In the days leading up to the first Democratic U.S. Senate debate, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) has been called upon frequently to explain the vote he took against the health care reform bill in 2010.
On Wednesday night, Lynch and U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Malden) faced off for 30 minutes at the WCVB-TV studios in Needham following a debate among the three declared Republican candidates.
For Markey, voting for the Affordable Care Act was "the proudest vote of my career."
"Steve, when that vote came up, you were wrong," Markey said.
For Lynch, taxes and a lopsided deal for health insurance companies were among the problems that outweighted its benefits. Lynch said he disagreed with eliminating benefit caps and guaranteed suppport for pre-existing conditions.
He also pointed to the lack of a public option for states as a reason he pulled his support. He was criticized at the time for failing to support a national public option, which was not included in the final version of the bill.
Earlier this month, Lynch sought to clarify his position in an interview with Masslive.com.
“I think the best arrangement for Massachusetts is a state-run public option. I do believe that,” Lynch told the news website. “But, a national public option would be better than no public option."
The bill Lynch voted against, along with every Republican member of the House of Representatives, was the only bill on the floor, Markey said.
"I want to go to the senate to make sure they do not repeal that," Markey said.
Lynch said he would not support repealing the law, as has been suggested by scores of Republicans. Instead, he said he would tweak it.
Wall Street vs. Main Street
The health care discussion was one of several sharp divides that moderator R.D. Sahl encouraged the two Congressmen to explore, along with the 2008 bank bailouts, support for Massachusetts fishermen and abortion.
Markey explained his support for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"In 2008, we were in the eighth year of George Bush turning Wall Street into a casino," Markey said. "Everyone agreed we could not allow the banking system to collapse... There would have been tens of millions of people without bank accounts if those banks had collapsed.”
Markey also pointed to his vote years earlier against repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, enacted during the Great Depression, to limit interaction between commercial banks and securities firms.
In theory, the bailout was supposed to help average Americans, Lynch said, but the banks ended up taking the government's money without boosting lending. "You can take credit for something that never happened, I guess," he said.
Lynch also attacked Markey on his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and support for fisherman saying he is "siding with the big guys against the little guys," Lynch said.
Markey defended himself by saying he and other Massachusetts Congressmen recently advocated for disaster relief for fisherman, while Lynch was nowhere to be found.
"I didn't see you out there," Markey said.
Fisherman don't want disaster relief, Lynch said. They want to fish, and that means regulators need to change how they determine catch limits, he said.
Markey turned to his fight against telecommunications companies in the 1990s, which produced a law that generated investments resulting in billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, including many that form the "heartbeat of the innovation economy" in Massachusetts, he said.
Change on Abortion?
Early in his political career, Markey was pro-life, but Wednesday night he stressed his shift to pro-choice came 30 years ago. He said he now supports Planned Parenthood.
Markey said he believes Roe vs. Wade should remain settled law. Only women and their physicians, he said, should have a role in deciding whether to seek an abortion.
Lynch, on the other hand, is unabashedly pro-life.
“I’m not an expert on church teachings but I am an expert on what I believe and what I don’t believe," he said.
Lynch said he does not believe Roe vs. Wade should be overturned. Such a move could lead to women seeking dangerous and illegal abortions. Instead, a better goal would be to reduce unwanted pregancies, Lynch said.
Interest Rates, Veterans Affairs and Ben Bernanke
Toward the end of the debate, Markey tossed Lynch a softball, easing the mood and leading both men to compliment each other.
"That's a kind question," Lynch said after Markey indicated he appreciated his opponent's record on veterans affairs and asked how care could improve as thousands of troops return from serving abroad.
"We’re getting a lot of them coming home after three, four, five tours of duty," Lynch said. "We’re missing something. We’re not correctly diagnosing [post-traumatic stress disorder]"
Lynch called for more funding to help veterans with PTSD.
"We fought two wars," Markey said. "We did not pay for those two wars. We just put it on the cuff, and that was wrong. The one thing we should obligate ourselves to pay for is the care for our veterans.”
Neither candidate said they believe the recovering economy could handle raising interest rates.
"The recovery may be reaching Wall Street, it may be reaching State Street but it’s not reaching Blue Hill Ave.," Lynch said.
With sequestration budget cuts already strainging the economic recovery, Markey said, adding higher interest rates to that could be "catastrophic."
Both men said that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke deserves another term.