James, Peters split on health care at campaign forum

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Democrat Gary Peters and Republican challenger John James, locked in one of the nation's most competitive Senate races, offered their prescriptions for addressing issues such as immigration, health care and COVID-19 during an online forum Wednesday.

Sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, both Peters, a first-term incumbent and James, a military veteran and businessman, took about 20 minutes of questions separately.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, left, and Republican businessman John James.

Peters painted himself as a bipartisan uniter who has reached across the political aisle to try to get things done — even when he claimed his GOP colleagues and leadership didn't want to — on issues such as solving the coronavirus pandemic.

"I take great pride in working in a bipartisan way. I demonstrate that every single day," said Peters, who mentioned his work in passing the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act to help bolster the sagging economy and get unemployment benefits to the public. "We going to need to do more. But we need to do that together."

The Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed a $3 billion followup relief package in May; Peters said a smaller measure being considered in the GOP-controlled Senate doesn't pass muster.

James, who runs a logistics organization in Detroit, said the federal government needs to provide businesses like his "certainty" during the COVID-19 crisis.

"I think we can do that with common-sense, science-based, tax reform, regulatory reform, tort reform" to create growth and help businesses to come back strong.

"People need help now. Our schools need help now," he said. "And that relief should be tied directly to and only to COVID related shortfalls."

On health care, Peters said the pandemic has highlighted the need for insurance coverage and that everyone should have access to it. So he's been pushing the Trump administration to "open up enrollment" under the Affordable Care Act so Americans can purchase "quality care at an affordable price" and not just once a year but throughout the pandemic.

"To hear folks say that we are going to repeal the Affordable Heath Care Act is, I think, unacceptable," he said. Peters wants to strengthen the act and "fix what may not be working right." Without a plan in place to replace the current law, coverage of pre-existing conditions would be in danger.

"People who say, well, I'll still protect pre-existing conditions but have no plan ... you can't have hollow words, shallow talking points, aren't going to deal with the immensity of this problem with," he said.

Peters said he's not in favor of Medicare for all but does support allowing people to buy into the federal program, which provides coverage for those 65 and older.

James said he would repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act with "something that will work in the real world." Too many people can't afford their care, including people who work at his company, he said.

"We need to have a market-based, patient-centered approach that must (include) pre-existing conditions," James said. His son, he said, has a pre-existing condition and people "must recognize the need that we have to take care of everyone."

Neither Peters or James named the other during the event. Their race has largely been fought over the airwaves given the restrictions on campaigning due to the pandemic. In a recent Detroit News-WDIV-TV poll of 600 likely voters, Peters held a 44%-41% over James, while just over 14% remained undecided.

The forum also featured discussion on trade, China and immigration.

"We have to enforce trade agreements," Peters said. "I believe that is absolutely essential."

Peters said immigration must be fixed, too, with workers in agriculture coming here legally. "We have a broken immigration system that needs to be overhauled," he said. "And I believe we can come together in a bipartisan way to do that, although I will be perfectly frank, I think it's very difficult with the president we have now."

James called immigration an "economic and moral imperative" for the country and said "we need more legal immigration to make sure we can take our nation to the next level."

"We need to have a more welcoming, inclusive approach to our immigration system without sacrificing national security or leaving Americans behind," James said.


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