Four candidates running in the 3rd Congressional District race squared off in a wide-ranging town-hall debate Tuesday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Manhasset.
Contenders included incumbent Rep. Steve Israel, D-Dix Hills, who is also endorsed by the Independent party and the Working Families Party; Stephen A. Labate, R-Deer Park, also endorsed by the Conservative party; Michael McDermott, Libertarian candidate from Huntington Station; and Anthony Tolda, the Constitution party candidate.
The forum served as an opportunity for candidates to share views on social security, health care, taxes and more.
On Social Security, one 85-year old voter asked whether the candidates supported raising a salary cap to assure its viability.
Israel proposed that Democrats and Republicans sit down and consider broad-range solutions to entitlements, adding he was “open to anything.”
“My fundamental difference with Republicans and Mr. Labate is they want to balance the budget by saying, ‘senior citizens, you lose your Medicare but we fund tax cuts for millionaires.' I think that’s the wrong approach,” he said. “We ought to ask those like Bill Gates, and Donald Trump and others who have the ability to do more to balance the budget to step up to the plate. And then we can engage in long-term reform strengthening of Medicare and Social Security.”
Labate took issue with Israel. “Sometimes I think he thinks my name is Paul Ryan instead of Steve Labate,” he said. “I don’t recall that I support destroying Social Security or Medicare or seeing it dissolve – that’s completely false.”
The key point, Labate said, is “we need bipartisan solution,” adding “both parties are not talking to each other.”
Seeing the salary cap as a good suggestion, he asked why Israel after 12 years in office hadn't initiated it.
Likening Social Security to a Ponzi scheme that “cannot work indefinitely,” Tolda deemed it wrong to take away from people who already paid into it significantly. Still, he added that younger generations who will lose it because of “our currency’s incapacity to keep up” should be able to opt out.
The lack of bipartisanship is why McDermott said he was running. And because so many people would not benefit from paying into Social Security, he said, “Something has to change.”
Howard Herman of Great Neck asked if candidates found it appropriate to sign a pledge, alluding to Grover Norquist’s pledge against taxes.
Tolda said yes, if the person has read the bill.
McDermott opposed any pledge in advance except for the oath of office and to uphold the Constitution.
Labate noted that he had signed the Norquist pledge, adding “I’m very happy that I did. The American people are taxed too much. We do not have a tax problem right now in this country – we have a spending problem. By me taking that pledge, that is a promise to the American people that I’m not going to do what is typical in Washington, which is spend, spend spend.”
Israel said that the alternative to signing pledges is “taking tough votes to cut spending,” including items that might get cut in the name of bipartisan compromise.
When another voter asked about healthcare, Labate said the United States has “the best healthcare system in the world.”
And while that brought groans from the audience, Labate elaborated, saying that “What we have is not a medical problem, it’s a cost problem.”
Saying he doesn’t support “Obamacare,” Labate favors looking at free market principles that allow insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines, which he said would enable costs to come down. He also favors tort reform to bring down insurance.
Tolda also supported the idea of selling insurance across state lines and tort reforms but noted these are only partial solutions, adding that there were also problems with lobbyists, big pharmaceuticals and Super PAC money.
Israel noted that the free market wasn’t serving women with breast cancer whose insurance companies said they were dropping them becuase they had "pre-existing conditions," or the men whose insurance companies said they dropped them because they had "reached their lifetime cap" and now can't get coverage.
Israel said he supported the Affordable Health Care Act, and “would make sure those people have those protections.”
Pointing to what he called bigger problems, McDermott spoke of GMOs put in food, and its impact on health, something that ought to be looked into, he said.
In closing, Israel pointed to his record, which includes passing the Long Island Sound Steward act signed by President George Bush, and also securing $6 million in backpay for veterans. He noted that he would not "balance budgets on the middleclass and our seniors," and that he was pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage.
Calling Israel's plan the "wrong prescription," Labate said he's the candidate to "help small business owners create jobs, wealth and prosperity for all Americans."
Tolda noted that he had the endorsement of the president of the New York State chapter leader of Oath Keepers.
And McDermott pointed out that a vote for a Libertarian is not a vote for a Republican or Democrat. If enough people voted Libertarian, there would be a Libertarian in Congress representing the Third District.