BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop (left) and Republican Challenger Randy Altschuler on the stage at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall Thursday evening.
To hear an audio stream of the complete debate, click here. Audio courtesy of www.peconiscpublicbroadcasting.org
Is Randy Altschuler an “outsourcer?” Is Tim Bishop one of the “most corrupt members of Congress?”
Is Obamacare a good idea?
And what should be done about illegal immigration, or the Middle East?
Those were some of many issues tackled during a debate between incumbent Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and his Republican opponent, Randy Altschuler of St. James Thursday night at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead.
The debate was sponsored jointly by Times/Review Newsgroup of the North Fork and The Press Newsgroup, based in the Hamptons.
This fall’s race for the First Congressional District seat, which represents much of Suffolk County including the entire East End, is actually a rematch, as Mr. Bishop narrowly defeated Mr. Altschuler two years ago.
The first-half of the 90-minute debate was set aside for health care issues.
They also delved into claims made in their campaign ads, where Mr. Bishop has labeled Mr. Altschuler an “outsourcer,” because a company he founded named Office Tiger outsourced labor to foreign countries. Mr. Altschuler’s ads have labeled him as Nancy Pelosi’s pawn, and have harped on a report calling him one of the most corrupt members of Congress in part because of a situation where he helped a Southampton man get a fireworks permit and then his campaign sent that man a request for a campaign contribution.
Mr. Altschuler kicked-off a mini-bio by saying he’s grandchild of Polish immigrants who came here during World War II.
“They weren’t rich people,” said Mr. Altschuler, who is reportedly a millionaire. “They came here because of America’s promise. My grandfather sold newspapers on the street corner and then he got a great job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. My mom was the first person in her family to go to college and unfortunately, when I was young child my father left. She got a job and worked extremely hard to bring us up.
“I worked my way through school. I was a security guard and a short order cook.”
He founded Office Tiger, which he said had employees all over the world, including 750 in the U.S., and sold it in 2006. He then founded a company called Cloud Blue, which recycles electronics. That company has 400 American jobs, Mr. Altschuler said.
“I decided to run for office because I am deeply concerned about our future,” he said. “And I have been fortunate enough to live the American dream but that dream is imperiled by a lot of the things going on in Washington today. I deeply believe we need to fix Congress. The fault lies in both sides of the aisle. But the only way we going to change Congress is to change our congressmen and bring somebody new in who has new ideas.”
As for Mr. Bishop, he said, “I have worked on Eastern Long Island for almost 40 years. I’ve lived here my entire life and my family came here in the 1600s. I am a member of the 12th generation of my family to live in Southampton and I have two daughters and they are the 13th generation, and my grandchild is the 14th generation. I’ve had two jobs. I one was a Southampton College for 29 years and now I’m Congress for 10 years. And at each one, I spend most of my time helping people.”
Mr. Bishop was the provost at Southampton College before being elected to Congress.
“The reason I serve in Congress and the reason I wish to remain in Congress is to continue to be part of a process that helps people should realize the American dream.”
THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, was debated extensively Thursday.
While Republicans have called for its repeal, both men agreed that unless the Republicans gain control of the presidency and gain a veto-proof majority in the House and the Senate, Obamacare will not be repealed.
“But we should talk about what overturning Obamacare means,” Mr. Bishop said. “It means that for every Medicare recipient, their Part A premiums will immediately go up and their Part B premiums will immediately go up, and the 50% reduction that seniors get for project prescription drugs when they’re in the doughnut hole will go away and they’ll pay 100% of their drug costs when they’re in the donut hole.
It means no more free preventive care screenings under Medicare. It means no more free wellness visits for Medicare recipients . It means that young men and women on their parents insurance between the ages of 18 and 25 would get kicked off. Just in this district, about 4,700 people between the ages of 18 and 25 that now have insurance so that didn’t, because they can stay on.”
“And it would mean that small businesses would no longer get the tax credits that they’ve been getting to provide healthcare to those that they employ,” he continued. “There are 700 small businesses in this first Congressional District that have taken advantage of those tax credits.”
Mr. Altschuler acknowledged there are good things in the controversial law, such as allowing young adults to be on their parents’ insurance.
But it also has some bad points, such as the cost, he said.
“When it was passed, the estimate was that it would cost $800 billion,” Mr. Altschuler said. Today, the Congressional Budget Office says it’s going to cost $1.7 trillion.”
Mr. Altschuler said government historically has a bad track record when it comes to estimating costs.
“It’s a very expensive program and with the fact that we have a $16 trillion debt, the last thing we can afford is more costs,” he said. “It also has over $500 billion in taxes. And Obamacare itself has $700 billion cuts in Medicare.”
“On the issue of costs, over 250 economists signed a letter saying Obamacare includes virtually every cost containment measure health care experts recommend,” Mr. Bishop said. “The Congressional Budget Office said a full repeal would add $800 billion to debt. And Obamacare won’t add a dime in taxes that affect families making less than $250,000. Those taxes only affect families making over $250,000.
“On the $700 billion cuts to Medicare, that is the reduction in rate of growth on Medicare expenses. We’re still going to spend $7 trillion on Medicare over the next ten years. We’d spend $7.7 trillion without these cuts.”
Mr. Altschuler said the Supreme Court just ruled that Obamacare itself is a tax. And the plan won’t result in a reduction in the rate of reimbursement rates for doctors, “which will make the plan ineffective.”
Mr. Bishop’s campaign has heavily emphasized the allegation that Mr. Altschuler is an “outsourcer,” based on his founding of Office Tiger, which had had 2,000 employees in India, Sri Lanka and the Phillipines, 1,250 in Europe, and 750 in the United States, according to a release Mr. Altschuler handed out in May.
“I don’t think we are going to get to where we need to be by sending jobs overseas,” Mr. Bishop said. “I have proposed legislation that would tackle one piece of outsourcing, and that is, call center jobs.” That legislation would make companies with overseas call centers ineligible for federal grants, contracts or loans.”
“Outsourcing is one of the scourges of our economy,” Mr. Bishop said.
The U.S. lost 500,000 call center jobs to the Phillipines in recent years, he said.
But Mr. Altschuler said he sold Office Tiger in 2006, and yet Mr. Bishop continues to call him an outsourcer.
“My second company, Cloud Blue, is a recycling company that has created over 400 American jobs and has been praised by no less than the Obama administration for doing that,” Mr. Altschuler said.
Mr. Altschuler was asked about a quote from Brookhaven Town Republican leader John LaValle in 2010, saying he had “never seen candidate with more flaws than Mr. Altschuler.”
“If nothing else, this proves that I am not a man of the party,” he responded. In 2010, he ran a primary against party designee Christopher Cox, which is the son of the state Republican leader.
“I’m proud of my record,” Mr. Altschuler said. “It’s true, we had employees around the world but without them, we wouldn’t have been able to create jobs in America.”
He said that Mr. Bishop has personal stock in TIAA-CREF, which owns shares in outsourcing companies, and voted to give federal bailout money to Chrysler and General Motors, which have a history of outsourcing labor. And he said there have been 40,000 less jobs in Suffolk County since Mr. Bishop took office.
Mr. Bishop said that Mr. Altschuler labeling him an outsourcer “is the height of preposterousness.”
He said the TIAA-CREF account is his pension from Southampton College and he has no say in how it’s invested. Mr. Bishop added that Cloud Blue has 40 locations and none of them are in Suffolk County. Mr. Altschuler said he’s created American jobs, whereas Mr. Bishop has never created an American jobs.
This issue stems from a recent case in which Mr. Bishop intervened to help Southampton resident Eric Semler get a fireworks permit, and then shortly afterward his campaign sent a letter asking Mr. Semler for a campaign contribution.
A group called the “Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington” cited this incident in a recent report in which they named Mr. Bishop one of the most corrupt members of Congress.
But Mr. Bishop maintains he did nothing wrong. He said after he helped Mr. Semlers, the man indicated an interest in making a contribution, and they were just following up on that. But Mr. Altschuler said Mr. Semler was critical of the solicitation.
He said Mr. Bishop should call for an ethics investigation of himself. Mr. Bishop said he didn’t need to do that because others have done so already.
Politico, the web site that broke that story, quotes Mr. Semler as calling the request “really gross” in an email to the fireworks company, but that also quotes him as praising Bishop’s work, although insisting that the Congressman’s people, not him, suggested the contribution.
There wasn’t much difference of opinion between the two candidates on what to do in the Middle East
Mr. Bishop supports getting troops out of Afghanistan, and maintaining our support for and protection of Israel, “our closest ally in the Middle East.”
He said the U.S. “cannot tolerate” the prospect of Iran getting nuclear weapons and must “keep the military option as a distant option” in regards to Iran.
Mr. Altschuler agreed with Mr. Bishop on Afghanistan, Israel and Iran. He added that he doesn’t think the U.S. should be giving aid to Egypt and he thinks the U.S. needs an “independent energy policy.”
Mr. Altschuler said the U.S. needs to secure its borders better and put in place Visa programs for employees in the farming and hospitality industries.
But, he said “we can’t penalize those who’ve played by the rules.”
Illegal immigrants using municipal services causes financial stress in the U.S., and “we can’t reward people for breaking the rules.”
Mr. Bishop said his opponent is unclear about what he wants to do about the nearly 15 million undocumented immigrants who are already here. He said he agrees that better securing the borders in necessary, but he said it’s already being done. And he agreed that “we need a Visa program that works.”
He said 60 percent of the farm works on Long Island are undocumented.
He supports a program that would allow temporary work visas, after which the immigrants would go back home. And he thinks undocumented immigrants living in America should get “earned legalization,” in which they pay a fine, pay any back-taxes they owe, learn English, and maintain a clean record. Mr. Altschuler said after Mr. Bishop spoke that he too supports that plan.
Mr. Bishop said Mr. Altschuler likes to blame him for all of Congresses’ failings, despite the fact that Congress is currently under
Republican control. Mr. Altschuler said he holds Mr. Bishop responsible because he’s his district’s Congressman.
Mr. Bishop said he’s help save 1,000 jobs at Brookhaven National Lab, he’s saved 1, 200 jobs at the Air National Guard in Westhampton, he’s brought over $100 million in aids to local schools and $150 million in projects to local governments. He said he’s successfully resolved more than 1,500 constituent service cases and made is easier to afford college, since he’s been in office.
Mr. Altschuler said “our money gets lost when we send it to Washington” and “I want to keep it here.”
He said there have been fewer jobs and more unemployment since Mr. Bishop took office.
“If you want to change Congress, you’ve got to change your congressman,” he said.