PROVIDENCE — Republican congressional candidate Allan W. Fung and his Democratic opponent, Seth Magaziner, clashed on Monday over whether Fung would be part of a GOP effort to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Magaziner, Fung, and Moderate Party candidate William Gilbert took part in a 2nd Congressional District debate hosted by The Public’s Radio, The Providence Journal, and the University of Rhode Island.
The decibel level rose as Fung and Magaziner responded to questions about reports that Republicans seeking to lead the House budget committee are all exploring changes to Social Security and Medicare to reduce costs, seeking to use the debt ceiling or a government shutdown to force the issue.
Fung said Magaziner has been repeating an “outright lie” that he would cut Social Security if elected to Congress. “Here’s why I would not do that,” he said. “You see that woman that’s sitting in the front row right there? That’s my mom.”
He said his mother retired after immigrating from Hong Kong and running the Kong Wen Restaurant in Cranston for 35 years. He said she is on Social Security, like millions of others parents and grandparents.
And, Fung said, “I will stand up and make sure they do not cut Social Security down in Washington, D.C.”
Magaziner maintained that Fung is supporting a leadership headed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that has made cutting Social Security and Medicare.
“Kevin McCarthy literally co-authored a book about how he wanted to cut Social Security,” he said, referring to the 2010 book, “Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders” by Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and McCarthy.
Magaziner also noted the Bloomberg Government reported on Oct. 11 that, “Social Security and Medicare eligibility changes, spending caps, and safety-net work requirements are among the top priorities for key House Republicans who want to use next year’s debt-limit deadline to extract concessions from Democrats.”
“Listen, I want Congress to be run by people who don’t want to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Magaziner said. And he said it’s “beyond disingenuous” for Fung to say he stands against such cuts while backing McCarthy’s team.
“That is like saying, ‘I am going to put the fox in charge of the henhouse, but don’t worry — I like hens, I’m pro-hens — but I’m going to put the fox in charge,” Magaziner said.
Fung fired back, saying, “Let’s look at who has really weakened Social Security.” He said Democrats have been in charge as the nation has suffered from “this rampant inflation, record 40-year-high inflation.” He emphasized the rising costs of food and energy, saying, “Seth, a gallon of milk is up to almost five dollars.”
The candidates also delved into the specifics of what policies they would pursue to lower gas prices and energy costs.
“First and foremost, we have to become energy independent again,” Fung said. “First, we tap into those drilled but uncompleted wells. That could be the first source for us to be able to get some of that oil and gas that already has been drilled out of the ground, back into the energy supply. It’s a supply issue.”
He called for eliminating “regulatory hurdles” that he said President Biden has backed. “I support an all-energy policy as we transition over to properly sited renewable energy,” he said.
Fung said Magaziner and Democrats in Washington support increasing taxes “at the worst possible time” to support their energy and climate change policies.
Magaziner said he agrees the nation needs to expand domestic energy production and become more energy independent. But, he said, “We need to be tough with the oil companies in order to do it. And this is the big difference here. The big five oil companies made over $150 billion of profits — not revenue, profits — while Rhode Islanders were paying up to $5 a gallon for gas. That is unconscionable.”
So, Magaziner said he supports legislation that cracks down on “price gouging.”
“I do support legislation that would say that when gas prices are high and the oil companies are still making hundreds of billions and lining their own pockets, they should be required to give some of those profits back to the consumer in rebates,” he said.
During a “lightning round,” the three candidates were asked to name their top political role models.
- Fung named Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker
- Gilbert named both former Democratic President John F. Kennedy and former Republican President Ronald Reagan
- Magaziner named former Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The candidates also identified the main thing they see preventing Rhode Island from reaching its economic potential.
- Fung said: “Continued high taxes that are crushing us at the worst possible time.”
- Gilbert said: “Fifty years of Democratic control with no leadership and no plan.”
- Magaziner said: “Cost of living.”
The candidates faced questions from Ian Donnis, political reporter for The Public’s Radio; Patrick Anderson, Rhode Island State House reporter for The Providence Journal; and Juliana Lepore, news editor for The Good Five Cent Cigar, URI’s student newspaper. The one-hour debate took place at URI’s Edwards Hall in Kingston.
The event marks the first of two back-to-back debates. WPRI-Channel 12 is hosting a debate between Magaziner and Fung at the Providence Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The general election is on Nov. 8.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.