by Alexandra Huzyk ’20
On Monday, November 18, 2019, the Providence College Democrats and Republicans hosted a political debate on the topics of healthcare and criminal justice reform. The speakers for the Democrats were Bryan Bates ’20 and Elizabeth McGinn ’21. The speakers representing the Republicans were Krista Minniti ’20 and Katelyn Evans ’23. Professor Joseph Cammarano acted as the facilitator of the debate, posing prewritten questions and moderating when necessary.
After determining that the PC Republicans would begin the debate in a coin toss, the debate began with the question: is healthcare a right? Minniti was first to respond, beginning with, “Nowhere in the Constitution does it mention healthcare as a right…If healthcare was added as a right, doctors would not be paid enough and the ratings of healthcare would decrease because we would not be receiving adequate care.”
In response, McGinn stated that as a member of the Democratic Party she believed that healthcare is in fact a universal right. McGinn cited the recognition of healthcare as a right under the UN Declaration of Human Rights and stated, “We believe that humans should have access to adequate healthcare regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”
McGinn also touched upon the two popular healthcare proposals within the Democratic Party, which are commonly known as “Medicare for all” and an “opt-in system.”
Minniti rebutted this argument by declaring that in the U.S., healthcare is a commodity that can be bought and sold. She then raised the concern of how the government would fund a universal healthcare plan like Medicare for All. Bates responded with: “I invite you to look at Elizabeth Warren’s plan, who worked with economists to…outline specific steps showing where every cent will go in order to provide healthcare to every single American.”
On the same topic of healthcare, another question prompted each party to think about the role of government in combatting the high costs of prescription drugs and medications.
Minniti began by saying that, “President Trump has stated himself that he would like to lower these prices…however, the Senate Republicans have been wary of government intervention. I believe that President Trump must show full support for legislation.” She also advocated for lobbying and the necessity of bipartisan efforts in finding a solution to this issue.
McGinn also commended Trump’s efforts to work towards lowering prescription drug prices, expanding on the fact that, “currently, companies have control of how much to charge.” She also stated that life-saving medicines like EpiPens and insulin should be available to everyone. “If the free market goes unchecked, it will continue to make profit at the expense of human lives.”
Bates also added, “Companies should be allowed to make the money off of the drug that they produced for a little while…but they should not be allowed to sit on patents for so long. Once drugs are put out into the public market, it allows for competition that drives prices down.”
In regards to the criminal justice system, one question was: is the system inherently racist? McGinn said that yes, the criminal justice system is racist. She said that this can be seen in the book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, and can be traced back to the 13th amendment, which states that slavery is legal within prisons. For these reasons, McGinn stated that people of color are disproportionately affected. This can particularly be seen in the treatment of crimes related to powder and crack cocaine.
“It has been statistically proven that all races use drugs at roughly the same rates, but powder cocaine is largely used by white people in a higher socioeconomic class,” she explained. “For these reasons, laws punish those who possess crack cocaine for a longer period of time; revealing the systematic racism within the criminal justice system.”
In response to these Democratic points, Evans described that oftentimes in the media, there is more of a focus on police brutality rather than crimes committed against police officers. She also offered the statistic that 58.6 percent of federal inmates are white, asking, “If the system was inherently racist, how do you explain these percentages?” Evans also argued that sentencing for crimes have to go through multiple jurisdictions, which would cancel out any racist judgements.
McGinn rebutted these comments by saying that the percentages mentioned by Evans reflect the demographics of the country, for there is a higher number of white people in America. Minniti agreed that the statistics offered were proportionate for the country’s demographics, but claimed that it was the politicians who created the laws that were, perhaps, racist, as opposed to the criminal justice system itself.
Another question on the topic of the criminal justice system was: what are the boundary of rights for felons? McGinn began with an explanation of the discrimination facing felons, including the fact that they do not have a right to vote, and face challenges finding employment, housing, and even health insurance.
Bates argued that “once you have served your time and proven yourself, that you will not go back to prison, you deserve to be considered an American citizen again” and to retain all of the rights that go along with citizenship. In rebuttal, Evans stated that most criminals that are released from prison reoffend and end up incarcerated once again. “What’s the point of felons getting their rights back if they reoffend?” she reflected.
PC Democrats were ultimately determined the winner; however, the event was educational for all. It also serves as a reminder that despite differing political parties or opinions, the importance of respectufl and regulated discussion remains.