By Kathryn G. Menu;Photography by Laurie Barone Schaefer
While the economy was the central topic in Monday night’s debate between incumbent Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop and his Republican opponent Randy Altschuler, the candidates for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives also spoke at length about the contentious, sometimes admittedly ugly, campaign that has been waged between the two. The candidates also addressed the influence of Super PACs on the political landscape, abortion and continued an ongoing debate over whether cutting taxes does, in fact, lead to actual job creation.
Monday night’s debate, held at the Bridgehampton School, was sponsored jointly by The Press News Group and the Times/Review Newsgroup and was moderated by Press News Group executive editor and editor of the eastern edition of The Southampton Press Joe Shaw.
The second in a series of three debates sponsored by the newspaper groups, Monday night’s forum was largely dedicated to jobs and the economy, in an effort to allow substantive conversations about specific issues, said Shaw.
Fundamentally, Altschuler — who also has the endorsement of the Conservative and Independence parties — and Bishop — who carries the endorsement of the Working Families line and is seeking a sixth term — have different approaches and visions for how the future of this country should be charted.
On Monday night, Altschuler says he fundamentally believes cutting taxes does create jobs, citing his 10-points jobs plan and the goal to provide more small business owners tax relief and make it more desirable for companies to stay in the United States.
“We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world,” he said.
Bishop would later note that while the U.S. does have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, it is fourth from the bottom in terms of the actual taxes it collects from corporations because of tax loopholes and subsidies.
Bishop said he does not believe there is factual data directly tying cuts in taxes to job growth, however, he does support tax cuts for the middle class, reductions in payroll taxes and has personally supported over 18 tax cuts that would benefit small businesses.
Altschuler rebutted that he did not believe tax cuts alone would get the country financially where it needs to be, but on the street he hears people crying for tax relief. Bishop, he charged, voted against extending the Bush era tax cuts for people making $250,000 or more.
Bishop countered he did support tax cuts be extended for people who make below $250,000 and that 97 percent of Americans fall into that category. For those making above $250,000 they will be returned to the Clinton era tax rates, which was an economically prosperous time, he added.
In 2010, when Altschuler lost his first race to Bishop by a mere 594 votes, he had signed Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, essentially vowing to oppose all actions that would increase income taxes for businesses or individuals, including opposing any action that would reduce or eliminate deductions or breaks on businesses.
On Monday night, Altschuler said he has not resigned that pledge this year.
“When you sign a pledge you put a stake in the ground that is sometimes impossible to move around,” he said, adding the way to fiscal health will also be found in compromise between the two major parties.
Bishop agreed compromise was critical, but added in the last two years dozens of candidates have been elected to the House of Representatives who think “compromise is a four letter word.”
He added he did not believe Norquist sees his Taxpayer Protection Pledge as an annual pledge, as Altschuler maintained. Bishop added because of pledges such as this, talks concerning the deficit have largely fallen apart — because, he said, there is an unwillingness to compromise in terms of discussions about adding new revenues, or taxes.
Altschuler responded by charging Bishop has been “fiercely partisan in his political life,” voting with Democrats 93 to 98 percent of the time.
“My opponent is not even a member [of Congress] yet and he has signed on to one of the most partisan, ideologically extreme divisive documents in Washington — the Grover Norquist pledge,” countered Bishop, adding that as a member of the minority party he is only able to vote on bills that Republicans allow on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The two candidates did discuss how they have demonstrated an ability to work with their rival political party.
Bishop signed onto the Go Big Coalition, a group of Democrats and Republicans backing the bipartisan “gang of six” Senators working on a deficit reduction bill to go beyond cutting the $4 trillion deficit, by putting all options on the table, he said.
“We said we were willing to step out of party orthodoxy and come out as reasonable people, charged by the American people to solve a problem and I think that really is bi-partisanship,” said Bishop.
Altschuler noted that he breaks with his majority in believing — like Bishop — that infrastructure construction on Long Island is critical, specifically fixing roads, looking at the creation of sewer districts and dredging projects. He added he would oppose any cuts to Stony Brook University or the Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Economic development of the Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL) in Riverhead was also discussed.
Bishop said his offices have begun working on aiding Riverhead Town in dealing with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which has asked the town for more specificity in its vision for EPCAL. The 2,900-acre property once leased by Grumman Corporation is now proposed as a mixed-use, sustainable development project meant to draw in businesses, and jobs.
“This is what we do all the time,” he said. “My office serves as a facilitator that brings the federal government to the table to help solve problems.”
Altschuler countered that finding a way to develop EPCAL has been a problem since Grumman left the site. He said he plans, if elected, to devote a staffer solely to job creation in Suffolk County. He said the Congressman serving the First Congressional District would need to be aggressive and that has yet to happen.
“That is simply not true,” bristled Bishop, noting there has been tremendous economic development at EPCAL, including the addition of a railroad spur bringing the Long Island Railroad back to the site — a critical method of transportation for many businesses.
“I have been in office for 10 years and every single time anyone from Riverhead has approached me we have done what they have asked and with results,” said Bishop. “That is simply not accurate.”
Altschuler continued to hammer home his point that it was tax cuts and reducing government regulation that would help local business.
“What our small business need more than anything else is customers,” said Bishop. “I go to Catena’s Market in Southampton and I can guarantee you they are not wringing their hands over federal regulation — they need more customers.”
Altschuler said businesses need certainty, and programs like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, leaves businesses with a sense they don’t know what to expect down the road.
The candidates also touched on outsourcing — a theme in the attack ads towards Altschuler in this campaign. Bishop has been critical of Altschuler’s former business, Office Tiger, a company which Bishop maintains outsources administrative jobs overseas to places like India.
“I think it is one of the scourges of the American economy,” said Bishop, adding that he has proposed legislation that will make companies that outsource call center jobs ineligible for federal grants.
“I am not going to talk about the ad — everyone wants more jobs in America,” said Altschuler. “The question is why there are not more jobs in America and why don’t we bring them back here.”
The candidates also touched on their views on abortion. Altschuler is pro-life. Bishop is pro-choice.
At a Hampton Bays debate, a high school student largely stole the show when she scolded both candidates for their negative campaigns. Shaw wondered if the addition of super PACs (political action committees), which can raise and spend unlimited monies on political campaigns, has been beneficial to the process and this campaign specifically.
“I don’t think anyone is happy with how the campaigns are handled today,” said Altschuler, who said his first commercial featured his wife, his single mother and his 10-points jobs plan.
“It is unfortunate but it is the card we have been dealt and we are dealing with it,” said Altschuler.
“I think Super PACs fundamentally threaten our democracy,” said Bishop, adding before his campaign ran a single ad in July, Altschuler held a press conference in front of Bishop’s office criticizing his daughter who has raised money for Bishop’s campaigns as well as his wife, a pre-school teacher. Altschuler charged both had benefitted from Bishop’s tenure at Southampton College and as a Congressman. Bishop has staunchly denied both claims.
“So please, don’t be the choir boy,” said Bishop. “I think even within the context of an ugly, bruising campaign, family should be off limits.”
Altschuler called the comments “disingenuous.”
“I don’t think it is fair for either one of us to say we cloaked ourselves in glory,” said Bishop, again calling for a moratorium on ads attacking family members.
“I would never do it and I will never do it,” he said.