In a debate at Cornell Tuesday, Nate Shinagawa ’05, M.A. ’09, Democratic nominee for Congress in New York’s 23rd District, sparred with two members of the College Republicans on policy issues.
The debate — which was moderated by Ryan Yeh ’13, president of the Cornell Forensics Society — covered five subjects: the debt and deficit, taxes, bipartisanship, health care and education. Alex Pruce ’13 and Julius Kairey ’15 represented the Cornell Republicans in the event –– in which Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y. 29), Shinagawa’s incumbent opponent, declined to participate, according to Prof. Sam Nelson, director of the Cornell Forensics Society.
Shinagawa opened the debate with a speech touting his service in the Tompkins County Legislature as an example of bipartisanship. He attacked the Republican majority in the House of Representatives for “not investing in the middle class.”
Pruce, delivering the Republicans’ response, said, “We believe wholeheartedly as Republicans in the individual, not reliance on the institution.”
The debaters disagreed starkly on a number of issues.
When Yeh asked each side to name a specific path to closing the deficit, Kairey said the Republican Party should focus on reducing long-term entitlement spending, specifically through a voucher program and a means testing of Medicare, which would give poorer seniors more generous benefits.
“Not doing anything to Medicare is ending it,” Kairey said.
Shinagawa thanked Kairey for identifying a specific program, saying, “I commend you for having more specifics than the rest of your party.”
Shinagawa, however, proposed reining in military spending by ending the war in Afghanistan and shutting down select military bases abroad, which he called “relics of the Cold War.”
Shinagawa also proposed eliminating or raising the Social Security tax cap and allowing parts of the Bush tax cuts to expire for citizens with incomes above $250,000 –– a suggestion that Kairey said would negatively affect small businesses.
The most significant area of disagreement centered on bipartisanship and the leadership style of Republicans in the House of Representatives.
When asked whether the Republican Party should be blamed for the lack of bipartisan action in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Kairey said, “No, it’s our responsibility to stand up against bad policies.”
He added that the results of the 2010 midterm elections, in which House Republicans gained a majority, signaled the American electorate giving Republicans a mandate to oppose President Obama.
Shinagawa, however, asked the audience to compare Republican and Democratic leadership.
“We have a very good example with a House run by Republicans and a Senate run by Democrats,” he said. Shinagawa said the Farm Bill, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support but was stalled in the House, is representative of problems with House Republican leadership.
On the subject of healthcare, the two sides found a rare area of agreement when Pruce said that the Affordable Care Act was correct in covering pre-existing conditions, risks that are not typically compensated by standard insurance premiums.
However, Pruce said that the law was compromised by the taxes and fees it included and the individual mandate that allows the federal government to force individuals to purchase an item they may not want or need.
Nelson said he was pleased with the substance of the debate, but regretted Reed’s absence.
“I thought it was good. I was just happy it happened,” Nelson said. “Cornell is one of the largest employers in the new 23rd District, so it’s nice that at least one of the candidates was brave enough to come here and have his ideas tested by those who disagree with them.”
Nicolette St. Lawrence ’15, a member of the Cornell Republicans, echoed Nelson’s sentiments.
“I half-liked Nate,” St. Lawrence said. “There were a few moments where I could tell he borrowed some Obama-isms, but there were some moments where we could agree. I was just disappointed that Reed couldn’t make it.”
Dalton Vieira ’14, a member of the Cornell Democrats, was equally balanced in his appraisal of the debate.
“Nate did well in most areas, though there were some areas where the Cornell Republicans brought up points that I’d like to see him respond to,” Vieira said. “Overall, I thought it was good.”