U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Glenville Republican Bob Dieterich offered starkly different visions for improving the lives of voters in the 20th Congressional District during a televised debate Thursday night.
The major areas of disagreement between the two candidates, who are hoping to represent parts of Montgomery, Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany and Rensselaer counties, emerged over Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, tax policies, the farm bill and how to help economic development.
Tonko, who was elected to Congress in 2008, began his opening statement by promising to preserve the middle class by investing the federal government's resources in education and infrastructure. Dieterich, who is the CFO at First National Bank of Scotia, defined himself as a relative newcomer to the political scene, highlighting his local roots and service in the Air National Guard.
On Medicare, Dieterich argued that moves need to be made immedaitely to ensure the program's long-term solvency. Any changes, though, shouldn't impact current beneficiaries of the program he said and criticized the ACA, known generally as Obamacare, for shifting $716 billion out of Medicare over the next 10 years.
Tonko contended that the $716 billion figure represents an attempt to curb Medicare spending, without hitting benefits. Dieterich reiterated his attack, saying he hasn't seen any reductions in fraud, which was supposed to be the rationale for diverting this money.
On the future of Obamacare, Dieterich said it should be repealed and some of the provisions, he didn't specify which, should be retained. Tonko said the existing program can be improved on, noting his votes to end a surcharge and filing requirement that were produced by the act and were burdensome to small businesses.
Dieterich criticized those changes because they added to the cost of Obamacare. This was a common refrain, as he reiterated a belief that spending needs to be brought under control to reduce the national debt.
This was countered by Tonko's assertion that the debt crisis was brought on by the policies under President George W. Bush, who initiated two wars, large tax cuts and changes to Medicare that he had no way of paying for. As a result, Tonko advocated for President Barack Obama's call to raise taxes on people making over $250,000 a year, as these people make up a tiny percentage of the 20th Congressional District.
Dieterich opposed raising anyone's taxes and called for a simplification of the tax code.
When it came to revitalizing the country's economy and outsourcing, Dieterich singled out federal regulations as the culprit for both problems. He highlighted his work at First National, where he said his company has been hampered in its ability to issue lower interest loans,
Tonko called for job training at community colleges in the Capital Region to take advantage of the high-tech industries in the area. Dieterich said as a congressman he would let businesses know of the capable workforce in his district.
Both candidates, to varying degrees were supportive of hydrofracking in the country. Tonko added the caveat that it should be done on a state by state basis with a federal oversight role, particularly when it comes to preserving public health.
Dieterich accussed Tonko of falling into a partisan trap in Washington D.C. Tonko defended his record, noting that more than half the time he has voted with House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio. He then turned the partisan attack on Republicans in general, faulting them for failures to act earlier on student loan rates and the expire federal farm bill. Dieterich said there is blame to go around and promised that he would act proactively as a Congressman.
In Afghanistan, Dieterich endorsed keeping some bases in the country after the official pullout of troops and Tonko said our focus should be on rebuilding America.