COLUMBIA — Aside from agreeing that the government shouldn’t ban sugary drinks, candidates in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race were unable to reach consensus on anything during a debate Friday morning at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia. The Missouri Press Association hosted the forum.
Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Todd Akin urged voters to choose between “more freedom as I have voted, or more Washington, D.C.”
Incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill also focused on the candidates’ differences, saying the chasm between her beliefs and Akin's are not because they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
“I’m in the middle,” McCaskill said. “It’s just he’s so far on the fringe. That’s where the contrast comes in.”
Even Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine made a point of distancing himself from his opponents, promising to “keep the Republicans out of your bedroom, and the Democrats out of your wallet.”
The candidates addressed numerous topics that will be important in November's election.
Akin declared his opposition to the Federal Family Education Loan Program, an addition to the 2010 Affordable Care Act that eliminated government backing of private loans and made all federal loans part of the Federal Direct Loan program.
“Why don’t we leave it the way it was a few years ago where private lenders could be involved in student loans?” Akin asked rhetorically. "Just because you believe in private lenders doesn’t mean you don’t believe in student loans.”
McCaskill disagreed with Akin's characterization of the program.
“No one’s saying private lenders can’t loan to students,” McCaskill said. “They can do that right now. They just didn’t want to do it unless the federal government was backing them up and they were making a cut out of it. So all we did was take out the middleman who’s taking a cut with no risk."
McCaskill also expressed support for Proposition B, a bill on Missouri's November ballot that would raise money for higher education by increasing taxes on tobacco.
Dine said “easy-to-secure government loans” have caused college costs to increase.
“With kids receiving more money, college institutions have increased the price," he said. "If there wasn’t as much money being lent out, college campuses would be empty and would be forced to lower the cost of tuition.”
Foreign policy in the Middle East
Dine said he seeks “a world at peace with other nations.”
“We don’t have the money to continue the wars,” Dine said. “We’re wasting over a trillion since 2001 on bombs. I think our money could be more wisely spent here at home.”
McCaskill said she opposes spending money on infrastructure in Afghanistan.
“We’re investing in highways, power plants, water projects that they cannot maintain because they cannot afford to sustain," McCaskill said. "We need to pull that infrastructure out, it’s billions of dollars, and bring it to the United States of America where we need roads and bridges.”
Akin affirmed his support for building highways in Afghanistan, saying it's part of a strategy to curb the country’s drug economy.
“The big economy in Afghanistan is heroin,” Akin said. “Heroin you can put on a motorcycle and take somewhere. If you don’t have roads you have no way to grow crops other than heroin.”
Akin brushed off an opening question about the significance of his controversial statements regarding abortion in cases of rape. He said the election is “not about talk, but about two different visions of America.”
McCaskill said the comments indicate that Akin lacks “the mainstream, compromise, willing-to-fix-things attitude we need to send to Washington.”
“It’s not what he said that is the problem,” McCaskill said. “It’s what he believes that’s the problem.”
Dine drew laughter when he said that Akin “sits on the science committee yet he fails to understand basic eighth-grade biology,” but he also called abortion a distracting “wedge issue” and cautioned voters to “step back and take a look at the important issues.”
Dine said he favors increasing the price of stamps and closing post offices on Saturdays.
“We are in a fiscal crisis,” Dine said. “We do need to make some tough choices. And if one of them is cutting down on some of the services, we can wait until Monday to receive our mail.”
McCaskill criticized Akin for opposing a U.S. Senate bill that would postpone the closure of several post offices.
“The bill is bipartisan,” McCaskill said. “It saves money. It is in the Senate. And Congressman Akin is part of the gridlock that won’t pass it. I ask you Congressman Akin, go back to Washington and help us pass the postal bill.”
Akin called post offices an important part of American tradition but said “the amount of money that’s being charged needs to match the cost of providing services.”
“I think I heard what the answer was: ‘Well, if you can’t make the thing work, we’ll just take the money from somewhere else to help pay for it,’” Akin said. “I don’t know that that’s a very responsible solution."
Akin criticized McCaskill and the Senate for failing to pass a formal budget resolution and settling for the Budget Control Act.
"In the two years that the Republicans have controlled the House, we’ve had a budget both years,” Akin said. “... Those budgets, of course, go where? To the Senate. What happens when we send bills to the Senate? They die."
Akin said that federal law requires a budget every year and that the Senatehas demonstrated it can't pass one.
McCaskill took issue with Akin’s contention that the Budget Control Act was not an actual budget.
“I think I should use a phrase that’s been used often: ‘Read the bill,’” McCaskill said. “I think Congressman Akin, if he’ll read the bill, he’ll find the language specifically that says ‘this act shall serve as the budget resolution for the fiscal year in question.’ And then you can read the bill. You can read the budget in the bill.”
Dine told voters to support less spending and less taxation.
“We do need to make some serious choices if we do want to save what we have,” he said. “I think it takes someone who’s willing to say no to reckless spending, say no to the corporate interest. Someone who’s just willing to work for the people and let the people keep the money in their pocket where it belongs.”
Akin said McCaskill voted for legislation that would cut Medicare benefits.
“You want to talk about Medicare, let’s talk about votes,” Akin said. “Let’s talk about someone who voted to take $700 billion out of Medicare and then wants to crusade as the big hero of Medicare.”
McCaskill called that claim “the biggest whopper of this campaign season,” saying the Affordable Care Act “does not cut one dime” in Medicare benefits.
“It realizes savings by taking some of the big profits away from insurance companies, the corporate welfare that they were making off Medicare advantage," McCaskill said. "It lowers some of the reimbursements to hospitals because it depends on the fact they’re going to have more paying customers. And it’s the same $700 billion he voted for in the (Paul) Ryan plan a couple times.”
Dine advocated making “drastic cuts” to Medicare and giving more to the states.
“I would propose block granting the states money based on population to deliver health care for seniors over 55,” Dine said. “I feel that the states would be more close to the people of the state, more apt to listen to the legislators and provide you with a better service for your dollars.”
The one issue on which the candidates agreed on was whether the federal government has any role in combating increasing rates of obesity as a means of reducing health-care costs.
All three candidates said they oppose a ban on large sugary drinks such as the one New York City's Board of Health passed last week.
McCaskill joked about her difficulty managing weight at her age but said the government should only encourage healthy lifestyles, not mandate them.
Akin agreed that the government has no business telling people what to eat or drink.
Dine, who used to work as a personal trainer, suggested using tax incentives for gym memberships as a reward for healthy lifestyle choices.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.