Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld) and Democrat Dan Lamb sat inside an Elks Lodge in Cortland passing a microphone back and forth for two hours Saturday. It was the first time the two debated in their contest for the newly drawn 22nd Congressional District that stretches from the Southern Tier through central New York.
At times the two seemed to agree, having similar opinions on issues like women's reproductive rights and foreign policy. But they sparred a few times on the topic of partisanship in Congress.
They also fielded a question or two neither candidate admittedly was prepared for, like future spending for the country's space program.
Hanna, a former construction business owner, said he is open to raising taxes on the wealthier Americans, but he thinks the income cutoff should be higher ($500,000) than the one being pushed for by Democrats ($250,000).
"We need to focus on the middle class. I’m not opposed to raising taxes on certain people. I’ve never thought otherwise, never said otherwise," he said. He then hit on a recurring theme of putting more investment into high-tech education: "And if some of that money can go into raising the middle class through education, I’m there."
Lamb, who is a former long-time aide of retiring Democratic congressman Maurice Hinchey, echoed a similar sentiment.
"I do believe tax cuts can have a simulative impact on the economy," he told the roughly 100 people in attendance. "And I’m not in favor of raising taxes on the middle income, low income people in this country."
The two also went back and forth on health care reform, which Congress has voted to repeal 30 times.
"The idea that we’d go back to the bad old days where you could have a lifetime cap on how much health insurance you could receive; if you had a serious medical condition, you’d reach a limit and you’d be out of luck, that’s not the type of country we are," Lamb said.
Hanna told the crowd that certain measures of the Affordable Care Act were good - like eliminating pre-existing conditions - but that the bill could be made better. He supports replacing the current law.
"My job is also to replace it with something that we can all agree on, that’s manageable and affordable. This bill does nothing," he said. "It pretends that it will someday, but it doesn’t now."
New taxes on medical device makers like Welch Allyn, as well as no changes to doctor malpractice insurance, were areas Hanna raised for reform.
Here are some other issues the two candidates discussed:
Lamb, who has a background in environmental studies, is strongly opposed to natural gas extraction being approved in the state.
"I don't believe we have discovered the necessary amount of information to secure its safety," he said.
Meanwhile Hanna backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's stance - and review process.
"I think absolutely it should be based on the science. I have not supported it, nor am I against it," he said.
Lamb is not in favor of turning Medicare into a voucher system, saying "don't mess" with Medicare. Hanna said he is concerned about passing the debt on to children and has voted for the "Ryan Budget."
Both candidates said they do not support privatization of Social Security. Hanna called for raising the age limit for receiving benefits.
Hanna told the audience the economic stimulus was wasted. He said more money should be invested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as a way to make people better prepared for high-tech jobs.
Lamb said there have been too much inaction in congress on the economy and contends Hanna actually has voted to cut STEM funding. He also says tax reform will help boost the economy.
Hanna and Lamb are scheduled to meet two more times, including October 25 in Rome, before the November 6 election.
The new 22nd district encompasses all of Cortland, Madison, Chenango and Oneida Counties. It also makes up most of Broome County and the eastern half of Oswego County. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district.
You can follow reporter Ryan Delaney on Twitter @RyanWRVO