U.S. Congressmen Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey met in their second debate Monday ahead of the Democratic U.S. Senate special primary in a contest that contained few fireworks outside of an exchange on health care.
The debate, held at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and sponsored by the college and the Boston Herald, lasted about 45 minutes and touched a wide variety of issues on which the two Democrats mostly agreed.
An early question was asked about the candidates' positions on the Affordable Care Act. Markey (D-Malden) voted in favor of the bill that passed in 2010 while Lynch (D-South Boston) was one of few Democrats who opposed it.
Markey said voting for the bill was the "proudest vote of my Congressional career." He said there were some areas where he'd tweak the current law, including relieving the burden of some taxes on medical devices.
"But I would not want that to happen without ensuring that it did not harm poor people in our state or across the country," Markey said.
In rebuttal, Lynch defended his "no" vote, saying there were three major parts of the final bill removed from initial legislation with which he agreed.
Lynch said the initial bill removed anti-trust exemptions that allowed insurance companies to "act like cartels and monopolies," contained a state-run public option to offer low-cost health care plans and did not tax health care.
When moderator Jaclyn Cashman attempted to move on to the next topic, Lynch insisted on getting "equal time" to finish his response.
"Employers today are running away from their health care obligations," Lynch said, which was due to new taxes.
Markey said he also wanted equal time, adding that the only option at the time was to "vote for that bill, that ensured every child had health care, to make sure being a woman was no longer a pre-existing condition...I don't think (Lynch) should be able to run away from his record on this."
Markey and Lynch were also asked about outside groups funding advertising in the campaign. Both candidates have agreed to the People's Pledge to eschew these groups, but their influence is still being felt in the race.
Lynch said groups supporting him including the International Association of Fire Fighters are "portraying a positive reflection of my candidacy" and not going out of their way to criticize Markey.
Markey agreed with Lynch's assessment but took the chance to bash the three Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate who have not agreed to the People's Pledge.
"Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, big coal, the NRA: they're all able to bring in unlimited money, and that's just wrong," Markey said.
Lynch has been the target of activists like Tom Steyer for his support of the Keystone XL pipeline. Lynch said Steyer said he would "crush" Lynch if he didn't change his position.
"I have a responsibility for representing people," Lynch said. "Just because he has a billion dollars doesn't mean he can push people around. I've faced bullies my whole life, and I won't put up with that."
For his part, Markey said he's told Steyer to stay out of Massachusetts.
"I don't want that money in our state," Markey said.
There was also some disagreement on the sequester, which Markey did not support but Lynch voted for.
Markey called the sequester "mindless cuts" that he felt would "devastate" Massachusetts, including funding from National Institutes of Health grants that are central to the state's economy.
"This sequester is cutting into the business plan of Massachusetts," he said.
Lynch said he supported sequester believing Congress would actually come up with a plan to avoid it so the country wouldn't default on $16 trillion in debt.
"We have to look at a total reform of our budget so we can put the money back in," Lynch said, adding he would not change his vote in hindsight.
The primary election will be held April 30 with the general election to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry June 25.