Elect 2012: Goals for 8th District candidates similar; how to reach them differ

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 12, 2012

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — The five Republican candidates for North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District shared common goals at Wednesday’s candidate forum, but they gave different views on how to reach them.
When asked about the budget proposal released by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, the Republicans all said federal government should shrink and its spending should be cut.
N.C. Rep. Fred Steen and Dr. John Whitley said the latest proposal is a good, “realistic” effort to do just that. A Democratic president and Senate, they said, make the budget process more difficult for Republicans.
Vernon Robinson, Richard Hudson and Dr. Scott Keadle said that while some parts of the plan are sorely needed, it still takes too long to balance the budget.
“Paul Ryan’s budget does not balance for 40 years, and that is ridiculous,” Keadle said. “Today is Wednesday. We should propose a budget that balances on Thursday.”
Wednesday’s forum at Catawba College was sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and the Salisbury Post. The two Democrats running for the office, incumbent U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell and challenger Marcus Williams, did not attend due to other commitments.
Dr. Michael Bitzer, associate professor of political science and history at Catawba, served as moderator.
“What would be the first three bills you would introduce if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives?” Bitzer asked.
Steen and Keadle both said they want to introduce a balanced budget amendment.
Robinson, a new media marketing and sales specialist, said he supports the budget bill developed by the Tea Party Debt Commission. He said that proposal would balance the budget in four years and pay off the national debt in 29 years.
He said he also would call for the impeachment of Attorney General Eric Holder for his involvement in “Operation Fast and Furious,” which included sting operations that effectively sent tracked firearms to Mexican cartels.
Keadle and Robinson both said they want to completely reform the country’s tax code. Keadle said he also wants to introduce a taxpayer’s protection amendment to limit federal spending to 18 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
Steen, a business owner who currently represents the 76th District in the N.C. House, said he helped pass a spending-cap bill called the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights and would like to see something like it on the federal level.
In addition, he said he wants to limit House members to three terms and Senate members to two terms.
Hudson, a business consultant, said he supports legislation that would include a balanced budget amendment, spending caps and a sunset clause that forces federal departments to come up for regular review.
Hudson said he wants to close the country’s border to stop the flow of illegal immigrants.
He also wants to introduce a bill to let religious leaders speak out politically without losing their tax exempt status.
Whitley said he would reduce the corporate income tax to 15 percent and eliminate the capital gains tax to spur business.
He also wants to reduce the size and scope of the Environmental Protection Agency and pass legislation to encourage energy independence and open a number of oil fields.
Bitzer asked, “What is your detailed view for saving and improving Medicare and Social Security benefits?”
“As far as I’m concerned, all options are on the table,” Hudson said. “We’ve got to look at the retirement age, and we’ve got to look at benefits. … Some tough decisions need to be made.”
Robinson, Keadle and Steen all said benefits for current Social Security recipients should be protected. Robinson and Keadle added that younger workers should be able to opt into a personal retirement account.
Keadle, a dentist, said Medicare should be reformed to work more like the health care plan for members of Congress. Robinson said seniors should have access to the plan itself.
Steen and Whitley both said the federal government should not be taking money from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for other expenses.
Whitley, a neurosurgeon, emphasized medical malpractice reform as a way to bring down Medicare costs.
“As a doctor, I practice defensive medicine every day,” he said, referring to tests and procedures given to prevent lawsuits. “We’re talking about thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Steen and Hudson said free market principles should be allowed to work in order to improve Medicare.
The Republican candidates all said they oppose President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.
They agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court likely will strike down the law as unconstitutional, and if it doesn’t, they will work to de-fund it.
When asked what they would do to address the increasing costs of health care, the candidates said they would let insurance companies compete across state lines, enact medical malpractice reform and give patients more responsibility for choosing and paying for care.
All disagreed with the president’s proposal regarding Afghanistan. Keadle and Hudson said there should be a more coherent plan that keeps America in a strong position and supports the troops. Whitley and Robinson both said American troops need to leave Afghanistan.
“We’re not going to win there,” Whitley said, because divisions among the local groups are too great. But Robinson said the country already has won there, because it drove out the Taliban and killed Osama bin Laden.
Steen agreed that Obama’s exit strategy should not be “telegraphed” to the rest of the world, but he said the situation in Afghanistan is complicated. “I would like to see the intelligence reports that are available to members of Congress,” he said, “and make a decision based on that information.”
Republican primary candidates for N.C. House District 76 also spoke at Wednesday’s forum.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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