Republican U.S. Senate hopefuls attack the government, not each other, in latest debate
Missouri’s three major Republican contenders for the U.S. Senate avoided attacking each other during Monday night’s latest debate, as each instead focused on attacking the federal government and the Obama administration.
All three – businessman John Brunner, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin – repeatedly called for massive federal budget cuts and the repeal of the federal health-insurance law that critics have dubbed “Obamacare.”
All three said they wouldn't even retain popular provisions, such as allowing young adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health insurance. Brunner asserted that the federal health insurance program is "infested with termites" and must be dismantled.
All three also came out in favor of allowing changes in the Social Security so that younger workers could shift their Social Security payments into private accounts. All three emphasized, however, that they would not change the system for older people currently collecting Social Security benefits.
Their stances produced repeated applause from the packed auditorium at Lindenwood University in St. Charles. The 90-minute debate was organized by the radio station FM News Talk 97.1, with assistance from the St. Charles County Republicans and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
All three are vying in the Aug. 7 primary, with the victor taking on U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in November. The latest independent polls have shown her to be in tight contests, or trailing, all three Republicans.
McCaskill swiftly lobbed an attack after the debate was over, asserting that the three sought "to hand Social Security over to Wall Street." She cited the stock market losses since 2008, saying such an approach could endanger retirement for many Americans dependent on the program.
The crowd at the debate didn't appear to agree, however, The audience was particularly enthusiastic for Akin, R-Wildwood, whose district includes St. Charles.
Akin said that he even opposed the federal mandate – in place since the 1980s – that requires hospitals to provide care to anyone with a life-threatening condition, even if the patient doesn’t have insurance.
Akin also came down the hardest against most government spending, saying that he even opposed federal grants for law-enforcement agencies because it made them dependent on government help.
Steelman emphasized her proposal for “zero-based budgeting,’’ which would require examination of every federal expense. She took a verbal slap at McCaskill, who she said reflects those in Congress who are "pampered, privileged and wealthy." Steelman also noted that McCaskill has been late paying some of her personal property taxes.
Candidates take aim at Social Security
Brunner repeatedly touted himself as the “citizen senator’’ and businessman that Missourians need. He asserted that "the free market" was the best way to bring down health-care costs.
Regarding Social Security, Steelman called for gradually raising the eligibility age to "fix the existing program," but also allowing younger workers "to pursue their own type of investments and make those decisions on their own."
Brunner also called for raising the minimum retirement "over the next decade."
In addition, he added, "let's bring some choice into the equation, so that people have a choice to continue the same system or do something new."
Said Akin: "We might start first of all about being honest about Social Security — that it's broken and the money is not going to be there before very long."
He then also called for allowing younger workers to put their Social Security payments into private investments.
Candidates blast cost of food stamps
All three called for cuts in food stamp benefits, saying the program has become too costly and is helping some people able to help themselves.
Said Steelman: “There’s no question that we have a dependent class and the federal government continues to feed that class.”
Brunner said that the federal bureaucracy has “lost all sense of tracking who’s really in need.’’ All assistance should be shifted to local authorities and charities, he said.
The audience cheered when Akin asserted that the government is “overtaxing people who work and overpaying people who don’t work.”
Steelman emphasized her proposal for “zero-based budgeting,’’ which would require examination of every federal expense. Brunner repeatedly touted himself as the “citizen senator’’ that Missourians need.
Steelman and Akin avoided attacking Brunner, although before the debate both had blasted his latest TV ad that attacks them for allegedly embracing too much government spending.
Steelman and Akin have said the ad misrepresents their records. But neither mentioned the spot during Monday’s debate.
The moderator was talk show host Jamie Allman, of 97.1-FM. The questions were posed by panelists Dana Loesch, also of 97.1-FM and a CNN contributor; Mike Ferguson, of Missouri News Horizon, an independent nonprofit news organization; Betsey Bruce of KTVI-TV (Channel 2); and Dan Nowak, a St. Charles police officer and student in Lindenwood’s master of public administration program.