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Democrat Bill Owens (at left) and Green Party candidate Donald Hassig. Photo: Brian Mann
Democrat Bill Owens (at left) and Green Party candidate Donald Hassig. Photo: Brian Mann

NY21 Debate: Owens, Doheny, Hassig spar over healthcare

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Tuesday night's congressional debate in Queensbury ranged over a wide range of topics, but the issue that ignited the candidates and the crowd was health care. Republican Matt Doheny argued for repealing the Affordable Care Act and warned that the Democratic reform measure was "anti-constitutional."

That sparked a fierce reaction from Democrat Bill Owens, Green Party Candidate Donald Hassig and from the audience at Queensbury High School.

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During last night's hour-long exchange, the candidates were mostly low key, with much of the attention actually falling on Green Party candidate Donald Hassig who was appearing in his first major campaign event. Dressed in a green tee-shirt and sporting a long beard, Hassig drew applause repeatedly with

America is going to have free health care, it's just a matter of time.
proposals like this one, arguing that corporate farming should be banned.

"We don't want the food that Monsanto is all about producing," he argued.

Democrat Bill Owens and Republican Matt Doheny, dressed in dark suits and power ties, sparred on a wide variety of issue, from union rules to government regulation. But their exchange really ignited when Doheny attacked President Barack Obama's healthcare

Matt Doheny sparked a strong reaction, blasting "Obamacare." File photo<br />
Matt Doheny sparked a strong reaction, blasting "Obamacare." File photo
reform plan.

"I want to repeal and replace Obamacare," Doheny declared, and that proposal sparked a fierce exchange of cheers and boos from the packed audience in the Queensbury high school auditorium. He argued that the measure would "go ahead and cut Medicare by over $700 milion."

Doheny has made repealing so-called "Obamacare" a centerpiece of his campaign, and last night he doubled down on that argument. He argued that the Democratic plan would cripple private-sector and business-provided insurance coverage, and would leave far too much power in the hands of Federal bureaucrats. "That's not unconstitutional," he said.  "That's anti-Constitutional, and I would not stand for that."

The medical panel Doheny mentioned is charged with finding savings in Medicare, and some critics have argued that it could require doctors to adopt 'best practices' forcing them to change how they treat patients. But independent fact checking  organizations have disputed many of these claims, pointing out that the Affordable Care Act relies for most of its benefits on private sector insurance companies and specifically prohibits the rationing of care.

Democrat Bill Owens was a crucial vote for Democrats in 2009 helping to pass Obamacare, and as a politician who describes himself as a centrist and a moderate, that may be the one vote in congress that's left him most vulnerable in this Republican-leaning district.

Owens conceded last night that the reform effort was flawed, but he said the best way forward was to tweak the measure. He blasted the GOP's plan to repeal it without laying out a detailed reform plan of its own: "You do not describe how you will keep kids who are under 26 insured.  How you would prevent insurance companies from covering people with pre-existing conditions”, Owens said. “These are all realities of what has happened.  Those are not government decisions, those are insurance company decisions."

Green Party candidate Donald Hassig, meanwhile, praised Obamacare and described it as a first step toward the kind of government-run healthcare that's common in other countries.

After listing the countries, including Canada and Mexico, that offer universal healthcare to citizens, Hassig said America "is going to have free health care, it's just a matter of time." Hassig said universal healthcare could be paid for by rolling back the size of the US military and raising taxes on Wall Street traders.

It's unclear how this issue will play on election day. A poll earlier this month from the Siena Research Institute found that two thirds of Republicans in the district want the Affordable Care Act repealed, while two thirds of Democrats want it implemented. 

58 percent of Independent voters favor the measure compared to 39 percent who oppose it.


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