Jane Corwin and Kathy Hochul didn’t stray too far from their well-rehearsed sound bites in a 26th District congressional candidates’ debate Thursday, but the clash certainly underscored the differences between them.
The debate, organized by WGRZ-TV and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, featured an empty chair symbolizing the place where candidate Jack Davis was supposed to sit, until he backed out of the event at the last minute Wednesday.
The special election to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by Chris Lee is May 24. Ahead of it, the campaigns are in overdrive, trying at least as hard to tell voters why they shouldn’t pick this or that person as why they should pick the Republican, the Democrat or the independent.
The animosity between competitors surfaced quickly in the debate, as Corwin, the Republican, used question-and-answer time to try painting Hochul, the Democrat, as a tax-and-spender with an “inconsistent” set of campaign promises.
Hochul returned the favor by suggesting repeatedly that Corwin would rather cut health care spending on senior citizens than give up tax breaks for “millionaires and billionaires.”
The Medicare problem
Federal officials say Medicare, the government program that pays the lion’s share of senior citizens’ health care costs, will go broke by 2029 unless it’s changed. The well-publicized “Ryan budget,” which included a proposal to privatize Medicare in 2022, by paying a portion of their health insurance premium rather than directly paying their medical bills, passed in the GOP-led House of Representatives on April 15.
A late April Siena poll of likely voters in the 26th suggested a slim majority, 59 percent, do not favor that proposal. Hochul has been hammering Corwin for saying she would have voted for the bill. Donald Trump, the TV personality and real estate mogul, opined Wednesday in the national press that Corwin’s campaign is struggling because of the Ryan Medicare issue.
Corwin did not back away from the Ryan bill in the debate.
“If we keep Medicare the same plan that it is now, we’re going to be out of money by 2029, which means nobody will receive benefits,” she said. “This (plan) does not eliminate Medicare, it protects Medicare” for future generations.
Not so, Hochul countered.
Corwin’s insolvency claim is “a scare tactic, to tell our seniors that there’ll be nothing for them in 2029; it’s not the truth,” she said.
The Ryan bill would take the country back to the early 1960s, before seniors had guaranteed health care coverage and many went without, she added.
“There’s a way to fix (Medicare). ... We have to continue what’s been a very successful program,” Hochul insisted.