Congressional candidates spar over unemployment, Medicare

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., faced former Rhode Island State Police Superintendent and Republican challenger Brendan Doherty Tuesday night for their second of three debates in the race to represent the state’s first congressional district. During the debate, Cicilline attempted to connect Doherty to the Republican Party leadership, while Doherty criticized the incumbent’s record during his two terms as mayor of Providence and his alleged ineffectiveness during his first term in Congress. 

In a final round of questions, the candidates both said Brown should allow the Reserve Officer Training Corps to return to campus, though Cicilline noted that he believes the University should make the final decision on the issue. 

Doherty expressed support for the state’s new voter identification law. Cicilline said he initially opposed the law, but he has since examined the law’s implementation and found it “will not interfere with voting.” Both candidates supported the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. 


Back to work

The two candidates also sparred over their respective plans to combat Rhode Island’s relatively high unemployment rate. Cicilline promoted his proposed “Make It in America” block grants, which have been a mainstay of his platform since his first congressional campaign. He also advocated the end of tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs, punishments for China’s currency manipulation and the extension of research and development tax credits. 

Doherty criticized Cicilline for his failure to move his ideas from his drawing table into law. He expressed support for a bipartisan bill called the Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act, which would sanction additional offshore drilling and provide additional revenues to be invested in clean energy and jobs programs. 

Cicilline responded to Doherty’s proposal by noting that America has authorized more offshore drilling permits than every other country in the world combined, calling the bill a “giveaway to big oil.” 

Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy Wendy Schiller said Doherty’s job proposal was not specific or relevant enough to bring many voters to his camp.”

“I don’t think Rhode Islanders care about offshore drilling,” she said. 

“Cicilline won the debate, but Doherty held his own,” Schiller said. In the hour and a half debate, Doherty only provided one specific proposal, she noted. “Doherty is going to need to come with more than that to defeat Cicilline,” she said.


In sickness and in health

The candidates also traded barbs over their commitment to Social Security and Medicare. Doherty promised not to vote for any measure privatizing Social Security or Medicare – including Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s Medicare reform proposal. Cicilline said he not only wanted to protect these entitlement programs, but to increase their benefits. 

Cicilline added that whether or not Doherty himself supports Medicare privatization, turning the seat over to a Republican would give more power to the party that advocates turning Medicare into a voucher program. “His election means we put into place the extreme Republican agenda,” Cicilline said. 


Municipal policy

Cicilline asserted that he does not owe Providence residents an apology for stating at the end of his second term as mayor that the city’s economy was “in excellent condition” despite the fiscal crisis Mayor Angel Taveras discovered upon succeeding him. But he said he has “accepted responsibility for the decisions (he has) made.” 

Doherty said that he did not want to focus on this aspect of Cicilline’s record, but there is little else about the incumbent to discuss. “If the congressman had a long record in Washington, I suppose we could talk about those issues, but he’s O for 10,” Doherty said.  

Schiller said she doubts whether Cicilline’s statement about Providence’s fiscal health will further influence the race. “Voters who are still mad about that weren’t going to vote for Cicilline anyway,” she said. 

Doherty defended his statement that Cicilline supported making Providence a “sanctuary city” where undocumented immigrants would not be in danger of deportation, which critics have contested as false. He said that though Cicilline did not openly attempt to turn Providence into a sanctuary city, he tried to limit enforcement of deportation policies. 

Cicilline said he supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in this country but called Doherty’s claim that he did not enforce immigration policy “ridiculous.” 

Correction: The article previously stated that the candidates debating were vying to represent Rhode Island’s second congressional district. In fact, Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., and former State Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty are running to represent the state’s first congressional district. 

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