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Dent, Daugherty spar over economy, healthcare reform during PBS 39 / Morning Call debate

By Kevin Lechiski, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 16 2012 11:44:20 PM CDT
Charlie Dent - Rick Daugherty

During a live televised debate on PBS 39 Tuesday night, the candidates for the 15th Congressional District, incumbent Republican Charlie Dent and Democratic challenger Rick Daugherty, actually agreed on principles such as healthcare reform and job creation.

Where the candidates diverged greatly is on how to achieve these principles. Their diverging paths were front and center during the debate, sponsored by WLVT PBS 39 and The Morning Call. The debate featured questions from two panelists, Colby Itkowitz, The Morning Call's Washington correspondent, and Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, as well as questions from audience members and from viewers submitted through social media.

On the issue of growing the economy, both candidates agreed job growth is key, but disagreed on how to spur it.

Daugherty, the long-time executive director of the Lehigh County Senior Center, blames unfair foreign trade agreements adopted by Congress over the years, which he says are the main culprit for once well-paying manufacturing and other jobs being moved overseas.

According to Daugherty, trade agreements with China and NAFTA have had devastating impacts on American jobs.

“The federal government needs to make sure that our workers, the best in the world, are on a level-playing field with the rest of the world,” he said, citing T-Mobile’s recent decision to eliminate 604 jobs in the Lehigh Valley.

Dent, who has been representing the 15th Congressional since 2005, said the best way for the government to create jobs is to give individuals the ability to do so. Dent called for wide-scale tax code reforms, including lowering corporate and small-business tax rates that he said are the highest in the developed world.

Dent said over-regulation is killing jobs. He said trade agreements were not responsible for T-Mobile eliminating the Lehigh Valley jobs. Dent said the FCC and U.S. Justice Department were at fault by not approving a merger between T-Mobile and AT&T.

Dent accused Daugherty of supporting trade restrictions that will actually make American manufacturers less competitive. “We need open markets for our manufacturers and farmers. When Americans compete, we win,” he said.

Both candidates said national healthcare reform is a must. Daugherty supports the federal health care law of 2010 adopted under President Obama. Dent is calling for the repeal and replacement of “ObamaCare.”

Dent, an Allentown resident, said ObamaCare is failing to reform healthcare and causing severe damage to the economy. He said employer mandates will result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and larger numbers of employers opting to replace full-time jobs with part-time ones.

Dent called for healthcare measures focusing on malpractice liability reform; allowing health insurance to be purchased across state lines; and creating insurance pools for small businesses and for residents with chronic conditions.

Daugherty, a Lowhill Township resident who once served as district administrator for former Rep. Paul McHale, said the 2010 healthcare reform act is already producing reduction and rebate checks in premiums, and its focus on preventative care will reduce long-term costs.

On the issue of abortion, Dent said abortion should be legal under most circumstance. Dent, who opposes allowing partial-birth abortions, said no federal funding should be provided for abortions.

Daugherty said he believes “life begins at conception.”

The debate, moderated by PBS 39 station manager Amy Burkett, included questions from students in the Republican and Democratic clubs at Muhlenberg College.

Lindsey Quentin, of the Republican club at Muhlenberg, questioned the candidates about the more than $800 billion stimulus package adopted in 2009 under President Obama.

Daugherty said the stimulus package prevented a recession from becoming a depression, including helping the middle class with tax cuts.

Dent, who voted against the measure, said the $830 billion plan “delivered way too little.” The plan failed to lower unemployment to less than 6 percent, as Dent said was promised by the Obama administration, and has driven up the national debt.

Representing the Democratic club at Muhlenberg was Jeremy Russial, who asked the candidates whether voters should be required to produce photo identification.

Dent said photo ID laws are “reasonable to protect the integrity of every vote.”

Daugherty said requiring photo identification places an undue burden on many residents, including senior citizens who no longer drive and may not have a valid photo identification.