CD8 debate: Barber & Kelly spar over Social Security
Ron Barber, Jesse Kelly and Charlie Manolakis were questioned on Social Security, Medicare and the economy during a Wednesday night debate, and it's a good thing we're fresh out of beer in the Smith household, or the Social Security drinking game would have left this reporter floored.
Instead of imbibing every time the entitlement programs were mentioned, I made do with another cup of cold coffee.
Kelly and Barber made things heated enough.
Barber is running "an entire campaign based on lying to seniors" about Kelly's positions, the Republican charged.
Kelly is "trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the voters" in moving away from his previous calls to end Social Security and Medicare, Barber said.
"I just think it would be really great if you just stood up, man up, and say 'I changed my position,'" Barber said, asking why Kelly's campaign website no longer contains a call to privatize Social Security.
In a thematic reprise of last week's debate, Republican candidate Kelly stuck to his script that economic expansion will keep Social Security solvent. Democrat Barber brought up Kelly's past statements against Social Security and Medicare at every opportunity, and the Green Party's Manolakis continued his somewhat curious charge that Barber has ignored Medicaid in his campaign.
The debate was sharper than the previous one—with the candidates questioning each other directly at times—but there were no dramatic exchanges like the one seen last week.
Oddly echoing Al Gore, Kelly said he supports protecting the benefits of seniors now getting Social Security.
"What the government has done with Social Security is spend your money," he said. The government has "an obligation to pay it back."
"They didn't keep it in a lock box, they didn't keep it in a bank vault," Kelly said.
The retirement program will be solvent through 2033, Barber said, "not a long time, but time to do the right thing."
"We cannot abandon a program that's worked successfully for 75 years," he said.
Kelly has not explained how Social Security benefits could be guaranteed if younger people are allowed to opt out of the program, Barber said.
"When people leave, the solvency begins to decrease," he said.
"We don't need extreme ideas about Social Security, we need to find the middle," Barber said.
Kelly said participation should be optional.
"This is not Europe, this is not Russia. This is not some crazy place where the government allows us to do things," he said.
"Your money that you earn with your paycheck is your money," Kelly said.
Barber retorted that Kelly "would bring the system to collapse."
"If you do the math, Social Security can't be supported by people opting out," he said.
Kelly said that we "must extend the Bush tax cuts. That has to be priority one."
Barber said he "will never vote for a tax increase on middle class Americans but the people at the top need to pay their fair share."
"We cannot tax our way out of this recession," Kelly responded. "You do not expand wealth by taking it from one and giving it to another."
"The American people have sacrificed enough," the Republican said when questioned on what people should sacrifice to lower the federal deficit.
"The government needs to sacrifice. We will stop President Obama's anti-jobs agenda," he said.
Barber concurred that people have sacrificed enough.
"Middle-class Americans have stagnating wages; they're facing unemployment, underemployment and foreclosures," he said.
"Veterans are coming back without proper treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury," the Democrat said.
"Students in schools where we've cut the budgets to the bone have suffered enough," he said.
"Why is it that the American taxpayer is subsidizing the oil industry at a rate of $40 billion a year when they're making record profits?" Barber asked. "Those who are making billions need to pay their fair share."
Kelly blasted back: "Fair share, profits—these are words that are used in Europe, these are words that are used in Russia."
"Profit is how you feed your family. Profit is not a bad word in this nation," the Republican said.
While most of the questions revolved around national issues, both the border and the proposed Rosemont copper mine, under development by a Canadian mining company south of Tucson, were the subject of some discussion.
The mine is "pretty much a no-brainer," Kelly said. "A copper mine in the copper state? I'll bet they'll even make a profit."
Barber said he's "certainly not against mining" but that Rosemont "is the wrong place, and the wrong way."
"Where are they going to get the water?" Barber asked.
If it comes from the "already depleted aquifer in Green Valley and Sahaurita," development in those areas "simply won't happen," he said.
"Profit will be there—and good for them—but it's going to Canada," he said.
"There are no jobs and no profit if the copper stays in the ground," Kelly said.
The earliest the mine could open would be in two to three years, Barber said.
"We need jobs in this community now," the Democrat said, saying Kelly has a "fantasy that this mine is going to open immediately."
Tucson needs more high-tech jobs to grow the local economy, Barber said.
Kelly reiterated his call for a "double-layer border fence" and said that "we have 50 percent of the narcotics" smuggled into the United States crossing into Arizona.
Kelly also claimed that "Phoenix has become the kidnapping capital of the world."
The phrase "'comprehensive immigration reform' means I don't intend to do anything about the problem," he said.
Ports of entry should be expanded to facilitate more trade, Kelly said, calling for "a real high fence and a real wide gate."
Manolakis proposed that border agents use camels rather than horses to patrol the border.
Barber said he was "Congresswoman Giffords' lead on border security issues" in his work as her district director.
"We put together a package that brought 1,000 new agents" to Southern Arizona, along with more forward operating bases, he said.
"Ranchers, one of whom was shot and killed two years ago, should not have to live in fear," Barber said.
The candidates also showed their differences when talking about health care reform.
Barber said the Affordable Care Act "is far from perfect. Many things need to be changed."
But he said he wouldn't "throw the baby out with the bath water."
The Democrat said the government needs to gain the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare. He called the current system, passed under President George W. Bush, a "blank check to the pharmaceutical companies."
Kelly said that if elected he would "immediately vote to repeal it."
This year at least, that could be no more than a symbolic gesture, considering that both the Senate and President Barack Obama would be inclined to halt any effort to repeal the health care bill.
"The federal government does not have a right to tell you that you have to purchase something," Kelly said.
Barber jabbed at Kelly's opposition.
"Mr. Kelly, you have not said anything you would do to fix the law. You have come up with no ideas that would help Americans get affordable health care," he said.
Flip-flopping and fighting
Late in the debate, Kelly used his opportunity to question Barber to ask who the Democrat was voting for in the presidential race.
"I will not be talking about other elections; I'm focused on beating you in this election," Barber said.
"You cannot vote 'present' in Congress," Kelly said. "You have to take a position and fight for it."
Barber said that voters should be wary of Kelly's campaign.
The Democrat said the elections "boils down to three things: experience, policies and trust."
"Flip-flopping around, that doesn't build trust," Barber said.
"I'm really afraid of what extreme policies you'd bring into play," he said to Kelly.
"I'll tell you what I'm afraid of: President Obama's job-killing policies," the GOP candidate replied in his closing statement, saying that the United States is "blessed by God" and will be known a thousand years from now as "the greatest country that ever was."
The Democrat, Republican and Green Party candidate are vying to fill the 8th Congressional District seat left vacant when Gabrielle Giffords resigned.
Early voting in the race is already underway. Election Day in the special election is June 12.