It’s Kathleen Rice vs. Ameer Benno in the 4th Congressional District

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Republican Ameer Benno in the 4th Congressional District is challenging incumbent two-term Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, a Democrat.

The Herald asked Benno and Rice questions focusing on issues vital to the residents of the 4th C.D., which encompasses several suburban communities in southern and central Nassau County.

Herald: What change or changes would you make to the Trump tax plan?

Ameer Benno: While I largely support the Trump tax plan, it can be improved. The $10,000 cap for state and local tax deductions devalues our properties and discourages families and businesses from moving to or staying in Nassau County, which has one of the worst tax burdens in the country. I would remove that cap.

More must be done to level the playing field for small businesses. Under the Trump Plan, the tax rate for S corporations generally is higher than for C corporations. Greater parity would help small businesses, which are mostly S corporations.

Currently, the deduction for interest on student loans is capped at $2,500 per year. I would eliminate that cap along with the income limit for the deduction to encourage repayment and boost the economy. At minimum, the cap should be doubled for married taxpayers filing jointly.

The tax code must be simplified, and loopholes — such as for carried interest — must be eliminated. A complicated tax code favors large corporations and the wealthy, which can afford teams of accountants and attorneys. A simpler code allows individuals the security of being in compliance with the law, while wasting less time and money preparing tax returns.

Kathleen Rice: I full-heartedly support tax reform. I believe it should be done in a bipartisan manner. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Trump’s tax plan. This bill was drafted behind closed doors solely by Republicans, no hearings were held and Democrats’ priorities were never taken into account.

To achieve true, bipartisan tax reform that works for every American, then we need to start from scratch and give both Democrats and Republicans a seat at the table.

I would repeal the cap on state and local tax deductions. Half of my constituents deduct their state and local taxes for an average of more than $23,000 a year. Under the new tax bill, these deductions are capped at just $10,000, and many middle-class families have already seen their taxes go up.

The National Education Association found that eliminating SALT could lead to a $250 billion cut in education funding in New York state over the next decade. Already, several bills and amendments have been introduced in the House that would repeal this cap, and I’m confident that Democrats and Republicans can come together to implement this commonsense reform. 

Herald: How can the interests of national security be balanced with the country’s history of allowing immigrants to become U.S. citizens?

Benno: I fully support legal immigration. My father was a legal immigrant. But, immigration must be based on merit and the rule of law, and must put the needs of American citizens first. This goes beyond national security.

Illegal immigration is a national crisis and an affront to the rule of law. It destroys American jobs by crashing wages on the lowest paying jobs, drains the coffers of social services and causes crime and civic breakdown.

We must prioritize highly skilled would-be immigrants and end the visa lottery system. Highly-educated foreign students should have a path to remain in this country, rather than being forced out as soon as they graduate from our prestigious universities and taking so much human capital with them.

We must enforce existing laws and end the culture of lawlessness and “looking the other way.” We need swifter action on deportations, and we need a crackdown on businesses that hire illegal immigrants rather than Americans.

The border must be more than a theoretical line on the map. A Republican Congress will fund a real barrier that actually keeps people from walking across our border at will. I will advocate to defund “sanctuary cities.”

Rice: We cannot close our doors to people fleeing war, violence, oppression, persecution or those simply seeking a better life. That represents an abdication of our responsibility. We can continue to welcome refugees and immigrants, while also ensuring that we take every possible step to keep Americans safe.

The [current] vetting process for potential refugees is extensive and effective, and exploiting this program would be one of the hardest ways for a potential terrorist to gain entry to the United States.

The president ended the DACA program over a year ago and has refused to support bipartisan immigration reform, forcing our nation’s Dreamers to live in a state of uncertainty and fear. The Administration also attempted to end the Temporary Protected Status program for individuals from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan — that was blocked by a federal judge.

The Administration’s so-called Zero Tolerance policy resulted in the deliberate separation of thousands of families at the border. A recent report found that the federal government was entirely unprepared and ill-equipped to implement this policy.

Hundreds of children have yet to be reunited with their parents. President Trump has also slashed refugee resettlement by nearly half — despite a record number of refugees worldwide — and instituted a discriminatory travel ban against individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries.

Herald: What should be done to help ensure health care is more affordable and available for everyone?

Benno: We must lower costs and insurance premiums, and empower patients. Drug costs can be lowered by incentivizing innovations aimed at serious diseases, increasing competition among manufacturers and reducing the ability of drug companies to take advantage of regulatory loopholes.

We should protect consumers more against monopolies that thwart free-market competition, including large hospital-based healthcare systems that drive up costs. We should increase competition among providers, and give physicians incentives to work outside the hospital setting.

Federal mandates that drive up insurance costs should be eliminated and regulatory power returned to the states. A 50-statewide open system of health insurance, maximizing personal choice, is best for economy and individuals.

The tax exemption for employer-provided health care should be ended. This anachronistic tax exemption disproportionally benefits the rich and discourages economic mobility and risk-taking, while driving medical services costs upwards by making consumers less sensitive to the cost of medical services.

The availability of health savings accounts should be expanded. These tax-preferred accounts, which allow patients to save money for future health expenses, are only available to those enrolled in high-deductible plans. Price transparency for elective medical procedures should be required, which will apply downward pressure on prices, reduce price disparities between providers and empower patients to make the choices that are right for them.

Rice: The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, and there is certainly a lot that can be done do to fix it. But there is no denying that the ACA is doing a lot of good, as 21 million people who didn’t have health insurance before the ACA can now see a doctor and the ACA has brought the uninsured rate down to a record low of 8.8 percent, which also helps reduce overall health care costs.

One of the changes that I support and that has broad bipartisan support is repealing the so-called “Cadillac Tax” on employer-provided health insurance. While some claim that this tax was intended to hit only the costliest plans, the tax would disproportionately affect middle-income Americans — imposing a significant reduction on their benefits and an increase to their cost sharing.

We must absolutely preserve the ACA protection for the 30 million Americans living with pre-existing conditions. President Trump, Republicans in Congress and Republican attorneys general across the country have pursued several avenues for eliminating this protection, which would restore a system where health care providers can discriminate against or deny care to those who need it most.

Herald: How can the federal government do more to identify the environmental factors that contribute to Long Island’s higher than average cancer rates?

Benno: When it comes to environmental issues, our district desperately needs federal assistance to clean up the toxins in New York’s groundwater. Our region has an unusually high number of Superfund sites. Cleanups can take decades and even then, there are no guarantees that the sites are safe or that the contaminants haven’t migrated elsewhere.

This is almost entirely an issue of federal funding, both for identifying and testing contaminants, and for cleanup. Our district has been ignored for too long, and we deserve representation that will focus federal attention and money on these problems.

I will fight to bring federal funding to support Long Island’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects. This includes programs to help homeowners replace substandard septic systems, and more widespread use of ocean outfall pipes that prevent treated sewage from being dumped into our channels.

Businesses, which created messes, also must be held accountable and must contribute to fixing the problem. Stronger enforcement of anti-dumping laws will act as a deterrent and fund cleanup. I am committed to conservation and believe strongly in our responsibility for the natural environment. I will maintain this commitment as a member of Congress.  

 Rice: Often local municipalities lack the resources to properly identify and investigate potential cancer clusters. That’s why it’s critical that the federal government should make this a priority. 

In 2016, Congress passed H.R. 2576 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which I voted for. This bill includes provisions to ensure that federal agencies have the authority to investigate and address such clusters. The bill requires the Health and Human Services Department to develop criteria for the designation of potential cancer clusters and work in consultation with localities to develop guidelines for investigating why these clusters exist.

The president signed the fiscal year 2019 funding bill for multiple federal agencies that would provide $1 million [for] this work. In addition to local agencies, HHS will also be required to work with the Environmental Protection Agency on their investigations. This is a positive step and I am committed to ensuring that some of these resources are allocated to our Long Island communities. I will work to maintain the necessary funding for cancer cluster investigations across the country.