Bielat-Kennedy debate all about fundamental differences

By Jim Morrison, The Sun Chronicle

WELLESLEY - They disagreed on most issues, from abortion to the economic cliff.

If 4th Congressional District candidates Republican Sean Bielat and Democrat Joseph Kennedy III agreed on anything in their third debate, it was that they had two fundamentally different views of government.

“I am pro-life,” Bielat said when asked about abortion. Kennedy said: “I support a woman’s right to safe, affordable, and confidential health care.”

The mostly polite disagreements punctuated the action at the debate held before several hundred people at Wellesley College Monday night as the two candidates continued their contest to succeed longtime Rep. Barney Frank, D-Newton, who is retiring.

The candidates were affable and the tone of the evening was professional throughout as moderator Joanne Barrett, a League of Women Voters member from Acton, asked questions submitted by league members and the audience.

The first question on how to cut the federal deficit set the political distinctions between the two candidates that continued for 90 minutes.

“The Simpson-Bowles plan is a good framework,” Kennedy answered, then accused Bielat of supporting the budget proposed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Bielat denied embracing everything in the Ryan plan, but called it “a great starting point.”

Kennedy supported President Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act.

“It’s the biggest thing we have to do to get our debt and deficit under control,” he said.

Bielat opposes the law, which was based on similar state legislation that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney signed when he was Massachusetts governor.

“Eighty-four percent of Massachusetts residents like Romneycare, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution. It’s wrong for the country, and I’ll vote to repeal it,” Bielat said

Both candidates returned to the central theme of their ideologies throughout the night. Bielat repeated several times he preferred to leave states to decide how reduce taxes to encourage investment, and to reduce restrictions on businesses.

But Kennedy supported government’s role in giving “each person the opportunity to make the most out of what they have.”

When asked how a Republican could represent a strongly Democratic state like Massachusetts, Bielat was quick to point out several areas where he disagrees with his party, including environmental issues, his refusal to sign the Norquist no-new-tax pledge and in the circumstances in which the nation would use force.

“Since World War II, 100,000 Americans have been killed in undeclared wars,” said Bielat, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve. When we use military force, there should be a declaration of war.”

They agreed on secure borders, making economic growth their top priority,

There were no zingers or one-liners until the end of the evening, when members of the audience were allowed to participate.

After speaking about his family’s student loan debt, Bielat turned to Kennedy and said: “Joe, I believe you had the good fortune not to have to deal with that,” drawing laughter from the audience.

One member of the audience paraphrased a famous line from a 1962 debate between Edward Kennedy and a political rival, saying: “If your name were Joseph Patrick instead of Joseph Patrick Kennedy wouldn’t your candidacy be a joke?”

“Sir, I am very proud of my record of public service,” Kennedy replied, listing his work as a prosecutor, his service in the Peace Corps and pro bono work while at Harvard Law School.

Bielat joined in saying that although Kennedy’s candidacy wasn’t a joke, without the Kennedy name, “it would be very difficult to move into the district a week before the campaign and raise the kind of money he has and do as well as he’s done.”

Bielat said that his experience in business and the military was more substantial than Kennedy’s.

“Sean, we’re both in our 30s,” Kennedy joked.

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