Democrat Kathy Hochul used Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan to go on the offensive against Republican Jane Corwin in the final debate before New York's special House election next week.
The House Budget Committee chairman's controversial proposal would turn Medicare into a type of voucher system. Presented as a serious attempt to fix the program’s projected shortfalls, the proposal instead appears to have turned the political tide back toward the congressional Democrats, who were on the ropes after last November’s midterms.
During the debate in Rochester, which aired nationally on C-SPAN, Corwin and Hochul repeated clashed over the changes Ryan's plan would bring to Medicare.
"The plan that I'm supporting is not a voucher system," Corwin insisted.
But Hochul said his plan would, in fact, reform Medicare into a voucher program, and said voters were concerned about losing benefits. "This is very much a concern of the people I'm talking to," the Democrat said. "They do not want the government to end a program as we know it, the Medicare program. ... I will fight any plan that tries to decimate Medicare."
Both candidates have aired TV ads in recent weeks accusing the other of wanting to cut Medicare benefits.
On Wednesday, the candidates also talked about the federal budget and the debt ceiling, healthcare and reforming Social Security. And perhaps with an eye to appealing to the supporters of Independent Jack Davis, who refused to attend the debates, both candidates talked about their willingness to break with their respective parties.
Corwin talked about her two years in the state Assembly, where she said she's worked with Democrats. "I am a very independent thinker," she said.
Hochul also talked about how she worked with Republicans and had broken with her own party. "I have no problem at all standing up to my own party when I disagree with them," she said. "All you need to do is ask [former Democratic Govs.] Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson if I'm willing to do that."
She added later: "I'm not partisan."
This was the final meeting of the candidates before the May 24 vote, for which both parties have wagered heavily on the outcome. Democrats have invested time and money in the race despite the district's tendency to favor the GOP and are test-driving an anti-Ryan budget message that will likely be used again if Hochul wins.
Meanwhile, Republicans are hoping to break a three-year slump in special election races, and prove their landslide victory in last November's midterms wasn't a fluke.
--Julian Pecquet and Bob Cusack contributed to this report.