SPOKANE — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown gave their pitches on the economy, taxes and health care in their second public debate Wednesday night at Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox in downtown Spokane.
Along the way, the former colleagues in Olympia and now familiar foes trod ground that has been well worn in a congressional campaign that unofficially began in August 2017, with the incumbent touting a thriving economy as evidence there is Republican momentum in the nation’s capital, while Brown criticized the party’s two major legislative undertakings in this Congress – health care and tax reform – as wrong for the district.
“I’m glad the (health care plan) was voted down by one vote in the Senate,” Brown said, in one of the more heated moments of a largely civil exchange Wednesday evening. “And frankly, I think John McCain was right about it and that you are still wrong.”
McMorris Rodgers requested a rebuttal, and argued that Republicans had acted to reform what she said was the “well-intentioned Obamacare, that failed to meet its promise.”
“People who liked their plan could not keep it. People who liked their doctor could not keep them,” McMorris Rodgers said. “And, in fact, premiums went up when we were told they would go down.”
The pair fielded questions from Nadine Woodward, the evening anchor for KXLY, which broadcast the debate live and on its affiliated radio station. Greater Spokane Inc., the region’s chamber of commerce, co-hosted the debate and said they’d received 900 registrations for the free event, but the lower bowl of the historic downtown theater still had a few empty seats as the doors closed Wednesday night.
McMorris Rodgers defended the Republican tax plan, highlighting swelling consumer and business confidence numbers and historically low unemployment.
“This is, very much, going to help families, and it is helping our economy,” the congresswoman said.
Brown called the tax bill “a missed opportunity” that gave too much away to businesses and not enough to individual taxpayers, without companion legislation to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. She also referenced reports this week that the national deficit continues to grow at a faster pace following passage of the tax reform bill, stoking fears among Democratic lawmakers that certain social safety net programs would be on the chopping block.
“Exemptions that middle-class people rely on were removed, and the closing of corporate tax loopholes that we were promised never happened,” Brown said.
McMorris Rodgers said multiple times in the debate that she wouldn’t vote to cut Social Security or Medicare.
Brown attacked Congress multiple times for failing to pass a farm bill before it lapsed at the end of September. It’s the second time in recent years the usually bipartisan support package has been delayed, with the main difference between House of Representatives and Senate versions of the bills centering on eligibility requirements for food assistance programs.
“Congress failed on this. They left, on recess, to campaign without a farm bill,” Brown said.
McMorris Rodgers said she believed the issue would be resolved by the end of 2019. She later said she was encouraged by the administration’s new trilateral trade deal with Mexico and Canada, which she said “modernized” their relationship.
“I had concerns, and I voiced those concerns from the very beginning about the across-the-board tariffs,” McMorris Rodgers said, referring to taxes the Trump administration placed on steel and aluminum earlier this year.
We haven’t seen enough of the new trade deal to determine whether it’s better for the American economy, Brown said, and argued that trade was one of several places, including environmental policy, where lawmakers had failed to keep the White House in check.
“I think that this Congress is shirking its responsibility to stand up to the administration and take on reducing tariffs and improving our trade relationships, with especially Asian countries, where our wheat crop goes,” Brown said.
The two closed the debate with a prompting from Woodward to give the other credit for an achievement in the district. McMorris Rodgers gave Brown credit “with others” for bringing a medical school to WSU’s Riverpoint campus, an issue that has reared its head on the campaign trail. Brown said McMorris Rodgers had worked to secure funding for a rural medical teaching program and called the congresswoman “a national leader in standing up for people with disabilities.”
The two candidates are scheduled to meet again at a debate Thursday afternoon at the Spokane Club downtown, sponsored by the downtown Spokane Rotary Club 21. The event is scheduled to begin just after noon and will be streamed live on the KSPS Facebook page, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for next week.