Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican Jack Martins traded subtle barbs on Social Security and senior citizens’ issues at a debate in Albertson on Monday night.
But the 3rd Congressional District candidates agreed on the majority of the questions posed by AARP and the crowd of about 150 at the Viscardi Center.
One point of slight contention was over whether a commission should create a proposal to keep Social Security solvent and prevent benefit cuts.
Suozzi suggested Congress appoint such a bipartisan commission to create a long-term plan to support Social Security, as then-President Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s, he said.
But Martins said lawmakers have a responsibility to address the problem themselves.
“We’re not supposed to kick the ball to a commission in order to make those decisions,” he said.
Martins did say he supports a law that would create a task force to address benefits for family caregivers. Suozzi said that contradicted his stance on a Social Security commission.
“I’ll call it a task force for Social Security instead of a commission and that’ll be better,” he said.
The candidates agreed on nearly every other issue posed at the debate. Everything should be on the table to fix Social Security except cutting seniors’ benefits and privatizing the system, they said. The North Shore’s 3rd District needs more federal money to make streets safer, they said. Federal legislation is needed to better protect seniors from age discrimination, they said.
While the substance of their answers was often similar, Suozzi and Martins differed in how they packaged and delivered them.
Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, consistently incorporated his promise to create change in Washington by taking on powerful interests into his policy positions, staying true to his campaign messaging and focusing on his vision for Congress.
Asked whether he would support a federal law more closely regulating increases in drug prices, Suozzi said the North Shore’s next congressman would have to wage a “very stiff fight” against “powerful” drug companies to get the bill passed.
“If you want to change the status quo, you have to be willing to take on very powerful forces that are going to come back at you,” Suozzi said. “I’ve got the battle scars to prove it.”
Where Suozzi focused on the bigger picture, Martins, an Old Westbury state senator, dug intently into the specifics of Social Security policy and legislation. He touted his bipartisan accomplishments in Albany and told the crowd how he would apply his experience in Washington.
When Suozzi said he was not “intimately familiar” with delayed repairs and replacements of medical equipment paid for by Medicaid, Martins cited his work to change New York’s system that previously only gave beneficiaries one prosthetic for life.
“This is no different,” he said. “When we see that the bureaucracy is trying to, again, balance budgets on the backs of those most in need, it is our responsibility to step in.”
Martins also gave one of his most detailed explanations of his support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom he mentioned by name, something he has not done often.
Martins said he thinks both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton are “extraordinarily flawed,” but Clinton’s proposals to raise taxes and “double down” on the Affordable Care Act would not take the country in the new direction it needs.
“I will be voting in this election, because I don’t throw my vote away, I will be voting for my party’s nominee, but I can’t vote for Secretary Clinton,” he said.
Suozzi said he opposes any federal income tax increase, including those Clinton has proposed for the very rich, but said Clinton understands “the problems that we face” in Nassau County and is best prepared for the job’s demands.