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House rivals clash on issues

Congressional hopefuls City Councilman Dan Halloran (l. photo) and state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (r. photo) greet residents who attended a candidate forum.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Republican and Democratic candidates for the Queens congressional seat based in Flushing took different stands on both energy policy and Social Security at a Flushing candidate forum last week.

All three candidates competing for the seat, which extends east and west from Flushing as far as Bayside and Elmhurst, talked about energy independence in tame debate between City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and the Green Party’s Evergreen Chou.

Halloran promised to lower gas prices by weening the country off global oil supplies. He championed projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would pump oil from Canada down to Texas, as a way to use domestic resources instead of reaching abroad, and allowing hydrofracking, the controversial method of releasing natural gas from subterranean rock, in certain upstate counties not located near the vast reservoir where the city obtains its drinking water.

Meng, on the other hand, said she wanted to try and get the country off oil altogether and floated the idea of offering tax credits to companies that research alternative forms of energy.

Several tax credits for energy companies investing in alternative fuels already exist and are part of the House of Representatives’ Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

Meng was not asked about hydrofracking, but Chou gave the process an emphatic thumbs-down and said it should not be allowed.

A question asked to all candidates was how to ensure that Social Security and Medicare remain solvent.

Halloran wanted to see all taxpayer dollars from Social Security go into a fund that is invested wisely and cannot be used for any other government expenditures, an idea Chou agreed with.

There is now a Social Security trust fund managed by investors, but the money earned goes into the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s coffers and can be used to cover deficits in other parts of the budget, according to the Social Security Administration.

Meng suggested cutting defense spending to put more money in the government’s piggybank. In January, about $1 trillion in controversial federal cuts, called sequestering, could be automatically triggered if the divided Congress cannot reach agreement. The cuts would take a significant chunk out of the country’s defense spending, though it is unclear how this would directly affect Social Security, since the safety net program is funded exclusively through the payroll tax and the investments made with that money.

The night was largely an exercise in Republican vs. Democratic ideals, but things did get off topic on several occasions.

Halloran also took sides in an ongoing controversy surrounding the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who recently said at a private fund-raiser 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal taxes and he does not need to win them over.

“I’m going to say something some of my advisers said I shouldn’t say,” Halloran told the crowd. “Romney’s right.”

Much of the analysis of Romney’s statement has concluded that, indeed, 47 of Americans do not pay federal income tax, though most still pay a payroll tax along with any state levies.

Meng was asked how many votes she missed during her last session, with one audience member bearing pamphlets pegging the number at 188, or upward of 75 percent.

All candidates were also asked what they did on Sept. 11 this year, and Meng mentioned attending various lunches, one of which was with state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), which was criticized by Halloran as a fund-raiser, though Meng’s camp said it was not an event designed to raise money.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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