By Tom Yerace
Voters in the 3rd Congressional District who attended Saturday's debate between the incumbent and her challenger came away with at least one firm pledge from each candidate.
"I tell you right now, Mike Kelly will never vote for any tax increase on my watch," said Republican challenger Mike Kelly of Butler, a car dealer and former city councilman.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Erie, said, "I will never, never vote to privatize Social Security. That is a pledge that I make to the senior citizens of my district."
There were more than a few elderly voters present at the debate in the Days Inn, since it was sponsored by the Butler County AARP. State AARP President Estella Hyde attended. It was moderated by Jon Delano, a former congressional aide who now is a well-known political analyst.
The debate, which attracted about 150 people, stayed civil between the candidates and the crowd.
For the most part the candidates stayed focused on the issues and written questions submitted by the audience. In the process, they appeared to spell out their differences. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Dahlkemper said she "was proud of my vote on the health care bill." She responded to Kelly's contention that the bill will take $500 billion out of Medicare for senior citizens by saying the $500 billion are actually savings to be realized through improved "efficiencies" to the system that will eliminate fraud and waste.
Also, she said the bill closed the prescription drug "doughnut hole" that made it difficult for senior citizens to afford medicine in some instances. Starting in January, it will eliminate copays for senior citizens for preventative "wellness" visits to a doctor.
"We have developed a good plan that will bring peace and comfort to people," she said.
Kelly said he would work to repeal health care reform. He said that it would have been a better law if medical professionals such as doctors had been given input into writing the law. Kelly predicts that 15 percent to 20 percent of the nation's hospitals will close because of the Medicare payment reductions. Also, he said the costs of the law remain "unknown" saying it is simply not sustainable.
"Less hospitals, less doctors and it's going to be better for seniors?" Kelly said. "I just don't see it."
Another distinction was made on extending the tax cuts enacted by President George W. Bush.
Kelly said he favors renewing the cuts which are set to expire, but for everyone -- including the wealthiest Americans.
He said by doing that it will encourage business owners to invest in their businesses and create more jobs.
Dahlkemper would extend the tax cuts for everyone except the nation's richest citizens.
"I am in favor of restoring the Bush tax cuts for people who are middle income because those are the people who are struggling," Dahlkemper said.
She said that adding that extending the cuts to people earning more than $250,000 would cost $700 billion in revenues.
"I absolutely feel that it is fiscally irresponsible to continue the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," she said.
Each candidate claimed the other had distorted or been untruthful about some issues.
Regarding Dahlkemper's claim that Kelly advocates the privatization of Social Security, Kelly said, "I never said that anywhere."
Dahlkemper refuted the charge made by Kelly that she is not "pro-life" on the abortion issue, as she claims.
She pointed out that she would not vote for the health care bill until President Obama signed an executive order that prohibited the use of federal funds for abortions except in the case of rape, incest and when the mother's health is threatened, which has been the standard for years.
"I remain staunchly pro-life," she said.