming slashes to Medicare.
Question, what can fed government do about jobs? Himes: When I got to Washington we were spiraling into a great depression. We passed a recovery act which meant a couple of million saved jobs. Says more money should have been invested in infrastructure to help bring back jobs to Bridgeport. Good investment in highways to address traffic problems.
Debicella: Himes believes government creates jobs. Our unemployment still at 9 percent. Says Himes has been in office for two years and it’s time to take responsibility for the financial mess. Government is not good at creating jobs. Debicella says to cut the payroll tax to stimulate economy.
Question about helping seniors. Debicella: America still has the fundamentals for job growth. We need small businesses creating jobs. We cannot rely on government.
Himes: Six senior centers in this district received funds to make life better. Financial reforms we made means Wall Street will no longer be a casino. Says Debicella has fuzzy math. Himes claims Debicella policies will gut programs for seniors.
Debicella: My party is wrong about privatizing SS. Multiple small changes will help SS.
Himes: Another “Twlight Zone” moment. We solve this by urging everyone to come together, no sacred cows to fix SS long term.
Question: solving Medicare fraud? Himes: The Health Care reform bill that Dan wants to repeal includes safeguards to prevent fraud. Big cost savings includes creating a healthier population. Wellness is critical to deal with this issue. Reforms take big steps to address obesity.
Debicella: Jim and I agree on this issue. We need to go after fraudulent groups set up, but also hospitals pad bills, that’s money they should not be getting. Only 50 percent of people with health care get physicals. Debicella highlighted his dad, a former Bridgeport cop, who did not recognize early stage cancer.
When debate ended both candidates stayed around to schmooze with audience members.