On October 15th, the two candidates for the 4th Congressional District in Massachusetts, Joe Kennedy (Democrat) and Sean Bielat (Republican), debated at Wellesley College. Olin is in the 4th Congressional District, and is currently represented by Barney Frank. At the end of this congressional session, he is retiring, in part because the district was redrawn after the 2010 census and now includes more conservative areas
Despite the saying that “all politics is local”, many of the issues touched on in the debate were of national significance. Both candidates reflected their party’s orthodoxy, though Bielat broke from his party in three ways: supporting certain military budget cuts, believing legislative authorization is necessary to use military force, and acknowledging that the EPA has a role in protecting the environment.
Both candidates agreed that reviving the economy and reducing the deficit are the most important issues, but differed in their favored approaches to fixing the problems. Economically, Bielat favors cutting taxes and reducing regulation, which he aims to do by repealing the Affordable Care Act. Kennedy instead proposes ensuring that taxpayer insured loans are made available to small business and reeducating people who are out of work to make them qualified for open positions.
When it comes to the budget, Kennedy believes that the Simpson-Bowles plan, which calls for fairly equal tax increases and spending cuts, is a good place to start negotiations, while Bielat would prefer to start negotiating based on the Ryan budget, which cuts programs and taxes. Both believe government spending can be cut, but Kennedy would prefer to minimize cuts and instead raise taxes on the wealthy, specifically by supporting the Buffet Rule, which would impose a minimum tax rate on those who make $1 million or more. Bielat instead suggests that lowering taxes will result in a stronger economy and therefore higher revenues. Both hope that the “fiscal cliff”, massive cuts that will come into effect January 2nd unless the current Congress does something, will be averted.
Kennedy supports the right of all women to safe and confidential access to healthcare, including abortions and contraceptives. Bielat is pro-life, and avoided giving his position on contraceptives by saying that all issues are women’s issues.
Both candidates support granting more visas to highly-skilled workers, such as scientists and engineers, and both believe that it is impossible to deport all 12 million illegal immigrants currently in the US. Bielat suggests that we pick who not to deport by working with employers, while Kennedy is fully behind the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants brought to the US as children to become citizens if they complete college or have served in the military and had a clean criminal record.
When it comes to healthcare, Kennedy fully supports the Affordable Care Act, but thinks that more work is necessary in order to reduce costs. Bielat wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and thinks that solutions should instead be created on a state level. To reduce costs, he proposes allowing people to buy insurance from states they don’t live in and reforming medical malpractice legislation.
Both believe the government has a role in defending the environment but that it can go overboard and damage the economy, and so restraint is necessary.
As mentioned above, Bielat breaks from his party’s orthodoxy by supporting greater limits on the executive branch’s ability to use military force, believing that the legislative branch must declare war for the military to be used. While Kennedy agrees that the legislature should authorize the use of force, he believes that Congress is currently too gridlocked to adequately defend the country, so the executive is justified in filling the vacuum.
Regarding voter ID, Bielat supports requiring it, since most people have identification. He claims that trust in the system needs to be increased, and that we should help people who don’t have an ID instead of using them as a reason not to implement. Kennedy opposes voter ID laws because it can be difficult for low-income people to get identification and because voting is a fundamental right that should not be limited.
Kennedy supports banning assault weapons, closing loopholes that allow people to get guns without background checks, and restricting access to guns by the mentally ill. Bielat believes that we must focus on enforcing current legislation before making new laws, and believes that it would be difficult to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining guns in part because it is difficult to ascertain who is a potential threat and in part because medical records are confidential.
The debate itself was quite lively. Despite their differences, the candidates were civil, only interrupting each other once at the end. The 1300 seat room appeared to be at least 75% full, and the questions from the audience, while mostly focusing on issues of national importance, also asked about issues close to their heart, such as the discrepancy between the national unemployment rate and the unemployment rate for the disabled and whether the candidates would be independent from their party if elected. Before and after the debate, supporters for both politicians held up signs, and when the candidates were introduced, both were cheered quite vigorously. The moderator noted in her opening remarks that “democracy is alive and well” here, and I hope everyone at Olin who can vote does, so we can say the same for Olin. For those of you registered here in Needham, Olin is in precinct C, and the place to vote is the gym for Newman Elementary School, 1155 Central Avenue. The polls are open from 7 AM to 8 PM November 6th, and instructions on how to vote can be found here:http://needhamma.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=406.