With the midterm election finish line mere days away, 9th Congressional District candidates Bob Turner, a Republican, and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) Thursday night seemed sharply divided on most issues, including the national deficit, stimulus, healthcare and Bush tax cuts as they squared off in a spirited debate at the Juniper Park Civic Association meeting in Middle Village.
The event, organized by the Queens Chronicle and Forum Newsgroup, was the first of two, with state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Republican Anthony Como also going toe-to-toe Thursday as their fight for the 15th Senate District seat winds down.
This year’s federal budget deficit is expected to be more than $1 trillion, and Weiner said one critical way to put a dent in it is to create employment opportunities for taxpayers.
“When more people are working, there’s less strain on the government,” he reasoned.
Turner, referencing the similar situation that President Ronald Reagan faced in 1984, said the nation needs tax cuts.
“The only way out of this is to grow our way out of it,” he said to an enthusiastic crowd of about 300 people.
Turner slammed the stimulus bill, saying it only “put us further in the hole” and the “efficacy of the bailout money to states and cities is unproven.”
Weiner said the package was necessary, because without it, “the state said they’d have to lay off [first responders.]” He also praised the middle-class tax cuts.
“Frankly, we needed that, so that [people] had money to put into our local stores,” Weiner said.
Turner seized on the healthcare bill, which he has indicated he’d vote to repeal, saying he would not make it compulsory, and would have put greater reliance on the private insurance industry by encouraging competition between states.
“This is not the fault of greedy businesses — it’s government incompetence,” Turner said.
Weiner detailed how he would have simplified the bill by gradually expanding Medicare to cover more Americans.
Asked what the income cutoff point should be for extending the Bush tax cuts, Weiner said $250,000 is too low and suggested $1 million. Turner, a former TV industry executive, said he would “cut substantially in all categories” because the people earning the most are the entrepreneurs, the ones who can expand the economy and hire more employees.
Weiner detailed a three-point plan on dealing with illegal immigrants. He said that in addition to increasing border security, the undocumented — if they're working, paying taxes, paying withholdings, learn English, their kids are in school and aren't accepting a government subsidy — should “get a worker card, pay a fine and go to the end of the line.” Weiner also asserted that business owners who employ undocumented immigrants without a worker card should “get thrown in jail.”
Turner said, “By and large, I agree with the tough talk, but we’ve had inaction over the past 12 years.” He went on to posit that the “most porous part of the border happens to be Kennedy Airport.”
Locally, Weiner said that contrary to FEMA’s policy, he would compel the federal government to replace trees destroyed by the September tornadoes. Turner disagreed, saying “federal money should be reserved for major catastrophes.”
Truck traffic in Maspeth, an issue with which many audience members have had to contend, comes down to better mass transit and enforcement by police and the city Department of Transportation, Weiner said.
Turner agreed in principle with his opponent, but added, “If I were running for mayor, I’d give you a different answer,” taking a veiled shot at Weiner’s candidacy to succeed Mayor Bloomberg in 2013.
“I guarantee you this: I would never take a job in politics that doesn’t give me the chance to represent this community,” Weiner later said.
Election Day is Nov. 2.