Fourth Congressional District Republican candidates squared off Monday night in front of a packed lecture hall at Bristol Community College's Attleboro campus to debate issues ranging from Social Security and Medicare, foreign policy, taxes and the economy.
Candidates Sean Bielat (R-Norfolk), Elizabeth Childs (R-Brookline) and David Steinhof (R-Fall River) took questions from a panel of local media representatives, including Bob Folcik of WVBF Radio in Taunton, George Calajezzi of WSAR in Fall River, Jim Hand of the Sun Chronicle and Jonathan Friedman of Patch in an event that was sponsored by The South Coast GOP and the Republican Women of Bristol/Norfolk County. Jack Lank, president of the United Regional Chamber of Commerce, was the moderator.
While updating the tax code, repealing “Obamacare” and decreasing the national debt were common themes among all three candidates throughout panel discussion, things became more contentious when candidates had the opportunity to ask each other questions at the end of the forum.
The meeting was the first since an exchange of words after an NECN debate on July 31 in-which Childs and Steinhof questioned Bielat's six-figure salary he received while working for his company Oneclickpolitics.com.
Monday, Childs again called into question Bielat's "electability and credibility" because she said he didn't give straight answers and wasn't transparent to voters.
Childs also questioned why Bielat didn't choose to run until he learned current Congressman Barney Frank (D-Newton) would not run for re-election. Bielat responded that he would run against Frank again, especially with a more Republican-friendly district since district lines had been redrawn.
With the recent (R-Wisconsin) as Mitt Romney's Republican running mate for President, all three candidates said changes needed to entitlements.
Childs said that Paul Ryan's vouchers proposal was "not a crazy idea," but she would begin by means testing for Medicare and distributing block grants to states for Medicaid.
"At the very least, Paul Ryan has reached across the isle and met with Democrats to save Medicare," she said. "That should not be a partisan issue."
All three also agreed that "Obamacare" needed to be repealed.
"The Federal government does not belong in health care as much as it has been," Steinhof said. "Competition always derives better performance."
Bielat added that there should not be "fear-mongering" when discussing entitlement reform – something he said he experienced when he suggested in his 2010 campaign against Barney Frank that retirement ages should be raised for future generations.
Bielat said the key to jump-starting the economy was to allow businesses to spend their own money and make a regulatory environment clear so business owners know what to expect, while Steinhof said he was for a simplified tax code and lowering taxes across the board to create more jobs in the private sector.
The Fall River Republican was the only one of the three to sign a pledge not to increase taxes. He elaborated on his pledge Monday saying he would allow for more taxes only "in the event of an emergency such as a war," and it would only be "for the short term."
For Childs, decreasing government and the national debt could be accomplished through identifying "functions" in a bureaucracy that are necessary rather than slashing entire departments.
"It is overly simplifying it by saying we're going to cut this department and cut that department," she said.
Bielat added that instead of cutting military personnel in the nation's largest budget item, the military, cuts should be made in a growing defense bureaucracy.
Bielat also said he agreed with a military strategy that gave more power back to congress because it better represented "the will of the American people". He pointed to recent strikes on Libya ordered by President Obama through the War Powers Resolution.
On the subject of Israel, Childs said America should stand by Israel if it were to decide to use military power against Iran. She said the President has been "wishy-washy" in his stance on Israel.
"Israel is our ally and we should support them," she said.
Steinhof added that he agreed with Mitt Romney's recent assertion that Jerusalem is the capital of Isreal.
The three Republican candidates will meet again Tuesday night at Stonehill College in Easton. Their debate will be preceded by a forum with Democratic candidates Joseph Kennedy III, Rachel Brown and Herb Robinson.
The event will be moderated by Lisa Strattan, associate publisher and editor of The Herald News and The Taunton Daily Gazette. The forum’s panelists will be drawn from WCVB, Wicked Local and WGBH Radio.
The debate is located at Alumni Hall. Free Parking is available in Lot 7. Alumni Hall is handicap accessible.
For tickets to the forums contact The Martin Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-565-1131