Before a packed house at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Middletown and Democratic challenger Scott Wallace of Buckingham faced off at the forum that was moderated by the League of Women Voters of Bucks County and Bucks County’s chambers of commerce.
Friday morning’s First Congressional District candidate forum showed off the policy differences between the two men running and also the revealed the attacks that have mainly played out in campaign ads.
Wallace spoke frequently of Republican President Donald Trump and worked hard to link Fitzpatrick to him and Republican policies while Fitzpatrick focused in on Wallace’s wealth by calling him the “1 percent of the 1 percent.” The congressman also painted Wallace as out of touch with regular Bucks Countians.
Fitzpatrick touted his membership of the bipartisan congressional Problem Solvers Caucus often in the debate and said lawmakers needed to work together to solve problems, adding it will be the “only thing that’s going to save this country.”
Wallace hit back by asking why Fitzpatrick had not solved more problems.
“You have the number one most independent freshman congressman in the nation that has managed to get both the AFL-CIO Working Families endorsement and the Chamber of Commerce,” Fitzpatrick said.
“We have someone who says he’s a problem solver, but votes with Donald Trump 84 or 85 percent of the time,” Wallace stated.
Wallace said he does not support the Republican-backed tax reform bill that was passed last year. He said the tax cut added trillions to the national debt and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to pay for it by cutting Social Security and Medicare.
The congressman said the tax code needed to be updated and current economic growth is a positive sign, noting social programs could be threatened by a slow-growing economy. In explaining economic growth, he pointed to the expansion of new small businesses on Mill Street in Bristol Borough. Fitzpatrick also said he is for a balanced budget.
The moderators asked Wallace about specific changes to Social Security and Medicare. He cited removing the income cap on taxation for Social Security and said he would support solutions to make the program solvent for the future.
Fitzpatrick, who noted his parents on are on Social Security, supports legislation to remove taxes on Social Security income and said the benefits should be related to the consumer price index.
Wallace said he is for closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy and companies, citing recent reporting that son-in-law of Jared Kushner may have paid little in taxes.
“A rising tide should lift all boats, not just yachts,” Wallace said.
On the topic of health care, Fitzpatrick noted that he did not vote with the majority of Republicans last year on a bill that would have scrapped the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, because there was not a replacement. He did note the program needs major reforms, including changes to medical liability reform and cutting the medical device tax.
Fitzpatrick said he supports patients with pre-existing conditions, which Wallace took issue with stating that the congressman voted for the tax reform bill that hurt those people.
Wallace said health care companies need “reasonable regulations” to protect patients. He also noted Fitzpatrick’s support for the tax reform legislation that “cut the heart out of Obamacare.”
Peppered throughout the debate were spars about Wallace’s wealth and comments comparing Fitzpatrick to Trump.
At one point, Fitzpatrick challenged Wallace, who is worth at least $100 million, to release his tax returns and have experts look over them. The congressman suggested that Wallace has greatly benefited from tax breaks.
Wallace said Fitzpatrick should also release his returns and chided him for not pushing harder to get Trump to release his returns.
The issue of student loan debt came up and both candidates said the problem needs to be tackled.
Wallace explained that there should be reform that keep rates for borrowing lower and advocated for forgiveness of student loans for those who serve in public service. He also said he wanted to reign in predatory lenders and supports upping the corporate tax rate by 1 percent to tackle existing student debt.
Fitzpatrick said he supports legislation that shows students how colleges and universities spend their money and that the government should make sure loans are affordable for students.
On immigration, both candidates noted the difficult problem and said they did not want to deport all individuals living in the United States illegally.
Wallace said he wants comprehensive immigration reform and there needs to be “immediate relief” for those who came into the county as kids. He said families need to be reunited if they were separated by the government.
The congressman called any mass deportation of an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants as “unbecoming of American values” and said the Problem Solvers Caucus has proposed legislation that addresses guest workers, e-verify, and border security.
When asked about term limits, Wallace spoke of only serving three terms in congress if he is elected. He also said he is not for term limits in congress because you often see older legislators create their best work after a numerous terms, citing the late senators Ted Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. However, the recent nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh has made him consider that there should be term limits for Supreme Court justices.
Of note, Wallace pointed out the irony that his grandfather, Vice President Henry A. Wallace, benefited because he served in his role during wartime President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term.
In line with previous statements, Fitzpatrick said be believes in term limits and cited his work taking down political corruption while he served as an FBI special agent. Most political corruption happens, the congressman said, after multiple terms serving in Washington D.C.
When speaking of international trade, Wallace said that America needs to find trade deals that are fair for workers and also protect the environment while Fitzpatrick said updated trade deals are benefiting our economy.
Wallace told the crowd about his plan to support efforts to transition to the country to renewable energy within the next 15 years.
The congressman said he supports transitioning to renewable energy and touted the boost it adds to the economy. He also mentioned the carbon tax bill that he supports, noting it received input from businesses.
The two men have similar views on marijuana and letting up on current laws while both acknowledged its medical use. Wallace said no one has overdosed on marijuana and believes the federal government should leave many rules on the drug up to the states.
Toward the end of the debate, Wallace hammered Fitzpatrick about his donations from outside groups and corporations and said he did not hold enough town halls, citing the one he has held in Bensalem last year.
Fitzpatrick rebutted by pointing to his accessibility at events, phone town halls, and stated in hyperbole that 30 percent of the district has his cell phone number.
While there were plenty of differences in policy and the two poked at one another, they gathered after the debate to grab a photo with Delaware Valley University President Dr. Maria Gallo.