As campaign continues, Debicella talks about the issues

Congressional candidate Dan Debicella brought the campaign trail to Hersam Acorn Radio this week as he discussed his stance on the issues and pledged to be a Republican in the mold of Chris Shays and Stewart McKinney. —Aaron Marsh

Congressional candidate Dan Debicella brought the campaign trail to Hersam Acorn Radio this week as he discussed his stance on the issues and pledged to be a Republican in the mold of Chris Shays and Stewart McKinney. —Aaron Marsh

Continuing his quest for a rematch with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th) in the fall, congressional candidate Dan Debicella sat down this week with Hersam Acorn Newspapers and defined himself

In a wide-ranging interview on Hersam Acorn Radio, which can be listened to in its entirety at Hanradio.com, Mr. Debicella touched base on several issues, including health care, immigration reform and the economy. But his main message was that he is the best candidate to represent the 4th District, a traditionally Republican district that has sent Mr. Himes, a Democrat, to Washington, D.C., the last three elections, each time by a wider margin.

Mr. Debicella, a Bridgeport native and a former state senator from Shelton, was one of the candidates defeated by Mr. Himes. The two initially faced off in 2010, a historic year for Republicans as they gained a large majority in the House of Representatives, but not a successful one for Mr. Debicella. This time, he says, things will be different because his positions on the issues represent the district, whereas Mr. Himes’s no longer do.

“We only lost by a swing of 7,000 votes out of 220,000 cast,” Mr. Debicella said. “This was the closest race in New England. Now what I think is different is people are hurting today in a way they weren’t in 2010. Whether it’s on the economy, where people can’t find jobs or are under constant threat of losing their job, or whether it’s on health care since Obamacare was just theoretical in 2010 and now 38,000 Connecticut families have lost their insurance because of Obamacare and those of us that have insurance, our rates are up an average of 35%, people are hurting now and they’re hungry for new solutions.”

Mr. Debicella said there is also more of an awareness of Mr. Himes now within the district, and he accused him of putting the Democratic Party ahead of his constituents by taking a role as head of fund raising for the party’s efforts to win House seats and not focusing on issues like transportation. He predicted that would swing the 7,000 votes he needs his way, and he said that, if elected, he would seek to be on Congress’s Transportation Committee to work with the state on issues like improvement in Metro-North service and easing traffic congestion on Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway, something he says he has experience on from his time in the state Senate.

According to Mr. Debicella, there are solutions that can do a lot of good without costing major dollars. These include working on improving entrance and exit ramps on the Merritt to make it easier for vehicles to merge in and off instead of having to come to complete stops. For Metro-North, Mr. Debicella said he would look for an increased federal and state partnership with the service to keep easily corrected maintenance issues from ballooning into huge problems impacting service.

“There’s no Republican or Democratic way to fix the roads,” Mr. Debicella said. “This is something where we can come together in a bipartisan way to just do what works.”

An issue that is expected to be a major one during the fall campaign is the impact of the Affordable Care Act, which has become more or less completely known as Obamacare. While the law got off to a rocky start last year, the number of sign-ups have risen to predicted levels and poor insurance plans have been replaced by ones that provide more and better coverage. And while many Republicans continue to call for a repeal of the law, Mr. Debicella, an opponent of Obamacare, said that quick action like that would be impractical, especially since an instant repeal would mean many people would be tossed off existing plans.

Mr. Debicella said there are good aspects to the law, such as letting people remain on their parents’ plans until the age of 26 and covering pre-existing conditions.

“We have to be practical,” Mr. Debicella said. “As much as I’d like to repeal Obamacare, we’re not going to in the next two years. The guy in the White House is named Obama. He’s not going to sign a repeal of Obamacare. We have to try and fix it. The fundamental problem with health care today is that we have a lot of uninsured people we want to cover and costs are spiraling out of control. What Obamacare has done is it’s raised costs for the 90% of us with health insurance to try and cover the 10% without it. That’s the wrong approach.”

Mr. Debicella said he instead favors an approach that will lower costs in a way he says will not only help the middle class but free up money to give subsidies to those who need help getting health care. He claims that can be accomplished through a market-based system focused on cost and choice, and he advocates changing the way doctors are paid from a fee-for-service to a per-patient basis, increased interstate competition among health care companies, and tort reform. He also accused Obamacare of forcing people into “one-size-fits-all” plans when more choice is needed allowing people to pay for what they need.

To spur economic growth, Mr. Debicella has called for eliminating special interest loopholes within the corporate tax structure. Mr. Debicella said these loopholes have allowed for the corporate tax rate to become the highest in the industrialized world, and he wants to close parts of it that allow for companies like Exxon/Mobil to receive tax credits for drilling for oil that he says they don’t need. By eliminating all of these loopholes across the board, except for charitable and mortgage deductions, Mr. Debicella said, the corporate tax rate can then be lowered.

Mr. Debicella said he is in favor of entitlement reform, without going so far as to call for privatization, as some of his fellow Republicans have. Instead, he advocates ideas like having increases to Social Security pegged to prices, not wages, and lowering benefits to wealthier Americans who don’t need it.

“The key to doing entitlement reform is actually making sure that everybody gives up a little now,” Mr. Debicella said. “If we wait on it, there are going to be drastic cuts. If we do nothing with Social Security in about 15 years there will be a 44% cut in benefits. That’s going to kill baby boomers and older people in Generation X. But we can make smaller changes now. … If everybody gives up a little, young people give up a little and current retirees give up a little and the wealthy give up a little, we can make Social Security sustainable for the long run. The political reality of it, though, is that big changes like that only happen when Republicans and Democrats agree.”

Another issue that is likely to be part of the fall campaign is immigration reform. A bipartisan package has passed the Senate, but Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner has given indications he will not bring it to the floor for a vote in 2014. Mr. Debicella said he’s disappointed to see the issue caught up in politics.

“We need an immigration policy that says if you want to live the American Dream, welcome,” Mr. Debicella said. “Now we have the problem that a lot of people came here illegally, and this, again, is where both sides on the extremes get it wrong. On the far right they want to send everyone home. That’s not what we want. We want hard-working, tax-paying and law-abiding people coming to this country. On the far left they say just give everyone amnesty, and that’s wrong, too. The right thing is basically what they have in the Senate bill, where they say if you have a job, if you obey the law and if you pay your taxes, you get to stay, and if you want to stay here longer we will give you a path to citizenship. I think the House is making a mistake by not bringing this up for a vote.”

Saying he wants to be a Republican in the “independent thinker” mode of Christopher Shays and Stewart McKinney, who represented the district for decades with moderate positions on social issues, Mr. Debicella distanced himself from the more extreme positions that Tea Party Republicans have taken in recent years. But he also criticized what he says is Mr. Himes’s hyperpartisanship, claiming the congressman has voted with Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi 95% of the time, an attitude Mr. Debicella says leads to polarization on both sides and a lack of cooperation.

“Republicans and Democrats aren’t going to agree on everything, but we should be able to agree on some things,” Mr. Debicella said, noting issues like raising the minimum wage where there can be agreement and adding this can be done in tandem with tax breaks for small businesses to spur hiring and retraining. “We have to be able to come together to help people who are hurting in this country. That’s what I think people are looking for right now rather than the reflexive partisanship we see.”

Mr. Debicella said there needs to be a more open and productive dialogue between the two parties, an argument that Mr. Himes has also made throughout his time in Congress. And while Mr. Debicella says there’s blame on everyone in Washington for the gridlock and partisanship, there has been a much-reported and acknowledged effort by congressional Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s agenda along with a more poisonous discourse since he was sworn into office in 2009. That’s why Mr. Debicella said there will have to be a change of attitude from his party as well for both parties to come together. To him that means sticking true to Republican principles but without the rancor that has come from the Tea Party.

“My philosophy as a Republican is we want the least amount of government we need, but we should have the government we need,” Mr. Debicella said. “I’m not one of these Republicans who thinks we should burn down the government and have nothing. We can do with a smaller government, but there are areas like transportation where only the government can do.”

Mr. Debicella said he wants to see principled people on both sides who can work together and embrace ideas, no matter which party they come from.

 

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