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Owens, Doheny hear cheers, jeers as they discuss Obama’s plan, economy, bipartisanship

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QUEENSBURY — To get from Watertown to the first congressional debate Tuesday night, you could have taken a car and driven three and a half hours through the Adirondacks.

Or you could have taken a time machine to 2010.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Matthew A. Doheny, a Republican of Watertown, duked it out at an Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce debate and discussed many of the same issues that were prominent in the race the last time the two faced off, including health care, the economy and bipartisanship.

Questions about President Obama’s health-care overhaul provided the most spirited moments of the debate, which was held in a packed Queensbury High School auditorium near Glens Falls.

Mr. Doheny’s call to repeal the 2010 health care law elicited first loud cheers and then some boos from the audience.

“I want to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Mr. Doheny said.

His gripes with the law, which Mr. Owens voted to approve, include its supposed cost-savings provisions and the additional taxes it will levy. Mr. Doheny said the bill would lead to a decreased level of care, increased costs and eventually, a government-run system.

As Mr. Doheny went through his litany of complaints, some cheered while others jeered as the moderator tried to instill calm in the crowd. Some shouted words like “greed.” Others said, “Read the bill.”

In response, Mr. Owens pointed to some of the more popular provisions in the law. For example, now that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, people can stay on their parents’ medical insurance until they’re 26. And insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“These are all realities of what happened,” Mr. Owens said to applause and a few boos. “We have to be very careful, if you want to move in” the direction of repealing it.

The audience, which included at least one member of a local tea party and several people wearing AARP T-shirts, exhibited some of the passion that punctuated discussions over the 2010 health-care law. But Mr. Owens said more and more people believe the law should be allowed to take its course. A recent Siena College Research Institute poll showed about 50 percent of district residents want the bill implemented and 47 percent want repeal.

In this election, that same poll showed the economy is the most important issue. (Indeed, three of the women who were there to support the AARP, which generally advocates for Social Security and Medicare issues, agreed jobs are the most important issue.)

Mr. Doheny told the audience his business background on Wall Street provided the know-how on the economy.

“I’m a businessman,” Mr. Doheny said in a familiar refrain. “I understand.”

He said lowering the corporate tax rate and cutting back on regulations would spur the economy.

Mr. Doheny started his opening remarks by rattling off troubling economic indicators in New York, such as the high unemployment rate in much of the north country.

Asked why he deserves re-election given those figures, Mr. Owens, who formerly worked as part of a group that lured Canadian businesses to the Plattsburgh area, said: “Primarily, because I bring actual experience creating jobs. I don’t think that’s something my opponent can claim. I’m actively working on the ground.”

Mr. Owens, meanwhile, said Mr. Doheny hadn’t offered a single proposal that would create a single job.

Mr. Owens said there are 3,000 unfilled jobs in the district, and a congressman’s role is to help link those unfilled jobs with people who want them. Education can play a part in accomplishing that. He said local school districts should be allowed to be more flexible — a direct contrast to then-President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which helped tighten and universalize standards.

With both major political parties represented on the stage — Green Party candidate Donald L. Hassig was in attendance, too, and said he won’t win this election but could win in 2020 after Occupy Wall Street protests take effect — it wasn’t a surprise that bipartisanship came up.

Mr. Owens name-dropped U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who represents Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties, areas Mr. Owens and Mr. Doheny are vying for in the new 21st District. He also mentioned his work at a law firm with Ronald B. Stafford, a former state senator who represented the area.

And after the debate, Mr. Doheny said his experience negotiating in the business world would help him work in a bipartisan manner.

While bipartisanship was the promise of the day, it wasn’t exactly on display at some points.

Discussion of the federal farm bill prompted a back-and-forth about who is to blame for Washington gridlock. The farm law expires in just a few days, which could leave dairy farmers without a critical safety net.

The farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee with Mr. Owens’s vote, but Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has declined to bring it up for a vote and said it would be considered after the election.

Mr. Owens suggested someone should ask Mr. Boehner or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to bring the bill up for a vote. Mr. Cantor is coming to Watertown in early October for a fundraiser and a business tour with Mr. Doheny. Mr. Boehner already visited.

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