Ninth District Rep. Steve Lynch and Democratic challenger Mac D'Alessandro discussed everything from the proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan to, of course, health care, in a 20-minute discussion on WGBH's "Greater Boston" tonight (Watch).
D'Alessandro said he supported the rights of a Moslem group to build a cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero: "We have a constitutionally protected right to practice our faith as we see fit, and you know, those rights, those core values mean the most when it's uncomfortable for us to adhere to them," he said.
Lynch disagreed: "Respect and tolerance lives on a two-way street. I know a lot of those families who lost loved ones that day, I know a lot of firefighters who, their families, who perished that day and I just think it would be a huge win for the Imam to move that mosque and I would hope they would do that as a symbol for us and our fallen."
"They say they are us," host Emily Rooney said; the Imam, for example, is an American citizen.
The two also disagreed on health care. D'Alessandro said the president's health-care plan will reduce the deficit dramatically over the coming decade and is the right thing to do.
Lynch called such talk "hogwash" because insurance companies still have anti-trust exemptions and said he voted against the final health-care bill because it did not have provisions to let states set up their own health plans to compete - and help bring down prices. Without cost savings, there's simply no way to provide care to the uninsured, he said.
But try telling that to the 36 million people who will gain coverage under the new law, D'Alessandro said. "When it mattered most, Congressman Lynch sided with the insurance industry," he said.
The two also differed on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
D'Alessandro said he would have voted with the state's other congressmen for measures to strike funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said we have no clear objectives in either war and that, at the very least, we owe that to members of the military and their families. As a congressman, there is no clearer way to force the administration to come up with a good plan than by voting against appropriations, he said.
But Lynch said the president has been very clear in his war agenda - to wind down US involvement in Iraq and sets similar guidelines for Afghanistan. On funding, "there is no way in heck I am going to leave (troops) stranded and strike funding," he said.
After Lynch mentioned how many times he had been overseas meeting with troops, D'Alessandro quipped, "If he had spent as much time (in his district) as he had overseas, he'd know about those vacant storefronts on Great Plan Avenue in Needham ... those library closings in Boston."
Lynch retorted that he meets with officials in each of his towns every year and works to get them what they need. "I didn't know Brockton wanted the zero-emission busses that I got them, they told me," he said. "I am here every week. My wife and I are raising two girls here. I am the most hands-on member of Congress."
The two did agree on one issue: The president is doing the right thing in trying to rescind tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000.