Democratic incumbent Susan Wild and Republican challenger Lisa Scheller sparred over health insurance policy, tax plans and accusations of extremism on Monday during the first 7th Congressional District debate of the general election.
Scheller was on the offensive from the get-go, criticizing Wild for usually voting with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom Scheller believes is trying to “take us down a road to socialism.” In contrast, Scheller portrayed herself as a business leader who cut taxes and worked across the aisle during her four years serving as a Lehigh County commissioner.
Wild, who in 2018 became the first woman to represent the Lehigh Valley in Congress, pointed out that she was among 14 House Democrats to reject the party’s follow-up coronavirus package, saying it wasn’t specific enough and didn’t do enough to help PA-7 voters. She also noted that 78 Republicans voted for her proposal blocking regulatory changes that would cause health insurance premiums to rise, and that she is working with Republicans on improvements to the paycheck protection program.
“I am by no means a socialist,” Wild said during a one-hour taping of WFMZ-TV 69 1/4 u2032s ‘Business Matters.’ “… I know who I am, and more importantly I believe my constituents know who I am.”
The debate was moderated by Tony Iannelli, president and CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. It will be broadcast in two parts at 7:30 p.m. Monday night and Oct. 12. It was taped before a live audience at Saucon Valley Country Club in Upper Saucon Township.
Each candidate was asked about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s tax proposals, which would raise about $4 trillion over a decade and fall largely on households making more than $400,000 a year.
Scheller said Biden’s plan would “crush our economy and kill jobs.” Maintaining low taxes and removing unreasonable regulation is the way to jump-start the economy, she said. She argued that the Republican-written Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 resulted in a thriving economy until the pandemic arrived, and that it primarily benefited middle-class families enjoying lower tax rates. If elected, she said she would prioritize getting people back to work, and touted her endorsement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Wild, in turn, praised Biden’s plan as a commitment to not raise taxes on the middle class. The attorney and former Allentown solicitor also denounced the 2017 tax bill for not being as helpful to everyday workers as Republicans claim, focusing on a provision that stripped workers of the ability to deduct unreimbursed purchases related to their job, such as teachers buying school supplies.
“The people who benefited from the ’2017 tax scam act’ are the people who can afford to be at Saucon Valley Country Club and people like my opponent,” Wild said, provoking loud boos from Scheller supporters.
Scheller is president and chairperson of Silberline Manufacturing Co., a Schuylkill County-based business her grandfather founded 75 years ago. Over the past decade, she said former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act has caused health insurance costs to skyrocket and has saddled her business and others with burdensome regulations.
Wild noted that Republicans have had ample opportunities since Trump’s election to replace the Affordable Care Act, but have yet to offer anything constructive. Meanwhile, the Trump administration this summer asked the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, leaving people with pre-existing conditions in a vulnerable position.
Scheller said she would fight to protect people with pre-existing conditions but also supports repealing the Affordable Care Act so it can be replaced with a market-driven alternative that gives people more choice and addresses soaring drug costs. She noted that Wild has expressed support in the past for Medicare for All, which would force citizens to give up their private health insurance.
Wild clarified that she while she supports giving citizens a government-run alternative to private health insurance plans, she is not in favor of eliminating private health insurance because a fair share of her constituents like their plans.
“We have to do some sort of hybrid plan,” she said.
Asked about who’s to blame for civil unrest in cities across the country, Scheller said she supports black lives and empathizes with protesters’ fight against bigotry, noting she was the victim of anti-Semitism as a child. But she also attributed recent rioting and violence to “anti-Semitic Marxist organizations” running amok in Democratic-run cities.
Scheller criticized Wild for praising Lehigh Valley protesters who have called for the defunding of police departments, and for voting to eliminate qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police departments and other government agencies from most civil lawsuits.
Wild pointed out that all the protests in Lehigh, Northampton and part of Monroe counties, which make up the 7th District, have been peaceful. She said she does not support the rioting and violence that has occurred elsewhere, but blamed President Donald Trump for fomenting the unrest and not sufficiently acknowledging peaceful protesters’ concerns.
She also said she does not support defunding the police, but wants to increase funding and training for mental health workers so they can handle certain emergency situations.
Wild called the GOP a “party of hypocrites” for preparing to vote on Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court but declining to vote on Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016. Scheller said she believes the Senate has a duty to vote on all nominations. They should consider Coney Barrett’s nomination, but they also should have voted on Garland’s nomination, she said.
Wild holds a 13-point edge over Scheller in the race, according to a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll conducted from Sept. 21 to Sept. 24 and released last week.
Morning Call reporter Andrew Wagaman can be reached at 484-553-7413 or [email protected]
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