Tuesday, September 19, 2006

PA-08 Debate (Murphy / Fitzpatrick) on Sept. 18

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, the Republican incumbent in Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district debated Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy on 9/18/06 at King’s Caterers in Bristol, PA.

I took notes as carefully as I could but apologize for any errors or misconceptions. Feel free to let me know if I got something wrong.

The debate moderator had to repeatedly ask the audience to quiet down, stop waving signs, applauding, cheering, and so on. It was a very rowdy audience, and at times it was difficult to hear the candidates over the sniping and swearing coming from those in attendance.

This debate focused on health care and many of the questions seemed to overlap or repeat. I tended not to note where the candidates repeated their stance in answers or told stories about individuals. There just wasn’t time to get all the details right so I let those go. The debate was taped so it may show up on PCN at some point.

My notes on the debate are followed by some websites that provide information on the basic concepts being discussed in case people are unfamiliar with them. After that is some commentary and observations.

The Inquirer ("Social issues divide candidates" by Christine Schiavo) and the Bucks County Courier Times ("Differing views" by Elizabeth Fisher) published stories on the debate.

Opening Statements: I was getting settled and missed these. Sorry

Q1: Do you agree with Medicare cuts that will start January 1:

MF: He is working to see that cuts don’t occur. He wrote to the chairman of the committee and Speaker of the House. They were able to hold ’06 to ’05 rates.

PM: His first job in the Army was as a hospital attorney for Keller Army Community Hospital. He points out that the health industry gave Fitzpatrick $65,000. He proposes buying prescription drugs in bulk like the Veterans Administration does, and closing the “donut hole.”

Q2: What should caregivers of aging parents that are not low income and cant’ get assistance do?

PM: People are living longer and that is good, as our loved ones are with us longer. 25% of medical bills go to administration (paperwork), we need to protect social security. Fitzpatrick is for privatization of social security

MF: long term care insurance is expensive and we need to rein in the cost; more Medicaid waivers; reverse mortgages; tax credit for adult children to care for adult children.

Q3: Why not allow Medicare to bargain to lower costs for prescription drugs?

MF: He has written letters to the president on this, mentions Medicare pt. D and says he is for importation or re-importation of prescription drugs from other countries

PM: $40.1 million could be saved in Pennsylvania if we could buy drugs in bulk. “I won’t write letters.” We need to fix Medicare pt. D. [Someone near the stage shouts something at Murphy who asks if Fitzpatrick needs his campaign manager to come up and hold his hand. Moderator intervenes]

Q4: Should lobbyists work for the government and should government officials go work for lobbyists?

PM: No. Returns to theme of buying things in bulk. Says that is what he does for events. Mentions that “Big Pharma” (the pharmaceutical industry) is spending money for Fitzpatrick ads on television

MF: He wasn’t in congress when the Medicare Modernization Act was passed. He thinks is it a bad practice for those with an interest in the outcome to write legislation. He wrote an ethics reform act to lengthen the period of time before members of congress can become lobbyists. He says that will encourage congressmen to go back home when they are out of office and not stay in Washington. He says that is what he will do, go home to Levittown.

Q5: The AARP is supporting a Senate bill to permit importation of prescription drugs. Would you?

MF: He meets with the AARP regularly. He is in favor of importation if the FDA Commissioner certifies the drugs are safe.

PM: Yes.

Q6: What is the federal government’s responsibility for seeing that all citizens have health insurance?

PM: when George Bush came into office 40 million Americans were uninsured. Now 46 million are uninsured, 8 million of those are children. Mentions CHIP and thinks a state / federal / local partnership would be good. Children should go to a pediatrician not the ER for health care. We need to fix our fiscal house first.

MF: This is a priority. We need to reform the Medicaid system. We should require people who have a lot of equity in their house to spend it down before going on public money.

Q7: What revisions would you work to enact in Medicare Part D?

MF: Sometimes the best plans are not from DC. He mentions the Bucks County Health Improvement Program.

PM: Negotiate to buy drugs in bulk, close the donut hole. On day 1 a congressmen should know who he is fighting for, who his constituents are.

Q8: What can be done to make health care more affordable?

PM: We need to solve the health care crisis in America. We need to bring doctors, the insurance companies and patients together. The federal government needs to be lean and mean. We should pay down the national debt.

MF: We need liability reform, federal and state health clinics. PM is not for malpractice reform. Ties PM to trail lawyers.

Q9: The trend is for the government to take less responsibility for individuals. People’s taxes are cut they you take care of yourself. Is this good?

MF: This is a good thing. Jobs are being created. There has been 36 months of consistent job growth.

PM: He believes in personal responsibility. When people pay money into social security they are making a bond with the government to get that money back. Privatizing social security is breaking that bond.

Q10: A request for Murphy to clarify, should we cut taxes and increase personal responsibility?

PM: “I don’t believe in cutting taxes for the wealthy, especially during a time of war.”

Q11: Most recently both candidates oppose privatizing social security.

PM: It is wrong for both Democrats and Republicans to go into the social security fund. Mentions (for the 2nd time) that Fitzpatrick has stated in newspapers three times in 2005 that he was for privatizing social security.

MF: This is a serious concern. He is against raising the retirement age, raising payroll tax (didn’t catch the rest of this thought).

Q12: Should we extend the social security payroll tax to all income?

MF: From an actuarial point of view this would help but it needs to be studied.

PM: Stop raiding the trust fund.

Q13: The problems we have now are the problems we had 50 years ago. How will you change this:

PM: Change who you send to Washington

MF: “It helps in the nation’s capitol to have a little experience.” Points to his years as a county commissioner. He says country commissioners have more experience in dealing with people’s day to day problems that state representatives and state senators, which is where most congressmen get their start. He specifically mentions human and social services problems.

Q14: PM to MF – Why did you change your views on private accounts instead of social security:

MF: He is against raising benefits, the payroll tax, etc. He considered the president’s idea. We should have discussion on these things.

Q15: MF to PM: Frankford Torresdale Hospital has stopped delivering babies. There are no pediatric neurosurgeons in Bucks County. Are you in favor of liability reform?

PM: We need tort reform. There are some frivolous lawsuits. He proposes a “3 strikes and you’re out” rule. Three frivolous lawsuits and you can’t file any other suits. He does not support caps.

Q16: stem cell research

PM: Positively absolutely for embryonic, adult and umbilical stem cell research.

MF: He is for stem cell research that shows promise, adult, and umbilical stem cell research and germ cell research. He says the most promising stem cell research is adult. He suggests people visit www.stemcellresearch.com. [I tried this site and did not find any data there.]

Q17: To clarify, what about government funded stem cell research / can private companies fund stem cell research?

PM: When JFK said we should reach the moon he didn’t say let private industry go to the moon. Same for stem cell research. Should use government funding.

MF: He says it is okay for embryonic stem cell research in the private sector and other countries but save government funding for the most promising research.

Q18: Do you support a plan suggested by Congressman Stark (D-CA) to let people switch plans in Medicare pt. D at times other than the open enrollment window?

MF: He is not familiar with Congressman Stark’s legislation. He says he had introduced legislation to reform Medicare pt. D. He says people must stay in a plan for a year until open enrollment to allow companies to plan but companies shouldn’t change the drugs covered by plan mid-stream.

PM: We need to reform legislation. We should negotiate to buy in bulk and close the donut hole.

Q19: Why can’t US citizens purchase foreign drugs?

PM: We need to make sure drugs are safe.

MF: He is not opposed as long as the FDA commissioner approves.

Q20: Isn’t it silly to export drugs and then bring them back to the US?

MF: Many imported drugs are manufactured in India, etc., and we need to certify that imported rugs were manufactured in America.

PM: We need to make prescription drugs more affordable. Why are US drugs more expensive in America than overseas?

Q21: In 2008, will universal health care be a presidential issue? Will corporations be pushing for universal health care to reduced corporate health care costs?

PM: Can say what the presidential race will involved. We need universal health care. Says he has a record of being fiscally responsible.

MF: He points out that Murphy is for universal health care. Mentions Canadian system, says wealthy Canadians come here for health care because there are waiting lists in Canada. He says the US has the best health care system because of the free market system. There is more than enough money being spent on health care but we need to reallocate how we spend it.

Q22: Would you support a bill that would allow seniors and the disabled to write off all their medical expenses on their taxes?

MF: Likes the idea

PM: Likes the idea, too.

Q23: What should we do with increased government revenues?

PM: Pay down the debt. Mentions tax cuts to the wealthy in time of war.

MF: Going to reduce the deficit.

Q24: What can we do about doctors leaving Pennsylvania?

MF: We need caps on non-economic damages. We need to support physicians and more competition among health insurance companies.

PM: He uses the phrase “roll up our sleeves” but I didn’t catch his answer.

Q25: abortion

PM: He is pro-choice. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Women and their doctors should decide. [Follow up: how to make them rare?] Contraceptives should be covered by health insurance, make adoption easier, sex education in schools, be proactive not reactive.

MF: He is pro-life.

Q26: health savings accounts

MF: yes, but carry amounts over from year to year.

PM: Not the solution, just like privatizing social security is not the solution. We need to tackle health care costs and pay down the debt.

Q27: how to make health care accessible to small businesses and their employees?

PM: Solve the fiscal discipline problem. One possible solution is what Massachusetts did, make it like car insurance.

MF: This would go a long long way towards solving the health care problem. The House sent legislation to the Senate but it went nowhere from there. There is no one single bullet. He takes a swipe at Murphy by asking people to look at who has solutions and who talks about change.

Q28: What about the moral issue of stem cell research?

MF: “My faith teaches me that it is wrong to destroy human life." Points out that he and Murphy were both embryos once.

PM: His sister-in-law and her husband went to a fertility clinic and by using frozen embryos were able to have children. The unused embryos were discarded as medical waste. American scientists are going other countries to do embryonic stem cell research. He would support the use of ethical research and restricted means.

Q29: improving Amtrak and local mass transit

PM: for mass transit. Agencies need to know their funding 5-10 years in advance to allow for planning. He supports Illinois Senator Obama’s “health care for hybrids” program.

MF: He mentions that Bush zeroed out funding for Amtrak. He asked to join the Amtrak caucus and discovered there wasn’t one. So he formed on with Mike Castle of Delaware. After 9/11 people got around by rail while the planes were grounded. He has introduced legislation to make rail transit more affordable.

Closing comments:

PM: Mentions his service in Iraq in 2003, Medicare pt D, embryonic stem cell research. Ties MF to Bush, says we need a change in direction.

MF: Says PM wants to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House. Makes three variations on the statement that he is from the area. Says he is an independent member of congress and opposes the administration on energy, the environment and the budget.


Terms – “donut hole” – from wedmd

Medicare Pt. D from seniorlaw and the Foundation for Health in Aging here and here

Wardrobe notes: MF black suit, moss green shirt, green tie; PM blue jacket, light blue shirt, red tie

Commentary: The most interesting statement I heard during the debate was Fitzpatrick’s answer to question 13 when he said county commissioners were more involved with people’s day to day problems than state representatives or state senators. The hard working state reps I have known were very involved in the problems their constituents brought to them. Bucks County state reps and state senators may disagree with Congressman Fitzpatrick on this. Some residents of the county might as well.

Personal observations: I’d only seen Fitzpatrick in person once before, when he was campaigning two years ago. On that occasion he was surrounded by admirers, reaching out to shake hands with people, looking very charismatic. I didn’t see any of that at the debate but it might have been the angle I was looking at him from as he spoke or bad lighting or something. He was very low-key and I didn’t really see any real sparks or passion in anything he said. Murphy was feistier than I had seen him before. I did think his remark about Fitzpatrick’s campaign manager at question 3 was a little out of line but I wasn’t close enough to hear what the campaign manager said to him.


Anonymous said...

I must preface by saying I wasn't at the debate. Thank you for taking the time to transcribe to the best of your ability. I am baffled at the usefulness of a debate in the mid-afternoon of a workday w/o airing it, but... I have a hard time believing the most interesting thing you took away (again, relying on your transcript) was the county commissioner comment. Really? That was the most interesting? I think the most interesting comments came out of the discussion around health care. I happen to fall on the side of Fitzpatrick on this one - trial lawyers are united on the left and represent a sacred cow in the way of addressing the true problem: the impact of lawsuits on liability insurance. Reduce those costs and the cost of healthcare will fall. We do have the best medical professionals and technology in the world, but Attorneys turned politicians are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds (see John Edwards).

AboveAvgJane said...

It was, to me, the most interesting comment, for a couple of reasons. One, while much of both candidates' stands on Medicare, etc., is available in press releases and on their websites, Fitzpatrick's comments on state government is one I had not heard before. Two, as I mentioned, I have known some hard working state reps and I took umbrage on their behalf.

As for trial attorneys. Mr. Fitzpatrick is also an attorney and served in private practice before turning to politics. Mr. Murphy's legal experience has been primarily in the public sector. So, of the two, Fitzpatrick has spent the most time in private practice as a trial attorney.

We do have a good health care system here. I agree that some attorneys file unnecessary lawsuits. I also think some doctors should not be practicing. Both the medical and the legal professions have done a terrible job of policing themselves. Even so, we cannot place all the blame on them. Someone has to go along with the filing of frivilous suits. There are individual citizens behind each and every story you hear of outlandish settlements. We cannot place all the blame on the attorneys without saying all doctors are without blemish and all plantiffs are either dupes or moneygrubbers, and I'm not prepared to say that.

Anonymous said...

To answer your question about the usefulness of a midday un-aired debate: One intended audience of the debate was local editorial boards, who were in the audience.

Also, the person up front who shouted at Murphy was indeed Mike Oscar, Fitzpatrick's campaign manager. I think it was out of line for Fitzy's campaign manager to shout at the opposing candidate during a public debate, and Patrick was absolutely right to call him out. After all, if Patrick hadn't called out Mike Oscar, people might have mistaken him for an impassioned ordinary citizen.

It really is too bad that Fitzpatrick's high-level staff don't know their manners. (Remember his chief-of-staff a month ago?)

next said...


thank you for doing this. nextdirection was also not able to be part of the mid-day audience. nice to get a feel for what happened.

great work as usual!

AboveAvgJane said...

Thanks, next, glad you liked it. eRobin is the best at debate transcription; I pale in comparison, but hope I caught the general gist.

eRobin said...

THANK YOU for covering this. I wanted to get to the debate but just couldn't. The coverage in the paper was pretty bad so I felt like I had no idea of what happened. This post is exactly what I was hoping for.

The most interesting part for me was the Part D section since I've been lobbying Fitzpatrick hard to do something immediately about making five simple and sensible fixes to that cursed law. He agrees with all the fixes but wants all but one of them made on the state level, which is abject nonsense. FYI, the fixes are:

* Require that Medicare negotiate the cheapest possible prices for drugs with the pharmaceutical companies;
* Eliminate the "Donut Hole," which adds crippling costs to many seniors;
* Offer a prescription drug plan to seniors directly through Medicare that does not require they join private plans.
* End the "bait and switch" provisions that allow private insurance plans to drop coverage for specific drugs while seniors are locked into the plan.
* Reopen an enrollment period so that millions of seniors will not be locked out of help for prescription drug costs and drop the penalty for joining after May 15.

He introduced legislation to accomplish the last fix - but I think it would only delay the penalty for two years. I'm unclear on that.

anonymous: take a look at this site and see if you still think that the problem with health care in this country doesn't rest with the insurance industry instead of attorneys.

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