Republican voters in New York's new 21st Congressional District have two choices when they head to the polls next week: Matt Doheny and Kellie Greene.
Doheny, a businessman from Watertown and former Wall Street financier, is a familiar face: He ran against U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, in 2010, and narrowly lost.
Greene, a shipping and logistics specialist from Sackets Harbor, is a political newcomer looking to use grassroots support to beat Doheny, who has widespread support among Republican, Conservative and Independence Party leaders across the North Country.
The Enterprise interviewed both candidates this week; they were asked the same questions, and their responses, edited for length, follow.
If elected, what are three things you hope to accomplish in your first year in office?
DOHENY: Number one is to increase growth, i.e. to make sure that we grow our economy, which will reduce our unemployment rate all over this district. Job number one as a congressman, starting in January, is to reduce these unemployment rates. Secondly, we have to have a balanced budget and get to a point where we're not growing the national debt; we're shrinking the national debt. And third, I want to increase cooperation in the House, so that people like myself that are business people, that are data driven, that want to get things done for the country, that we actually have a spirit of cooperation so that things can get done and we can do the people's business.
GREENE: I'm going to group this in three sections: things that are already being worked on, things that are specific to our district and the things I might sponsor or co-sponsor. So number one, assuming it's not overturned by the Supreme Court, is repeal of Obamacare, as well as not raising the debt ceiling, balancing the budget and eliminating waste and over-spending. Number two, for this district, I want to see the Port of Ogdensburg up and running as a container port. And number three, I would like to see a real infrastructure bill. We have a problem with telecommunications infrastructure here. All the money in the transportation bill goes to highways. And the other thing would be co-sponsoring stronger border security - we have a major issue here with drugs.
Both candidates support cutting the federal deficit. What steps would you take to accomplish that goal?
DOHENY: First of all, let's not run annual deficits. You have to frame the debt as: how much does the federal government budget as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP)? Right now we're running almost 24 percent under Obama, which lead to these trillion dollar deficits. As recently as late in the Clinton administration, we only had 18 percent of GDP as our federal government. We can get back there. If nothing else, let's just turn back the dial a few years and have the same level of programs as in those years. The way to do it is across the board spending cuts.
GREENE: The first thing we need to do is not raise the debt ceiling. We have to have a balanced budget amendment. We need to get the government out of the way of doing business for businesses. And we need to get rid of this entitlement mess. Entitlement reform has to be part of getting our deficit situation under control. That scares people, and I don't think the pull the rug out approach is the right one. I'm in favor of the Heritage Plan, which is a gradual progression of change for these entitlement programs and it gets us to a balanced budget in 10 years.
Both candidates support repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). What steps would you take to replace it?
DOHENY: We need to pass rules and legislation that are constitutional, that are thoughtful, that can actually be done on a data-driven basis, and that actually are incremental as opposed to this one-size-fits-all approach. It has to be incremental so the American people can buy into it. As a business person who is not an ideologue, we need to understand what the issues are and incrementally deal with those issues in a thoughtful way that has to have buy-in from all stakeholders, because otherwise we're going to end up right where we are right now: wasting time, energy and resources on things that are flat-out anti-growth and defy data and underlying business principles.
GREENE: What has to happen first is tort reform, because we have a major situation: we need to get lawyers out of it and let doctors do what they do. The problem is how do you get insurance, because each state has their own insurance rules. Competition and the free market is absolutely the answer. If you were able to buy insurance across state lines, we're going to see the prices drop significantly. The big issue is pre-existing conditions, and how do we keep rates from going up? I am not a person who likes to see the government stick their nose in, but this is a situation where we probably do need some parameters. I do think the free market would probably have a niche market if we opened it up for those people who have pre-existing conditions.