Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and his Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan disagreed over tax cuts, government spending, health care regulations, and many other issues facing the U.S. in a back-and-forth debate on Idaho Public Television that had to be reined in by the moderators at several points.
Sullivan, a businessman from Tetonia who hasn’t held office, burnished his Democratic beliefs by extolling Barack Obama’s presidency and name dropping Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as an idol. Crapo ran on his conservative track record of decades in state and federal office, mentioning a few of his accomplishments and condemning the opposing party’s recent few years in power.
Fiscal policy dominated the debate and divided the candidates. Crapo said there’s no restraint on spending in Washington, D.C., which is leading to an explosion of debt. “We’ve got to be fiscally conservative and get a handle on the spending,” he said.
Sullivan tried to pin the deficit spending on Crapo and the Republicans, who controlled Congress and the White House for much of the past decade, but Crapo said spending problems have deteriorated since Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gained power in 2006.
“You have no credibility when it comes to being fiscally conservative because you presided over the growth of our debt,” Sullivan said. He pointed to the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax reductions, set to expire at the end of this year, as a key reason for the ballooning debt. Sullivan said cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but not cuts for others, should disappear.
On this issue, Crapo again disagreed with his challenger. “This is the wrong time to be creating a new tax increase because the economy is in such shaky condition,” he said. He said lower taxes would spur the economy, and that the government isn’t entitled to tax all of a person’s earnings.
Crapo said he favors cutting spending, rather than raising taxes, and touted his record in opposing spending plans. “I voted against TARP, I voted against bailouts, and I’ll vote against them again,” he said, and also highlighted his vote against economic stimulus spending plans.
“Stimulus works—we learned that in 1929,” Sullivan said, referring to The Great Depression.
The two candidates did find common ground in their opinion of how their respective party is performing nationally. Both gave their party a “B” grade, when asked by an audience member at the debate in Boise.
Sullivan said that Barack Obama’s done as much during his time in the White House as any president in the past 50 years, and said that health care reforms passed by Congress this year were greatly needed. He also called Idaho’s lawsuit challenging its constitutionality a frivolous waste of taxpayers’ money.
“I disagree with most of the direction that Obama has taken us in the last two years,” Crapo said. “The federal government is moving in a very dangerous direction.”
Crapo repeatedly alluded to the differences between the two candidates—he said he viewed Sullivan’s support for a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants as amnesty—while Sullivan had more pointed attacks at the incumbent. He credited Crapo for one good bill in his 18 years in Congress—the Owyhee Initiative that protects some wilderness in southwest Idaho. He also accused Crapo of fence sitting on some issues, and said the large campaign contributions to Crapo’s campaign influence him in the Senate.
“I vote the way I campaign,” said Crapo, who said he holds his word to voters. Crapo, who is seeking his third term, holds a large fundraising lead over Sullivan and has outdistanced him in the polls.
In his closing remarks, Crapo branded Sullivan with the partisan label that Sullivan defended throughout the debate. “He will be another vote for the Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama agenda in Washington,” Crapo said.
“If people didn’t pick up on some sharp philosophical debates tonight, you weren’t listening,” said Dr. Jim Weatherby, a retired Boise State University political science professor who spoke during a post-debate analysis. “We had a very vigorous debate without personal rancor.”