Elect 2012: Kissell, Hudson talk senior issues at debate
Editor's note: This story has been changed to clarify a question about an alternative to Medicare that would include government payments toward seniors' health insurance premiums.
By Karissa Minn
WINGATE - U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell said Monday that the country should keep its commitments to Medicare and Social Security, while challenger Richard Hudson argued that only serious reforms can save them.
The two candidates for North Carolina's 8th Congressional District faced off Monday at a Wingate University debate hosted by AARP North Carolina.
Kissell, a Democrat from Biscoe, is running for his third term. Hudson is a Republican and a Concord resident.
The debate between the two focused on issues affecting the district's seniors, especially Social Security and Medicare.
Kissell repeated several times that "we should keep our promises." He said people have been paying into the programs with the understanding that they will get something back.
Meanwhile, Hudson pushed for large-scale changes, saying both systems are on track to run out of money very soon. There are several different ways to reform Social Security, he said, such as raising the retirement age or lowering payment amounts.
"I would not support any program that made any change to someone at or near retirement," Hudson said. "But if we don't do anything, Social Security is going to go broke by 2036. That's what the President's own people tell us."
Kissell said $1.7 trillion "has been stolen from taxpayers" when Congress decided to move money out of the Social Security trust fund in several budgets.
"We need to tell Congress to stop stealing money from the Social Security trust fund," Kissell said.
Hudson said he agrees with that, but more action needs to be taken.
"The biggest threat to our Social Security system is the status quo - it's doing nothing," Hudson said.
Both candidates agreed the government should look at how it calculates cost of living adjustments for Social Security recipients. It doesn't seem to reflect seniors' actual expenses, they said.
Hudson repeated that he would not support plans that make changes for people at or near retirement.
Those who are younger, he said, should be given multiple plans to choose from when they hit retirement age - including traditional Medicare.
When asked what proposals to modify Medicare that he's most concerned about and which he would favor, Kissell said the nation's workers have paid into the plan and expect to get something out.
"We hear plans of privatization, we hear about vouchers, we hear about restructuring and all these plans that will cut programs in order to preserve it," he said. "Gutting something in order to preserve it - that's called taxidermy, not public policy."
Hudson said he's most concerned that there doesn't seem to be a serious proposal to reform Medicare in Congress.
"There's no leadership coming out of Washington to fix this problem," he said.
When asked if the candidates would consider raising taxes to help fund Medicare or Social Security, both answered simply, "no."
"No" was also Kissell's answer when he was asked if he would support, instead of Medicare, a system where the government would pay a portion of seniors' health insurance premiums.
Hudson said that plan is a good start toward reform, but only for people who aren't close to retirement age.
When asked where the age limit would be, Hudson said he's heard 55 suggested in Congress, and there will inevitably be people right on the edge of the transition.
Kissell said the answer, for him, is in the question.
"How do you determine that cutoff?" he said. "How do you tell somebody who might have worked 20, 30 or 40 years, 'I'm sorry, we changed the rules on you?'"
During the debate, Hudson repeated several times that Kissell supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He said the plan cuts Medicare by $700 billion.
Kissell spoke up once in disagreement.
"I voted no every time that bill came up," he said. "It was eventually passed, but not because I voted for it."
Hudson said Kissell has not always voted to repeal the law when he has had the chance.
During the debate, one question asked the candidates what parts of the Affordable Care Act they would support. Hudson said he doesn't mind requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.
"Insurance companies have found it pretty easy to close that gap," he said.
But for the most part, Hudson said he would scrap the new health care law, replacing it with something that lets people choose their insurance policies across state lines, reforms medical malpractice and relies on market competition to drive down costs.
Kissell said he is in favor of some of the law's provisions, like allowing people to keep their children on their insurance policies until age 26, and getting rid of the "donut hole" (a gap in prescription coverage for Medicare recipients).
"All of this can be done through individual bills, and that's the way it should be done," he said.
Both candidates said the way to help seniors and the rest of Americans financially is to improve the economy.
Kissell emphasized bringing back American manufacturing and encouraging people to buy products made in the United States.
Hudson said the nation's businesses need more certainty. They need to know what their health insurance costs, regulatory costs, taxes and other expenses are going to be, he said, and the total shouldn't discourage business.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.