Dan Debicella says he's the 'independent thinker' Fairfield County wants

Continuing his quest for a rematch with U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th) in the fall, congressional candidate Dan Debicella told Hersam Acorn Radio Monday that he’s the “independent thinking” Republican Fairfield County is looking for.

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In a wide-ranging interview, carried live Monday on HANRadio.com, Debicella touched base on several issues including health care, immigration reform and the economy. But his main message was that he is the best candidate to represent the Fourth District, which includes most of Fairfield County. The traditionally Republican district that has elected Himes, a Democrat, three times since 2008. The GOP had held the Fourth since Lowell P. Weicker Jr. beat Democrat Donald Irwin in 1968.

Debicella, a Bridgeport native and a former state senator from Shelton was defeated by Himes in 2010 — a year that every state except Connecticut voted more Republican than it had in 2008. Debicella is not the only Republican who wants to challenge Himes, but he’s raised the most money and shored up the most support around the county.

The last time and statewide or congressional race in Connecticut went Republican was 2006.

This time, he says, things will be different because his positions on the issues represent the district, whereas Himes’ views do not.

“We only lost by a swing of 7,000 votes out 220,000 cast,” Debicella said. “This was the closest race in New England. Now what I think is different is people are hurting today in a way they weren’t in 2010. Whether it’s on the economy, where people can’t find jobs or under constant threat of losing their job, or whether it’s on health care since Obamacare was just theoretical in 2010 and now 38,000 Connecticut families have lost their insurance because of Obamacare and those of us that have insurance our rates are up an average of 35%. People are hurting now and they’re hungry for new solutions.”

Debicella said there is also more of an awareness of Himes now within the district and accused him of putting the Democratic Party ahead of his constituents by taking a role as head of campaign fund-raising and not focusing on issues such as transportation. He predicted that would swing the 7,000 votes he needs his way and said that, if elected, he would seek to be on the Transportation Committee to work to help the state improve Metro-North Railroad service and ease traffic congestion on Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway.

Transportation

According to Debicella, there are solutions that can do good without costing a lot. This includes working on improving entrance and exit ramps on the Merritt to make it easier for cars enter and exit without coming to a stop. For Metro-North, Debicella said he would look for an increased federal and state partnership with the service to keep easily corrected maintenance problems from ballooning into huge problems impacting service.

“There’s no Republican or Democratic way to fix the roads,” Debicella said. “This is something where we can come together in a bipartisan way to just do what works.”

Obamacare

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, would likely be a big topic this campaign. While the law got off to a rocky start last year, the total sign ups have risen to predicted levels — with Connecticut leading the way. Many Republicans continue to call for a repeal of the law but Debicella, an opponent of Obamacare, said that would be impractical, especially since an instant repeal would take away existing coverage.

Debicella likes some of the law, including it allowing people to stay on their parents’ plans until 26 years old and covering pre-existing conditions.

“We have to be practical,” Debicella said. “As much as I’d like to repeal Obamacare, we’re not going to in the next two years. The guy in the White House is named Obama. He’s not going to sign a repeal of Obamacare. We have to try and fix it. The fundamental problem with health care today is that we have a lot of uninsured people we want to cover and costs are spiraling out of control. What Obamacare has done is it’s raised costs for the 90% of us with health insurance to try and cover the 10% without it. That’s the wrong approach.”

Debicella favors an approach that would lower costs in a way that helps the middle class and frees up money to give subsidies to those who can’t afford health care. He claims that can be accomplished through a market-based system focused on cost and choice that advocates changing the way doctors are paid from a fee for service to a per-patient basis, increased inter-state competition between health care companies and tort reform. He also accused Obamacare of forcing people into “one-size fits all” plans when more choice is needed allowing people to pay for what they need.

Economy

To spur economic growth, Debicella has called for eliminating special interest loopholes within the corporate tax structure. He said these loopholes have allowed for the corporate tax rate to become the highest in the industrialized world and he wants to close parts of it that allow for companies like Exxon/Mobil to receive tax credits for drilling for oil that he says they don’t need. By eliminating all of these loopholes across the board, except for charitable and mortgage deductions, Debicella said the corporate tax rate can then be lowered.

Social Security

Debicella said he is in favor of entitlement reform without going so far as to call for privatization as some of his fellow Republicans have. Instead, he advocates ideas such as having increases to social security pegged to prices — not wages — and lowering benefits to wealthier Americans who don’t need it.

“The key to doing entitlement reform is actually making sure that everybody gives up a little now,” Debicella said. “If we wait on it, there are going to be drastic cuts. If we do nothing with Social Security in about 15 years there will be a 44% cut in benefits. That’s going to kill Baby Boomers and older people in Generation X. But we can make smaller changes now... If everybody gives up a little, young people give up a little and current retirees give up a little and the wealthy give up a little we can make Social Security sustainable for the long run. The political reality of it though is that big changes like that only happen when Republicans and Democrats agree.”

Immigration

Another issue that likely to be part of the fall campaign is immigration reform. A bipartisan package has passed the Senate but Speaker of the House John Boehner has indicated he will not bring it to the floor for a vote in 2014. Debicella said he’s disappointed to see it caught up in politics.

“We need an immigration policy that says if you want to live the American dream, welcome,” Debicella said. “Now we have the problem that a lot of people came here illegally and this, again, is where both sides on the extremes get it wrong. On the far right they want to send everyone home. That’s not what we want. We want hard-working, tax-paying and law-abiding people coming to this country. On the far left they say just give everyone amnesty and that’s wrong too. The right thing is basically what they have in the Senate bill where they say if you have a job, if you obey the law and if you pay your taxes you get to stay and if you want to stay here longer we will give you a path to citizenship. I think the House is making a mistake by not bringing this up for a vote.”

‘Independent thinker’

Saying he wants to be a Republican in the “independent thinker” mode of Chris Shays and Stewart McKinney who represented the district for decades with moderate positions on social issues, Debicella distanced himself from the more extreme positions that Tea Party Republicans have taken in recent years. But he also criticized what he says is Himes’ hyperpartisanship claiming the congressman has voted with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 95% of the time, an attitude Debicella says leads to polarization on both sides and a lack of cooperation.

“Republicans and Democrats aren’t going to agree on everything, but we should be able to agree on some things,” Debicella said. He said a minimum wage increase could be accomplished with tax breaks for small businesses to spur hiring and retraining. “We have to be able to come together to help people who are hurting in this country. That’s what I think people are looking for right now rather than the reflexive partisanship we see.”

Debicella said there needs to be a more productive dialogue between the two parties — an argument that Himes has also made throughout his time in Congress.

Debicella says there’s blame on everyone in Washington for the gridlock and partisanship. He did, however, acknowledged there will have to be a change of attitude from his party to come together. To him that means sticking true to Republican principles but without the rancor that has come from the Tea Party.

“My philosophy as a Republican is we want the least amount of government we need but we should have the government we need,” Debicella said. “I’m not one of these Republicans who thinks we should burn down the government and have nothing. We can do with a smaller government but there are areas like transportation where only the government can do.”

Debicella said he wants to see principled people on both sides who can work together and embrace ideas no matter which party they come from.