HAVERHILL — In their final debate before the election, Niki Tsongas and Jon Golnik clashed on tax and energy policy and detailed starkly different ideas on how to create jobs and address the national debt.
While Tsongas, D-Lowell, touted her five-year record in Congress, Golnik — a Republican challenger from Carlisle — said his opponent supports a litany of policies that have failed to get the nation’s economy back on track.
The candidates debated for an hour yesterday morning at Northern Essex Community College. When asked if they would raise taxes, Golnik proudly told the audience of about 75 people he accepted conservative activist Grover Norquist’s anti-tax-hike pledge.
“I will never support raising taxes on the American people,” said Golnik. “It’s a pledge I proudly make to every working man and woman in this room and this district.”
Tsongas countered that the Bush-era tax cuts must end for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, with the resulting $800 billion in additional tax revenue over the next decade serving as part of a “balanced, fair and sustainable” plan to reduce the national debt.
Tsongas said tax revenue must be coupled with deficit-reducing budget cuts in order to protect vital government programs like Medicare and Social Security.
“It can’t be all about cuts on the backs of the people who can least afford it and for the broader detriment of this country,” Tsongas said.
Voters will elect either Tsongas or Golnik to represent them in the newly-formed 3rd Congressional District, which includes Lawrence, Haverhill, Methuen, Andover and more than 30 communities in Middlesex and Worcester counties.
Yesterday’s debate was sponsored by the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce. Area businessman and chamber Chairman Sal Lupoli served as moderator.
When Lupoli asked what the candidates would do to curb the rising cost of fuel, Golnik said he would increase domestic oil drilling and approve the expansion of the Keystone pipeline, which delivers oil from Canada to America’s midwest.
Golnik also cast doubt over the economic viability of green energy. In contrast, Tsongas said continued development of the clean energy industry will help increase America’s energy independence and directly benefit the local economy in the 3rd District, home to one of largest green business clusters in all of New England, she said.
“It’s an important, important way to move forward,” said Tsongas. “We need to look at alternative energy sources.”
Tsongas said she will help “re-energize” manufacturing in the Merrimack Valley by ensuring job training programs are made available to the local workforce and research and development opportunities continue for area small businesses.
Golnik said businesses aren’t hiring because they have no “clear vision” of future tax and regulation policy. Repealing health care reform and reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent would help provide the clarity needed to create jobs, he said.
One rare area of agreement between the candidates came regarding the tax code. Both Tsongas and Golnik said changes are necessary to promote American job growth and dissuade businesses from moving jobs overseas.
When the topic of bipartisanship came up, Golnik criticized Tsongas for voting in lockstep with the Democratic party “95 percent of the time.” Golnik said good ideas must be embraced from both parties.
“My bosses aren’t the leaders of my party,” Golnik told the crowd. “My bosses are you.”
Tsongas said she has reached across the aisle to propose $900 billion in budget cuts over the next decade, as well as to provide safer and lighter body armor for U.S. troops and greater protections for military sexual assault victims.
“No one ever tells me what to do or how to vote,” said Tsongas.