Candidates in 2nd Congressional District race disagree on health care

Staff writer

One of the most closely watched races in the House of Representatives pits two Navy veterans with different visions for health care against each other.

Republican Scott Taylor, a freshman representative and former Navy SEAL, seeks to defend his seat in the 2nd Congressional District against Elaine Luria, a Norfolk businesswoman and former Navy commander, in the midterm election on Nov. 6.

The 2nd Congressional District includes Williamsburg, York, part of James City as well as the Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach.

In a time of polarized politics, both candidates cast themselves as middle-of-the-road politicians, with moderate views on several issues filtered through the lens of military service during recent, separate endorsement interviews with the Daily Press editorial board. Both the Daily Press and The Virginia Gazette are part of the Virginia Media Group.

Both candidates support protections for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, or people brought to the United States illegally as children. Both consider veterans’ welfare, as well as sea-level rise and the environment, as major concerns. Their platforms diverge on health care, with Taylor in favor of ditching the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to Obamacare, and Luria in favor of preserving it.

“There are things in the ACA that are good provisions that have helped people and we should take them. But in my opinion, it has harmed more people than it has helped,” Taylor said.

He said the health care system would benefit from greater transparency and competition, things the American Health Care Act, a partial repeal of the ACA, would have provided, though Taylor said it wasn’t perfect.

“I don’t think either bill goes far enough in those directions for innovation and transparency,” he said. “I think the AHCA does better and it creates more choice and transparency and competition.”

Taylor voted in favor of the American Health Care Act, which would have been a partial repeal of the ACA, last year. The American Health Care Act, as passed by the House, would have ended the individual mandate and would have allowed no limit on what insurers could charge to cover people with pre-existing conditions. The legislation failed to become law.

Luria spoke in favor of preserving the ACA, which has an individual mandate and doesn’t allow insurers to deny coverage or charge higher fees for pre-existing conditions.

“When we look at health care, we need to look at some basic questions. Does it provide better health care outcomes? Does it provide access to health care for more people?” she said. “Health care costs continue to rise and that’s a challenge for many if not most families across our community.

“The direction we need to go in is a public option,” Luria said. She suggested one option would be to make Medicare available to those ages 55 or 60, which would remove those people from the ACA marketplace and thereby lower costs. Medicare is currently available to people 65 and older.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will repeal the individual mandate in 2019. Taylor voted in favor of the legislation when it passed the House.

If elected to his second term, Taylor said he would continue to focus on expanding the military, strengthening the economy and taking care of veterans. He pointed to his spot on the House Appropriations Committee as a good vantage point to enact positive change for the district.

“It enables me to do things,” he said, adding that among the accomplishments the job has facilitated was the inclusion of language in legislation to provide resources for military bases to protect their access roads from sea-level rise.

“That’s huge for our area to be able to protect our bases, which again goes back to the economy,” he said.

If elected, Luria wants to prohibit off-shore drilling and marshal federal resources to improve vocational training opportunities for students in the district.

Off-shore drilling is bad for the environment and poses an obstacle for military training exercises off Virginia’s coast, Luria said.

“Off-shore drilling is a risk that would provide no benefit whatsoever to our region,” she said.

Workforce education would help diversify the area’s economy and fill job positions in the region’s major businesses such as Newport News Shipbuilding, which seeks to hire 7,000 new workers, Luria said.

The 2nd Congressional District is one Democrats hope to flip in November, with Luria being among a raft of Democrats seeking to ride a blue wave of voter hostility toward President Donald Trump into office. The Cook Political Report considers the race a toss up, while Inside Elections feels the race tilts Republican.

The race made national headlines when paid staffers on Taylor’s campaign collected signatures to put independent Shaun Brown on the ballot as a third-party candidate. It came to pass that some of those signatures belonged to people who had died or later said they didn’t sign the petitions.

A judge ruled the signatures gathered by the workers were fraudulent, and struck Brown from the ballot.

However, a recent poll suggests the controversy won’t be a deciding factor for most voters.

Taylor leads Luria by 7 percent among likely voters, according to a study by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy released Oct. 15. Voters are generally indifferent to the investigation into Taylor’s campaign regarding fraudulent signatures, with 68 percent of independents saying it “does not matter.”

Republicans and Democrats have traded the district back and forth in recent elections. In 2016, Trump carried the district with 48 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 45 percent. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam took 51 percent of the vote to Republican Ed Gillespie’s 47 percent in the gubernatorial race in 2017, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Taylor won the district with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2016.

In the money race, Taylor has been able to out raise Luria, collecting $3.4 million to Luria’s $3.2 million, according to VPAP.

“If Democratic turnout reaches its 2017 level, this race could narrow or even flip unexpectedly to Luria,” Rachel Bitecofer, Wason Center assistant director. “Much depends on whether Democratic voters in this district maintain their enthusiasm through Election Day.”

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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