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Four Takeaways From The Debate For Vermont's U.S. House Seat

Vermont PBS
Democratic incumbent Peter Welch and Republican Miriam Berry faced off in the 2020 VPR - Vermont PBS U.S. House Debate.

­The two major party candidates for U.S. House outlined clear differences on health care, abortion, and immigration policy in a wide-ranging VPR-Vermont PBS debate Thursday.

The VPR-Vermont PBS 2020 U.S. House Debate, held on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, was hosted by Bob Kinzel, and included major party candidates Democtratic incumbent Peter Welch and Republican Miriam Berry. Listen to or watch the full debate here.

For all of VPR's 2020 general election coverage (plus a full debate schedule), head here.

Republican and political newcomer Miriam Berry from Essex is challenging incumbent Peter Welch, a Democrat who was first elected 2006.

Berry, a registered nurse, said she offers the perspective of someone who is not a professional politician.

“I certainly know what it’s like to have to pay the bills. I know what’s like to actually have had a landlord knocking on my door,” she said. “I know what it’s like to struggle. And I also know what’s like to pursue a goal and actually achieve it. I went from nursing assistant to a licensed nurse to registered nurse.”

Welch, who served as president of the Vermont Senate before being elected to Congress, promised to continue to bring what he called the “Vermont way of civility and respect” to Washington. He said he wants to return to Congress in part to help bring federal money back to the state, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Welch supports raising the federal minimum wage over time to $15 a hour. Berry at first did not want to comment on this, but then said she was concerned a higher minimum wage would increase the cost of living for all. “Let’s look at volunteer culture before raising wages,” she said.

When asked whether the electoral college should remain in place, Welch said presidents should be chosen based on a popular vote. Berry said the electoral college should remain in place in part because it gives less populated states a greater say in presidential elections. “It does give greater voice to states that have less of a voice,” she said.

- VPR Senior Reporter John Dillon

Click here for VPR's 2020 Election voter guide.

Here's where the candidates said they stand on four key issues
1. Public Versus Private Health Care

Q: By most accounts, health care costs continue to spiral out of control . In fact, the United States spends roughly twice as much per capita on health care than most industrialized countries. And yet, health outcomes, in many cases, are not better. Would you support a plan giving all people access to a publicly financed system? And if you do, how are you going to pay for it? Or does the solution lie with the current private health insurance health care system?

A: Miriam Berry

  • Berry does not support a universal health care program, such as Medicare for all, although she said Medicaid - which helps cover health care costs for people who with low income or who have disabilities, should remain.
  • Berry said she believes people should be given a choice for their insurance, and that it's worth looking into individualized plans. 
  • She also said veterans should not have ot pay for health care.

A: Peter Welch

Listen to Peter Welch's response.

  • Welch said the private sector, employer-based model of health care coverage is failing. He said the pandemic has shown the flaws in the current system, since people lost insurance when they lost their jobs.
  • He said significantly decreasing the cost of health care should be a priority. 
  • Welch said he agrees that veterans should have full access to health care.

2. Addressing Global Warming

Q: Is Global Warming such a serious threat to the future of this planet that Congress should impose strict new emission standards and impose a tax on all sources of Carbon to discourage its use? What do you say to those folks who argue that a national Carbon tax will severely hurt the economy and will have a disproportionate impact on lower and middle income people?

A: Peter Welch

Listen to Peter Welch's response.

  • Welch said he supports a carbon tax as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including through energy efficiency programs and transforming the electric grid to accommodate more renewable sources.
  • He also said there are other solutions other than a carbon tax that could make a more significant impact.

A: Miriam Berry

Listen to Miriam Berry's response.

  • Berry said she does not support a national carbon tax. She said it would hurt people in rural areas who have to drive long distance to work.
  • She also said global warming is not as important of an issue as getting people back on their feet in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

3. The Status Of Undocumented Workers In Vermont

Q: Right now there are several thousand undocumented workers employed in Vermont’s Dairy Industry, and they are considered to be a vital part of this industry, and many pay taxes on their wages. Should these workers be offered a path to citizenship over a period of years? Should these undocumented workers be eligible for a number of government programs like Heath Care and Food Stamps?

A: Miriam Berry

Listen to Miriam Berry's response.

  • Berry said she was willing to consider granting citizenship to the undocumented workers on Vermont farms.
  • Berry said she supports President Donald Trump's plan for a wall across the border.

A: Peter Welch

Listen to Peter Welch's response.

  • Welch said undocumented workers should be offered a path to citizenship. 
  • He also said President Trump's plan for a border wall is ineffective and environmentally disasterous. 

4. The Future Of Roe v. Wade

Q: Is it your hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon overturn the landmark abortion decision known as Roe v. Wade?

A: Miriam Berry

Listen to Miriam Berry's response.

  • Berry said she would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, but believes that abortion providers should have admitting privileges to a hospital. 

A: Peter Welch

Listen to Peter Welch's response.

  • Welch said he supports abortion rights, and is concerned that recent nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court threatens the landmark ruling. 

Questions about how to vote in the upcoming general election? We've got answers, here.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vprnet.

We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
Emily was a Vermont Edition producer at Vermont Public Radio until September 2021.
Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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