Elect 2012: Brosch, Watt tackle issues at forum
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY - For a while Wednesday night, it looked as though Republican Jack Brosch was going to have a Clint Eastwood-type moment.
His opponent in the 12th District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, initially was a no-show at the Tom Smith Auditorium on the Catawba College campus.
In other words, Watt's chair was empty, reminding everyone in the audience of Eastwood's primetime talk at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
"I'm seeing a whole new relevance to that presentation," Brosch said.
With Watt still absent, moderator Dr. Michael Bitzer told the audience Brosch would be given five minutes to speak on camera so it could be taped and shown later on public-access television. As Brosch concluded his remarks and Bitzer was about to call it an evening, the wayward Watt walked in.
The 20-year congressman apologized for his tardiness, explaining he had been trying desperately to find the forum location, which he thought would be along West Innes Street, not in the middle of campus.
Watt received his five minutes to introduce himself, and Wednesday night's discussion between the candidates, though shortened, was off and running.
The candidates answered questions on jobs and the economy, Social Security and Medicare, China trade policies, Bowles-Simpson legislation, the debt ceiling and their chief concerns on foreign policy.
The 12th District, to which Watt was first elected in 1992, takes in parts of six counties, including Rowan, Davidson, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth and Cabarrus.
About 30 percent of Rowan County's population lies in the 12th District.
Asked if he supported the Bowles-Simpson recommendations that tried to address the country's budget deficits, Watt noted he was one of only 60 lawmakers to vote for it.
He characterized it as the only legislation put forward that was balanced and "requires sacrifice by everybody." While it called for cuts, the legislation also proposed new revenue streams.
Republicans said no to anything on the revenue side, Watt said.
"All the balancing," Watt added, "can't be done on the cut side."
Brosch said he believes in Bowles-Simpson. He said he would never vote for a tax rate increase, but he thinks additional revenue can be raised by cutting tax loopholes.
Brosch said he also would never vote for an unbalanced budget and would readily co-sign any legislation calling for a balanced budget amendment.
Brosch's remarks about balancing the budget came in response to a question about the national debt ceiling and whether he would be in favor of raising it.
Watt said Brosch failed to answer the question. The debt ceiling has nothing to do with balancing the budget, Watt said, adding Congress has no choice but to increase the debt ceiling.
"We can't just decide we aren't going to pay our debts," Watt said. "I'm not in the business of putting the U.S. into bankruptcy."
Social Security reform
On possible Social Security reforms, Watt said Social Security is secure until 2036 without doing anything. But that doesn't mean some reforms should not happen, he added.
Brosch suggested that Watt's 2036 date was "rather optimistic." He has seen the solvency of Social Security predicted to collapse at dates between 2024 and 2036.
"We need to prepare for the earlier year," Brosch said.
With the recent bad economy and reduced payroll contributions, Brosch said, the country can't afford to wait until 2036, and some adjustments must start now.
Both candidates said Medicare reform is a much tougher issue as long as health-care costs continue to rise. Brosch said some reforms in Medicare might include raising the age for receiving benefits and tort reform.
Trade with China
Asked what policy he would propose to correct the trade imbalance with the Chinese, without antagonizing them into not buying the country's debt, Brosch said their currency should be floated on the world market.
He also called for establishing a "level playing ground" with China on things such as environmental and human rights issues. Brosch added that the United States should look at its energy policy and find ways to use more of its own resources.
Watt said leveling the playing field on trade with China would require lowering U.S. standards to meet those of the Chinese, or forcing them to raise their standards.
Watt said the cold-blooded, practical truth is Americans should force themselves to buy American-made goods.
"I have never, ever shopped at Walmart for that reason," Watt said. He agreed something should be done about China's currency manipulation.
Bitzer asked the candidates what would be the first piece of legislation they would introduce to create jobs for Rowan County and the rest of the 12th District.
Brosch said he would want to repeal "Obamacare" and 27 taxes associated with it that are putting a stranglehold on businesses.
Brosch also called for easing restraints on financial institutions so they can loosen lending standards and give loans to small businesses.
It's important for businesses to have the confidence of knowing what the fiscal environment will be, Brosch said.
Watt said it's counterintuitive, but he would not introduce any legislation because all the mechanisms already are in place.
Repealing Obamacare will not happen, Watt said. Neither will a repeal of Dodd-Frank regulations, he said.
The country needs to figure out a way to get its arms around the federal deficit by cutting waste, fraud and abuse, coupled with tax reform, Watt said.
"All those bills have been introduced," Watt said. "We just haven't acted on them."
Brosch said his top three foreign policy concerns are terrorism, the Middle East and the many other countries marred in debt.
Watt said his top three foreign policy concerns or priorities are al-Qaida, falling into another war like Iraq and giving support to democracies around the world.
In some of his remarks, Brosch spoke of reducing the size of the federal government. He favors getting rid of the U.S. Department of Education and says he's even open to reducing the size of the Department of Defense.
Government regulation is the reason for "lots of the waste," he said.
Watt touted his experience and efforts behind construction of a new Interstate 85 bridge over the Yadkin River and opening up a new National Cemetery site on the Hefner VA Medical Center campus.
"If you are a constituent in the 12th District, I like to think you are getting the best service," Watt said. "I try to do the best job possible."
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.