Jack Flynn, The Republican
SPRINGFIELD - Squaring off for the first time Friday, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, and Republican challenger Thomas A. Wesley, of Hopedale, clashed over taxes, universal health care and the wisdom of the federal stimulus package.
Appearing on public television station WGBY, the two opponents for Massachusetts' 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives offered sharply conflicting solutions for the nation’s economic ills, but displayed no acrimony for each other. The debate was shown Friday night and will be rebroadcast Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
Responding to questions from host Jim Madigan, Wesley began by saying that high business tax rates were strangling economic growth and driving corporations to less regulated countries. Both the private sector and the American public want less government, but keeps getting more of it from Congress, he said.
“It’s not corporate greed that sends jobs offshore; it’s government greed,” said Wesley, an executive for the Waters Corp., a Milford-based manufacturer of analytical instruments.
Neal responded by accusing Wesley of helping to outsource jobs at the Waters Corp., and said American workers deserve decent wages and benefits.
“It can’t be a conversation about jobs moving off shore for lower wages and benefits,” said Neal, adding that Wesley’s company not only outsourced jobs, but Wesley himself had publicly defended the practice.
Wesley responded that his company had also recovered jobs, bringing in several hundred from Germany.
Neal said he had fought hard to keep corporations from moving abroad, and said tax reform - for income and corporate taxes - would be taken up in the next Congressional session, during the presidential election cycle.
Wesley replied that tax reform was long overdue, with the last major tax overhaul dating back to 1986.
“We’re looking to get tax reform now,” Wesley said. “Businesses need to know today what their taxes are going to be.”
Neal said he was in favor of reducing taxes for the middle class, but warned that broader tax cuts, including those for the wealthy, were reckless when the nation was still paying for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and facing a massive federal deficit.
“The bill has come due,” Neal said, referring the costs of the nation’s last two wars.
Referring to his stand to delay the invasion of Iraq until weapons inspectors completed their search for nuclear weapons, Neal said it was “the best vote of my career.”
Wesley said the war against terror should be fought with special operations, not full-scale military invasions and occupations.
Neal defended the federal stimulus bill, noting it was the best way to avoid a worldwide financial meltdown while shoring up the nation’s infrastructure. For his part, Wesley said the massive spending program was an overreaction that will saddle future generations with trillions of dollars in debt.