Bucks congressional foes tangle on taxes

During their radio debate , U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (left) listens to his Democratic challenger, Kathy Boockvar, respond to a question from WNPV-AM host Darryl Berger. The debate was the first of three the candidates will hold over the next two weeks.
During their radio debate , U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (left) listens to his Democratic challenger, Kathy Boockvar, respond to a question from WNPV-AM host Darryl Berger. The debate was the first of three the candidates will hold over the next two weeks. (P.C. MARX)
Posted: October 20, 2012

Stark differences on taxes dominated the first debate between Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and Democratic challenger Kathy Boockvar as the two clashed Thursday over whether rates should be raised on top earners to help trim the federal budget deficit.

Fitzpatrick called for leaving all personal tax rates at their current levels and cutting corporate rates, saying any tax hikes would harm the fragile economy. Boockvar argued that higher taxes on the highest incomes are needed to fairly balance the budget.

"We need to stop threatening to raise taxes on the American people and small businesses," Fitzpatrick said in a radio debate on WNPV-AM in Lansdale. He later added, "I'm not for raising taxes on anybody."

Boockvar, while calling for cutting spending and lowering the rates on corporations, said taxes should increase on the top 1 to 2 percent of incomes. She would let the Bush-era tax cuts expire at those levels.

"The Bush tax cuts actually added more to our deficit than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined," Boockvar said. "By avoiding paying the bill then, they're letting my 13-year-old daughter and all our children and grandchildren pay the bills later. Well, that's unacceptable."

She added: "There's no way we end this deficit without ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest."

Boockvar said tax increases should not affect anyone making less than $250,000 - the same cutoff President Obama has proposed. She said she was also open to a higher threshold and wants to keep an "open mind" about solutions.

Fitzpatrick chided Boockvar for failing to nail down specifics.

"You've got to tell the people what you're for," he said, and added that an increase on those making $250,000 and up would hurt small businesses.

"I just heard a promise from my opponent that she's going to raise taxes on Bucks County and Eighth District families, on Eighth District businesses," Fitzpatrick said. "The tax that she just laid out would raise taxes on one million small businesses in this country."

There is wide debate over what constitutes a small business and how many would be affected by income tax increases.

IRS data show that of all tax returns of $200,000 and up, one million include at least some business income.

Boockvar said 98 percent of small businesses would not be affected by her plan, citing independent studies.

Speaking to the overall direction of government, the two candidates clashed over how each would fit into Washington's power struggle.

Sitting across from each other in a small radio studio, Fitzpatrick cast Boockvar as a backer of Obama administration policies that he said have failed, while Boockvar painted Fitzpatrick as a reliable vote for the House's Republican majority.

"I've always been described as someone who's fiercely independent," Fitzpatrick countered, pointing to independent studies that rank him as one of Congress' most moderate Republicans.

Boockvar said that on important votes - for the GOP budget, for example - he stood in line with a hard-right agenda.

"The congressman has voted with the tea party and with his party on virtually every issue of substance impacting the livelihoods and families of the people of Bucks and Montgomery Counties," she said.

Boockvar accused Fitzpatrick of being part of a do-nothing Congress that hasn't helped the economy.

Fitzpatrick said the Republican-controlled House has passed 30 jobs-related bills, but they are "stacking up like cordwood at the office of Harry Reid," the Democratic Senate majority leader.

Fitzpatrick blamed Obama for stubborn unemployment, growing debt, and high gas prices.

"We can't afford the Obama economy, and that's what Mrs. Boockvar is proposing," he said.

The debate, the first of three in the hard-fought contest for a Bucks-based seat, also highlighted the two candidates' differences on Obama's health-care law.

Boockvar largely supports it. Fitzpatrick wants to repeal it, but said he favors protections such as allowing children to stay on their parents' insurance and barring insurers from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions.

He said the bill overall includes too many tax increases and onerous regulations.

"Most of what is in that bill is harmful for the economy," he said, arguing for repealing it and replacing with "true free-market reforms."

Boockvar said the law needs fixing, but the popular protections won't stand up without the overall plan.

"You can't have all those things without a system in place that ensures that healthy people get coverage as well as the sick people," Boockvar said, noting that the requirement for everyone to obtain health care was originally pushed by conservatives.

The two rehashed their parties' arguments on Medicare - each accusing the other of raiding the program for their own beloved causes.

Boockvar said the Republican budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, now the GOP's vice presidential nominee, would cut $716 billion from Medicare to help pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. The savings were part of a plan to overhaul Medicare, though it has since been softened.

Fitzpatrick accused Democrats of slashing the same amount to pay for Obama's health-care plan. Boockvar said the savings would come from providers, not patients.

The candidates have two more debates, and just over two weeks, to convince voters who has the right vision.

Contact Jonathan Tamari

at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his

blog 'Capitol Inq' at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.

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