Kentucky Senate hopefuls Jack Conway and Rand Paul faced off in their second debate Monday night, sparring on spending cuts, education, tax cuts and the role of the federal government in general. Approximately 600 people gathered in a Northern Kentucky University auditorium for the hour-long event, during which each candidate frequently accused the other of distorting his record.
SPENDING CUTS: Democrats have frequently challenged Republicans to name spending cuts to match their slash-the-deficit rhetoric, and one of the first questions of the debate challenged Paul and Conway to name three specific ways they would cut spending if elected. Paul said he supported a balanced-budget amendment, a "compromise from Republicans and Democrats that the entire budget is open" -- meaning all programs are on the table for potential cuts -- repealing the unspent TARP and stimulus funds, and eliminating waste from earmarks.
Conway countered that Paul's solutions "won't help us in the short term," pointing out that passing a balanced-budget amendment could take years. "We have to get about the business of actually balancing budgets," said Conway. "Now here's an area where Rand Paul talks the talk, but he hasn't walked the walk." Conway said he would allow Medicare to purchase in bulk, work to close "offshore tax loopholes and special interest provisions" that allow corporations to ship jobs overseas, and institute pay-as-you-go rules.
The questioner then challenged Paul to be more specific about what cuts are needed to help balance the budget. Paul pointed to $200 billion leftover in the TARP fund and $100 billion in the stimulus. He said that he would make "private workers and federal workers' salaries comparable. We currently pay twice as much to federal workers as we pay to private workers. ... That saves $47 billion a year. Let's also shrink the federal workforce." (The federal government, however, has argued that its employees make "on average 22 percent less than workers in similar private-sector jobs.")
TAX CUTS: Conway said he supported extending the Bush tax cuts and the estate tax. He also accused Paul of abolishing the federal Department of Agriculture, a charge the Republican denied. Paul accused Conway of flip flopping on his tax positions. In their first debate, which took place on Fox News Sunday, Paul also backed extending the Bush tax cuts, saying they wouldn't be a "cost to government."
SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE: Paul said that in the future, there "will have to be changes made" to Social Security and Medicare -- although not for current recipients. "We cannot stick our heads in the sand and do the same old same old," said Paul. He then took a direct swipe at Conway -- who owns a racehorse -- by saying, "Ultimately, maybe people who own a race horse or maybe people who have millions of dollars might have to pay more of the cost." Conway responded, "Rand Paul, I am sick and tired of you putting forward something so callous and acting like it's courageous. ... I don't know what he just proposed there. He talked about a race horse, but he either said he's for means-testing Medicare or he's proposing one heck of an increase in the Medicare tax."
NATIONAL SECURITY: Paul said that the United States should go to war "reluctantly" and "constitutionally," noting the country has not officially declared war since World War II. He said he would have voted against the Iraq war but for the invasion of Afghanistan. He called for a "national debate on how long is too long" in occupying countries. Conway said Afghanistan was the "right war" but said he didn't think President Obama made the case strong enough for the surge there.
EDUCATION: Conway went after Paul for his calls to abolish the Department of Education. "We need to stand up and help some of our failing schools," he said. "But I'm not -- I'm not -- for being callous and eliminating the federal Department of Education." Paul called President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind program a failure and said he is opposed to "Washington dictating" what local classrooms do. "We need to make control of our schools more local," he said. "Now some would throw up their arms and say, 'Oh my goodness, he's going to get rid of federal involvement.' There still might be student loans done at the federal level, but the thing is, should we have more control at the federal level, or less?" Conway responded by hitting Paul for saying there "might" still be federal loans, saying he would never support doing away with them.
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