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Oct 17, 2008 12:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bishop and Zeldin face off in debate

Oct 17, 2008 12:57 PM

The Democratic incumbent in the 1st Congressional District race and his Republican challenger faced off Thursday, October 16, in Hampton Bays for their sole formal debate on the East End.

The League of Women Voters-sponsored debate tackled issues of national attention, like the $700 billion federal bailout of the lending industry, and some issues that have fallen off the national stage but are still present on the minds of East End residents, like immigration and rising healthcare costs.

The candidates, incumbent Tim Bishop of Southampton, a Democrat, and Iraq war veteran Lee Zeldin of Shirley, a Republican, were sharply divided on the bailout.

Mr. Zeldin, an attorney, said he favors “yellow jumpsuits” for CEOs over “golden parachutes,” saying they should be prosecuted for financial misdeeds, and suggested that the bailout had failed to turn the economy around. “I don’t believe Wall Street should be bailed out by Main Street,” he said. “I believe that Wall Street should be bailed out by Wall Street.”

Mr. Bishop, who is seeking his fourth two-year term on November 4, countered that the bailout is necessary to restore confidence in the financial market. “That is precisely what the recovery package is designed to do. It has been in place now for 13 days, and I think it is premature to evaluate whether or not it is going to work,” he said. The price of doing nothing would be millions of lost jobs, he said.

Mr. Zeldin suggested that, instead, cutting the capital gains tax would encourage domestic and foreign corporations and individuals sitting on “big, fat mattresses” of cash to invest in the United States, using private capital to fix the economy rather than taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Bishop scoffed at that suggestion. He pointed out that the capital gains tax is only 15 percent for long-term investments and said no one would decide on major investment over such an insignificant amount, compared to the potential profit or loss.

On immigration, the candidates agreed that America’s policy was flawed, but diverged from there.

Mr. Zeldin said local governments are forced to deal with illegal immigration because Congress is not doing its job. Illegal immigrants are straining local services, like schools and hospitals, while not paying taxes and workers’ compensation, he said.

“One thing I proposed last week was an 18.5-percent tax on wiring money out of the country,” Mr. Zeldin said, explaining that his plan calls for the tax collected to be returned to the communities where the money is wired from. “There is a lot of untaxed income here on the East End of Long Island,” he said.

Mr. Zeldin also criticized overcrowded immigrant housing: “They’re paying taxes as if one family lives there. I think if you have a house with three, four or five families living there, you should pay taxes as if three, four or five families live there.”

Mr. Bishop said he supports a comprehensive immigration reform plan that calls for hardened borders, crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented citizens, appropriate visa programs that recognize the needs of local economies, and “a path to earned legalization” for illegal immigrants.

“This is the most emotional issue we deal with, at least in this district,” said Mr. Bishop, whose legislative district encompasses both the North and South forks. “There’s one thing that we all ought to be able to agree on, and that’s that the status quo is unacceptable.”

The congressman pointed out that John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, and Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, first introduced the reform plan.

On health care, Mr. Bishop said the country must move to universal coverage.

“We are the richest, most technologically advanced nation in the world,” he said. “We have 47 million people who are uninsured, and that’s an obscenity.” He said the existing system starves doctors and hospitals while it enriches insurance companies.

Mr. Zeldin said health care is not an entitlement, but the government can make it more accessible by lowering costs through tort reform, importing prescription drugs from Canada, and allowing the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices of prescription drugs for senior citizens. Mr. Bishop said he also supports allowing the secretary to negotiate the costs of medicine.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Bishop said he has aimed to have his tenure in Congress defined by three traits, effectiveness, hard work and availability, and guided by three principles, honesty, dignity and civility.

Mr. Zeldin said what sets him apart from his opponent is his independence, pointing out a study showing that Mr. Bishop has voted with the Democratic Party 99 percent of the time.

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