Although technically it was a forum and not a debate, congressional candidates Justin Fareed and county supervisor Salud Carbajal locked horns over Social Security and a host of related issues at a gathering hosted by the Area Agency on Aging Friday afternoon in Santa Maria.
Carbajal, a Democrat with 25 years in the government trenches — 12 on the board of supervisors — enjoyed a clear advantage when it came to familiarity with the movable parts of programs designed to serve the elderly and was comfortable jumping in feet-first with specific answers. That left Fareed, a 28-year-old Republican with no government experience, forced to bang his campaign gong about the need to implement the “systemic reform” to address what he repeatedly described as the dysfunctionality of Congress.
The questions from the agency boardmembers were detailed and specific. On more than one occasion, Fareed launched into the need for reform without answering specific questions such as how the candidates would ensure the solvency of Social Security. Fareed talked about the need for better congressional oversight of discretionary spending, budgeting in two-year cycles, bi-partisanship, and asking a lot of tough questions. Carbajal pointedly replied, “Let me answer your question,” elaborating how he favored lifting the deduction cap on people making more than $250,000. Carbajal frequently noted he’d go after big corporate tax loopholes that benefit the likes of Donald Trump to make sure corporations “pay their fair share.” By so doing, Carbajal argued the government could generate the revenues necessary to ensure elderly Americans received the services they needed to live as independently as possible, as long as possible.
To the extent the federal government had incurred significant debt — an issue Fareed raised — Carbajal blamed much of that for “going into a war we didn‘t need to go into—Iraq.” At one point in the forum, Fareed referred to the Affordable Care Act as a “legislative boondoggle,” promoting Carbajal to go on the offensive.
Twenty million Americans now have health insurance than before the act went into effect, he said; insurance companies can no longer discontinue coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, and minors are eligible to stay on their parents’ programs until age 26. If Fareed really thought the Affordable Care Act was a “legislative boondoggle,” Carbajal stated, he should tell it to one of the 20 million who are now covered by health insurance. Carbajal acknowledged the health care reform needed reform — premiums have grown too high — but he said the Republicans in Congress would be better served trying to make those changes than voting 60 times to abolish it.
Friday’s skirmish was seen by a handful of people attending the gathering in Santa Maria and watching from the county administration building via video hook-up. It came just two days before this Sunday’s hour-long debate on KEYT and just on the heels of a major meltdown now consuming the Republican Party over Donald Trump’s inflamed presidential campaign, now in free fall. Fareed has disavowed Trump’s statements boasting of grabbing women by their genitals and stated he would not vote for either Trump or Hillary Clinton.