Like the Presidential debate a few nights earlier, jobs, healthcare and spending dominated much of the discussion during a Friday night political forum involving the candidates for the 15th Congressional District, which covers most of the Lehigh Valley.
During the candidates’ forum, presented by the Lehigh Valley 9/12 Tea Party Group at the Charles Chrin Community Center, incumbent Republican Charlie Dent and Democratic challenger Rick Daugherty squared off on a number of issues as asked by a moderator and members of the audience, which totaled about 100.
The forum began with opening remarks by each candidate. Dent, an Allentown resident who is seeking his fourth term, opened the forum by saying the country is facing a “job crisis, debt crisis and leadership crisis. To deal with the job and debt crisis, we need to deal with the leadership crisis first,” eluding to the Presidential election.
In his opening comments, Dent highlighted four specific areas: maximizing North American energy production; reforming the tax code; opening markets for American manufacturers; and lowering the national debt.
Daugherty, a Lowhill Township resident who serves as executive director of the Lehigh County Senior Center, said in his opening comments that his number one priority is to remedy what he says have been the creation of unfair trade policies with other countries, including NAFTA, that have devastated the middle class by shipping overseas what had once been well-paying middle-class manufacturing jobs.
On the issue of federal spending and debt reduction, Dent said that for every $1 being spent by the federal government under the Obama administration, 40 cents is borrowed, a practice he described as “unsustainable” that will eventually result in programs like Medicare no longer being solvent. “We need to fix this debt crisis now, rather than push it off when it will be a lot worse,” as has happened throughout Europe, he said.
Dent also noted that the economy, time and again, has grown substantially when total federal government spending is no more than 20 percent of the gross domestic product. Right now, he said, that figure is at 24 percent.
Daugherty said a great deal of the federal government’s financial problems are a result of decreased revenues, which he said are resulting from the large number of people who are unemployed and under-employed paying no taxes, as well as business not growing. He said unfair trade agreements with other counties are the main culprit, resulting in jobs being shipped overseas and the jobs that do remain here no longer being paid a solid middle-class wage.
“When we’re not making things in this country, we will not prosper,” Daugherty said. “We can’t compete when someone’s making $2 an hour overseas. You can’t compete when your competition does that.”
Daugherty said as a result of many bad trade deals made by both Republicans and Democrats, it is has become extremely difficult for those with high school degrees working in manufacturing to purchase homes and prosper financially, something that had once been commonplace in the country.
On the issues of healthcare, Daugherty noted his overall support for the federal health care act of 2010, often referred to as ObamaCare, with changes to various aspects of the law to ensure more control by local health providers. Daugherty said he supported a “public utility” healthcare model, in which government sets the parameters and healthcare providers carry out. “The government will have the box and enforcement in place, and the local people who know best will implement it.”
Dent, who voted against the 2010 healthcare act, said the law will kill jobs due to severe employer mandates and stifle innovation through taxes on medical devices. Dent said he supports repealing and replacing “ObamaCare” with measures focusing on medical liability reform, increasing competition by allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines, and creating insurance pools for small businesses and high-risk patients with pre-existing conditions.