Rep. Steve Knight silent on his vote to gut health care at first debate

Congressman Steve Knight

Steve Knight avoided a sensitive topic at his first debate with Democratic nominee Katie Hill.

Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) and Democratic candidate Katie Hill faced off for the first time at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. The hourlong debate, hosted by the Chamber and the Lancaster West Rotary, covered a range of topics including health care and taxes.

Voters regularly tell pollsters that health care is one of the most important topics this election.

Moderator Mark Hemstreet asked both candidates, “Do you support retaining the Affordable Care Act as is?”

Knight answered first, not giving a clear answer to the question. Instead, he said, “I support getting a system in place that is accessible and affordable.”

Even though he had two minutes to answer, Knight did not bring up the fact that he voted for the Republican health care bill in 2017. That bill, which passed the House of Representatives before failing in the Senate, would have effectively gutted the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the bill would have caused 23 million people to lose access to health insurance and increased premiums for those who could afford to keep their health care.

When asked in July if he had any regrets about that vote, Knight replied that he had none. Yet when in a public forum and given the opportunity to talk about what his votes in Congress tried to accomplish, Knight took a pass.

Instead of answering the question, Knight brought up a small pilot program for veterans happening in the 25th Congressional District. Knight appeared to address critics of his health care positions by asking, “Please tell me what you did,” bragging about this program even as he avoided telling the audience he voted to decimate the ACA.

In contrast, Hill said “health care is the number one issue in my platform.” She told a story about how her husband got sick shortly before their wedding, was hospitalized, and they started married life with $200,000 in medical debt.

She went on to say, “we have to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act.”

Since Knight did not bring it up, Hill reminded the audience, “The Republican Congress last year, including Steve Knight, voted to take away health insurance from millions of people, including over 60,000 people here in our own community.”

The issue of taxes came up several times throughout the debate, most often by Hill. In a question about special education funding, Hill noted the deficit created by the 2017 tax bill, supported by Knight, take money away from education.

“The Republican tax plan… is taking massive tax deductions for the biggest corporations in our country and 80 percent of the benefits are going to the wealthiest people in our country,” Hill said. “That makes it very difficult, when you have a $1.5 trillion deficit that’s projected over the next 10 years because of the tax plan, to invest in our schools.”

At one point, Knight was asked about his vote to remove tax deductions for teachers and first responders who buy work supplies with their own money. Knight was not remorseful about his support for those provisions, arguing that the doubling of the standard deduction made up the difference for some, but not all, of those impacted by the change. Knight’s position at the debate is similar to one he took weeks ago when he said he had no regrets supporting the Republican tax bill.

Hill expanded on what the tax bill means for families in the district, noting that changes in the state and local taxes deduction, also in the bill, hits many families in the district and will increase their taxes.

“We’re seeing people have to pay more and more taxes,” Hill said. Hill repeated the fact that 80 percent of the benefits from the Republican tax plan benefit the wealthiest one percent in the country.

Both candidates agreed on some issues, including the importance of the supporting the military and the need for more and better mental health services in the region.

The full debate was recorded and uploaded by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and can be viewed online. The next debate is scheduled for September 20 at 6 p.m. at the Palmdale Chamber of Commerce.