In the days leading up to the first Democratic U.S. Senate debate, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) has been called upon frequently to explain the vote he took against the health care reform bill in 2010.
Wednesday night, Lynch and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Malden) went several rounds on the topic. They faced-off for 30 minutes at the Channel 5 studios in Needham following a contest among the three declared Republican candidates.
For Markey, President Obama's initiative, aimed at universal health care coverage, was "the proudest vote of my career."
"Steve, when that vote came up you were wrong," Markey said.
For Lynch, taxes and a lopsided deal for insurance companies were among the problems that outweighted benefits such as the elimination of benefit caps and guaranteed suppport for those with pre-existing conditions.
Would Lynch support repealing the law, as has been suggested by scores of Republicans, including those in this race?
"No, but I’d vote to fix it," Lynch said.
The Congressman pointed to the lack of a public option for states as a reason he pulled his support. He was criticized at the time for failing to get behind a national public option, which was not included in the final version of the bill.
Earlier this month, he sought to clarify his position in an interview with Masslive.com. “I think the best arrangement for Massachusetts is a state-run public option. I do believe that,” Lynch told the news website. “But a national public option would be better than no public option."
But the bill Lynch voted against, along with every Republican member of the House of Representatives, was the only bill on the floor, Markey said.
"I want to go to the Senate to make sure they do not repeal that," Markey said.
That health care discussion was one of a few sharp divides that moderator R.D. Sahl encouraged the two Congressmen to explore, along with the 2008 bank bailouts, support for Massachusetts fishermen and abortion.
Wall Street vs. Main Street
The now-classic showdown between bankers and the average voter is a notion that Markey worked to dispel Wednesday night as he explained his support for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and its now infamous Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"In 2008 we were in the eighth year of George Bush turning Wall Street into a casino," Markey said. "Everyone agreed we could not allow the banking system to collapse. ... There would have been tens of millions of people without bank accounts if those banks had collapsed.”
Markey also pointed to his vote years earlier against repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, enacted during the Great Depression to limit interaction between commercial banks and securities firms.
In theory, the bailout was supposed to help main street, Lynch said, but the banks ended up taking the government's money without boosting lending. "You can take credit for something that never happened, I guess," he said.
When it comes to votes on NAFTA and issues that affect local fishermen, Markey is "siding with the big guys against the little guys," Lynch said.
Markey defended himself by saying that he and other Massachusetts Congressmen were on the floor of the House fighting recently for disaster relief for fisherman, while Lynch was nowhere to be found.
"I didn't see you out there," Markey said.
Fisherman don't want disaster relief, Lynch said. They want to fish, and that means regulators need to improve the science of determining catch limits. He also accused Markey of overburdening medical device manufacturers with taxes in Obama's health care bill.
Markey turned to his fight against telecommunications companies in the 1990s, which produced a law that freed up investment resulting in billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, including many that form the "heartbeat of the innovation economy" in Massachusetts, he said.
Change on Abortion?
Early in his political career, Markey was pro-life, but Wednesday night he stressed that his shift to pro-choice came 30 years ago, and that he now has the support of Planned Parenthood.
It is a "core constitutional belief" of his that Roe vs. Wade be protected, Markey said. The decision should only be between a woman, her physician and her family.
Lynch, on the other hand, is unabashedly pro-life.
“I’m not an expert on church teachings but I am an expert on what I believe and what I don’t believe," he said.
Among the things that Lynch does not believe in is overturning Roe vs. Wade. Such a move would push abortions into an illegal, dangerous space. Instead, a better goal would be to reduce unwanted pregancies, Lynch said.
Interest Rates, Veterans Affairs and Ben Bernanke
Toward the end of the debate, Markey tossed Lynch a softball, easing the mood and leading both men to compliment each other.
"That's a kind question," Lynch said after Markey indicated he appreciated his opponent's record on veterans affairs and asked how care could improve as thousands of troops return from serving abroad.
"We’re getting a lot of them coming home after three, four, five tours of duty," Lynch said. "We’re missing something. We’re not correctly diagnosing PTSD."
It is a crisis that is "just on the horizon," Lynch continued, and one that requires an increased level of funding.
"We fought two wars," Markey said. "We did not pay for those two wars. We just put it on the cuff, and that was wrong. The one thing we should obligate ourselves to pay for is the care for our veterans.”
Neither candidate felt that the economy, though showing some signs of recovery, could handle the raising of interest rates.
"The recovery may be reaching Wall Street, it may be reaching State Street but it’s not reaching Blue Hill Ave.," Lynch said.
The sequestration is already a break on economic recovery, Markey said. Adding higher interest rates to that could be "catastrophic."
Both men said that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke deserves another term.
Also check out Patch's coverage of the Republican debate: http://patch.com/A-3jRt