Democrat David Weprin and Republican Bob Turner neither split differences nor minced words Tuesday night with one week to go before their special election in the 9th Congressional District.
Both men squared off before a raucous crowd of about 300 at St. Barnabas Church in Howard Beach in a debate sponsored by the Queens Chronicle and The Forum.
Weprin repeatedly said he is the candidate who will preserve the safety net of Social Security and Medicare, while Turner said federal spending at its current rate is unsustainable even in the short term.
Weprin decried Turner’s call for a 35 percent reduction in spending over 10 years, calling for elimination of whole departments such as Education and Agriculture.
“We definitely need to look at budget cuts, but the cuts need to be made with a scalpel, not a hatchet,” Weprin said. “And we must preserve Social Security and Medicare.”
Turner said small measures will not work.
“You’re being told everything is fine, and that you will get all your benefits, and don’t worry who will pay for it,” Turner said. “We have the potential to destroy the country if this continues.”
On tax rates, Weprin reiterated his stand on a millionaires’ tax and the closing of corporate tax loopholes.
Turner said taking 100 percent of all income from the country’s millionaires and billionaires would offset only 12 percent of the country’s current deficit for one year.
But he also could not name a single tax loophole he would close.
“I’m a Republican,” he said. “I never met a tax loophole I didn’t like.”
Asked to name one corporation specifically, Weprin tabbed General Electric.
“They made billions and billions last year and has an effective tax rate of minus 61 percent ... I don’t believe in having multinational corporations in the United States exporting jobs out of the country, jobs we need here, and getting tax breaks for it,” he said.
While Weprin accused Turner of wanting to destroy Social Security and Medicare, Turner said only that financial straits require reassessing retirement age and other factors.
Even in expressing vehement, unswerving support for Israel, the two men were at odds. Turner said the issue is not Weprin’s support but the Democrat’s potential effectiveness.
He said electing a Democrat will not force the Obama administration to adopt a more pro-Israeli stance.
“He can’t be influenced if he can take the 9th District for granted,” Turner said.
Weprin said he has relatives living in Israel for more than 50 years, that his children have studied there and he has visited many times.
“A strong Israel is a strong United States,” Weprin said. “Our special relationship is very important.”
Weprin said he opposes so-called hydrofracking for natural gas as a danger to the environment and New York City’s water supply, while Turner said it is being done safely in Pennsylvania with 70,000 related jobs.
On the recent vote to increase the federal debt ceiling, Turner said he would have voted in favor of it as the best deal possible with the country on the brink of default.
Weprin was temporarily drowned out by booing Turner supporters when he blamed the Tea Party for engaging in brinksmanship, holding the party and country captive. He accused the party of causing Standard and Poors to issue its first ever downgrade of the country’s credit rating.
“The debt ceiling debate was, frankly, shameful,” Weprin said.
Both said voters should not jump to conclusions that the 9th District will be eliminated when New York State loses two house seats through redistricting.
“The population losses have been upstate,” Weprin said. “I think there is a very strong argument that the seats should be lost upstate and that New York City not lose one of its seats.” Turner said keeping the seat would be in Democrats’ self-interest if he wins.
“If a Democrat wins it will be split among three or four different people,” he said. “They would have to face an election against a Republican. And [Rep. Joe] Crowley or [Rep. Gary] Ackerman don’t want to take me on. Or you.”.