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In First Debate, Neal And Amatul-Wadud Clash On Defense Spending, Health Care

The two Democrats running for the westernmost congressional seat in Massachusetts met Wednesday for their first debate.

During the taping at WWLP's studios in Chicopee, the candidates differed in their approach to health care.

Attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud said she supports strengthening the Affordable Care Act, but said "that's just the wrong fight at this point."

"It's embattled. It probably won't be here for long. So we have to get behind a policy like Medicare-for-All," she said.

Congressman Richie Neal, who is now the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he helped to write the ACA.

Neal said he's not dismissing the single-payer option, but he's not pushing for it either.

"My argument has been that in the current controversy that we have, shouldn't we be better off making sure that the Affordable Care Act is extended?" Neal said. "I think the Ways and Means Committee has a particular responsibility and if [Democrats] win the majority, that would put me in a key position for that very purpose."

On military spending, Amatul-Wadud said the "only ones who are winning" in the budget are defense contractors -- some of whom have donated to Neal's campaign.

Amatul-Wadud said that, without affecting national security, defense spending could use "a little bit of a haircut."

Neal said he opposes defense budgets when they're bloated, but stressed that Westover and Barnes air bases are a "huge part of the economic structure of western Massachusetts."

The primary is September 4.

Take a look at our Massachusetts Primary Voter Guide.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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