Ethics and outsourcing—two issues that have driven negative campaign ads from Democrat U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and Republican challenger Randy Altschuler this election—caused sparks to fly between the two at a debate in Riverhead last Thursday night.
The two participated in a 90-minute debate cosponsored by Times/Review News Group of Riverhead and the The Press News Group of Southampton, held at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall. The first half of the debate centered on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known politically as “Obamacare.” The second half was driven by questions from the audience, which focused on Mr. Bishop’s ethics and Mr. Altschuler’s past business practices. Also discussed were bipartisanship, President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as well as foreign policy.
Outsourcing is an issue that Mr. Altschuler has taken considerable heat for since 2010, when he first challenged Mr. Bishop, losing by approximately 600 votes. In 2000, Mr. Altschuler founded the company Office Tiger, which critics have blasted him over for outsourcing jobs to foreign countries. Mr. Altschuler sold the business in 2006 and now runs CloudBlue, an electronics recycling company.
Mr. Altschuler, who lives in St. James, defended his business practices, saying: “I’m proud of my record.” He also pointed out that he created two companies that produced an estimated 1,000 jobs for Americans.
“Yes, it’s true I had employees all around the world,” he said. “I had an international business. But we also have to face the reality that, without those employees around the world, we never would have created those jobs here in America. And we have to look at the underlying reason why we don’t have more jobs in America.”
Mr. Bishop publicly addressed recent ethics claims accusing him of soliciting campaign donations from a Southampton resident in exchange for helping him secure permits to host a fireworks show for his son’s bar mitzvah. Mr. Bishop said he “did nothing wrong” before later adding that, over his 40 years working in the 1st Congressional District, “I am the same person I have always been.”
He added: “I have never ever had my honesty or my integrity or the transparency with which I do my job questioned. Not once.”
Earlier in the evening, both weighed in on the 2-year-old health care law, with Mr. Bishop pledging support for it and Mr. Altschuler criticizing it based on costs.
Mr. Bishop said a repeal of the law—something that House Republicans have voted numerous times for—would result in a host of negative side effects for residents of the district, including increased Medicare premiums, the loss of tax credits for small businesses, and young adults 25 and under getting kicked off their parents’ insurance plans. And, he added later, in the 33 times Republicans have voted to repeal the law, they have never once offered an alternative plan in its place.
“My view is that we have a law that is a good, a very good first step toward solving a problem that everyone recognizes we needed to solve,” Mr. Bishop said.
While acknowledging that there are some “good things” in the law, such as a mandate that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against someone due to a preexisting condition, Mr. Altschuler said the initiative is far too costly. He noted that the Congressional Budget Office has predicted that the legislation would cost approximately $1.7 trillion over the next decade, while failing to focus on lowering the cost of health care or medical malpractice tort reform.
“One of the biggest issues we have right now is our health care costs are spiraling out of control,” Mr. Altschuler said.
Mr. Altschuler also suggested that Obama’s health care program is being balanced by more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare—a popular Republican talking point this election season, and one that Mr. Bishop debunked as “a scare tactic.” PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website, also rated the claim as “mostly false” after Mr. Romney cited the same figures in an August interview, and stated that Obamacare will not cut Medicare funding. The president’s health care law does, however, reduce the amount of future spending growth in Medicare, and those savings come from significant reductions to private insurers under the Medicare Advantage program.
Both candidates bickered on the subject of outsourcing. Mr. Bishop said he’s sponsored a bipartisan bill that would make companies that outsource jobs to foreign countries ineligible for federal grants and loans. He said that, in the past five years, the country has lost 500,000 call center jobs while the Philippines has added 600,000.