Pennsylvania’s second and last senate debate saw Congressman Joe Sestak, the Democrat, refer to his Navy service in at least eight out of 11 question, while former Congressman Pat Toomey, the Republican, brought home an absolutely terrifying point about federal deficit spending.
The men are seeking the seat held by Democrat Arlen Specter who lost his party’s nomination to Sestak in the primary election.
The debate took place last night at WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh and was moderated by station news-anchor David Johnson. Its available on C-Span.
After introductory statements from each man, Johnson unveiled the first question which involved the labels they gave themselves and each other.
Johnson asked Toomey if he agreed that he was was a conservative and Toomey answered “right” and that Sestak was a liberal. and Toomey answered “um hum.”
He then addressed Sestak who said “I wouldn’t quite call (Toomey) a conservative but I do agree that he was on the fringe of his party. . .For me, I knew hundreds of fellow admirals. I’ve yet to meet one of them being a liberal.”
Sestak refused to allow himself to be labeled as a liberal.
Toomey noted that last year his opponent voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time.
The second question was “was the stimulus working?”
Toomey said that Obama had promised that unemployment wouldn’t rise over 8 percent when it was passed but that it went “over 10 percent.”
“Rather than spend $800 billion that we didn’t have,” he said. “If we had across the board cuts in payroll tax for the workers and the matching employer share, then every worker would have had a take-home pay raise immediately, we wouldn’t have had to worry about shovel-ready projects and every employer would find it less expensive to keep and hire workers.
Sestak in his answer said the stimulus was Bush’s idea. He then referenced his Navy days. He then said the stimulus saved jobs and that Toomey wants to give the money to corporations.
The third question came via videotape from a Braddock woman who asked if the candidates supported drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas fields, to which Johnson added if the they supported any tax on it.
Toomey noted that energy stored in the fields is equal to half of that in the Saudi Arabian oil fields and development of Marcellus Shale could be be best thing that happened to Pennsylvania economically in a century. He said all experts agreed that the drilling could and should be done in an environmentally responsible fashion. He said a tax should be expected on the gas but would leave it to Harrisburg to decided what it should be.
Sestak said that when he was in the Navy he patrolled the Persian Gulf oil lanes. He said he supported drilling but that the wanted to do it right “because that’s how I learned to do things in the Navy.”
The next question was from Facebook and was “What makes you more qualified than your opponent.”
Sestak said it was because “When I was in the U.S. military I learned to work across the aisle” and cited endorsements by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, both who ran on Republican tickets. He also said he was in the U.S. military where he “learned accountability.”
Toomey said it was the sum of his life experiences. He noted that he was born in a blue-collar household. His dad was a union worker. His mom was a part-time parish secretary. He grew up with five siblings, and the he’s the only candidate in the race that actually created jobs citing the restaurants he started with his brothers in Allentown.
Question four was from Johnson who wanted to know what taxes the candidates would cut.
Toomey said he would make the 2003 tax cuts permanent for everybody, and cut the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent along with lowering the capital gains tax rate.
Sestak said he wants a zero percent capital gains tax if invested in a small business. He said he wants to give a 15 percent tax credit to small business.
Sestak accused Toomey of supporting large corporations over small business, which was a theme he worked in several of his answers. Toomey respond by again noting that he created and ran small businesses and that the bailouts supported by Sestak didn’t go to small business but to giant banks.
“I was opposed to all of those bailouts. Joe voted for them. Who do you think is going to pay for them” Toomey said.
Johnson’s follow up question involved what programs to cut.
Sestak responded by saying that he voted for laws that would require a government to “live within its means. If you want new program cut another one.” He accused Toomey of leaving congress “with the largest deficit in the history of America” then going on television and saying “deficits weren’t important.”
Sestak said we needed caps on discretionary spending. He also said we shouldn’t buy any more F-22 fighters.
Toomey was incredulous at Sestak’s claims.
“This is amazing,” he said. “Joe voted for every single bailout, introduced bailouts which would cost $100 billion of still more additional deficit spending; voted for the stimulus and giant omnibus spending and he’s pretending that he’s the guy who wants to reduce spending. This is unbelievable. Let’s talk about deficits. During the six years I was in the House which ended six years ago, the average budget deficit was seven-tenths of 1 percent of our economy. Joe’s voting for budget deficits that are now, each year, 10 percent of our economy — 15 times bigger. We are running one-and-a-half trillion dollar deficits and Joe says we haven’t spent enough.”
Toomey said he would end the bailouts, rescind the unspent portion of the stimulus bill and ban earmarks.
Sestak’s responded by saying that Toomey only wants to help big corporations and while he would support legislation to end earmarks.
In response, Toomey pointed out that Sestak was getting earmarks for supporters in blatant violations of a pledge he made.
The next question was from a Pittsburgh man about why bus services to needy neighborhoods seem to be cut soon that services to other neighborhoods. Johnson expanded the question to all services.
Sestak said he would make it so that local grants must be associated with “minority-serving institutions” and wanted to spend more money on public transportation.
Toomey said he understood the complaint and that it speaks to the incredible inefficiency of government. He cited earmarks as a example in which federal politicians bestow money on favored people and programs, and that it typically doesn’t occur in the neighborhoods that needed it the most.
He said a better way to get federal money to needy neighborhoods would be be prioritize by category the need then allocate the money via grants to state and local governments to use.
Question seven was from Facebook and asked if stimulus spending increased unemployment longer than if the markets were let to work things out.
“We would be much better off if we hadn’t launched the giant stimulus bill,” Toomey said.
We can’t borrow and spend our way to prosperity. If that were going to work then Greece would have the most successful economy in the world.”
He reiterated his belief that a payroll tax cut would have been far more effective.
“We could have cut payroll taxes roughly in half for about three years. Every single worker would have had a immediate pay raise.”
Sestak said without the stimulus bill eight million workers would have lost their jobs.
Next question also from Facebook asked the men to state their most obvious fault and biggest strength.
Sestak said his biggest fault was that “he tries to do to much” and that his biggest asset was his wife. And “what I learned in the U.S. military”
Toomey said his biggest fault was that he tries “to have too many balls in the air at the same time” which the moderator jokingly pointed out was the same answer as Sestak’s.
Toomey then also said that his biggest asset is his wife, but that on a more personal level it was the humility he learned in trying to run his family businesses. He said it made him willing to listen rather than dictate.
The next question was via a videotape from a woman who grew up in the Middle East “where there is no separation of church and state” and who wanted to know what the candidates thought should be the role of religion in government.
Toomey cited the Establishment Clause of the Constitution from memory and said he supported it totally. He did, however, said that it shouldn’t be interpreted in such a way that it denies our Judeo-Christian heritage is an important part of who we are and that it forms the basis of many of our laws. He also said the Establishment Clause does not require a denial of faith or religion. He referenced his support for school choice as something the Establishment Clause should not be used against.
Sestak said the Constitution calls for the separation of church and state and he supports it unlike “some extreme candidates like Eileen (sic) O’Donnell in Delaware that think there might be a state-mandated religion”
He then brought up the Navy again.
The next question concerned their ads. Johnson asked if they ever got feedback on them.
Toomey said most people he hears from like his ads. The moderator said that he hears different but then said he was referring to political ads general. Toomey then said he got his point and that the tone of campaigns in general and this one in particular where unfortunate.
He said his campaign’s first ad was complementary about Sestak’s character and simply highlighted their difference on issues, and the hoped to have a more substantive discussion on issues. He said his following ads also were directed at policy differences rather than personal attacks. He said, however, that “Joe has chosen to go down a different road”.
Sestak agreed that the tone was unfortunate. “Congressman Toomey said it well in his book ‘truth is the casualty of elections'”.
“I appreciate you selling my book Joe,” Toomey broke in
Sestak laughed and said “It’s a pretty scary book, you can read it on Halloween.” Toomey laughed. Sestak laughed too and said “He’s not a witch but boy is his book pretty scary”.
“It’s called the Road to Prosperity,” Toomey answered.
“That’s what it’s called,” Sestak said which might have been the one point upon which they agreed.
Returning the question at hand, Sestak said he was upset at a Toomey ad that accused him of wanting to do away with private insurance in reference to his support for Obamacare since he used private insurance to pay for the care of his daughter when she had a life-threatening illness.
“So I don’t think either of us should be pointing at one another,” he said.
Sestak said Toomey was a good guy and he actually he had a beer with him.
Toomey said that he defended Sestak when Arlen Specter attacked him in the primary.
The last question involved gun laws.
Toomey said he supported the Second Amendment and was grateful for the NRA’s endorsement noting that Sestak had an F rating from the group. He said the gun laws needed not significant changes.
Sestak said he also supported the Second Amendment but was concerned about dangers posed to law enforcement personnel. He said he would bring back the mid-90s “assault rifle” ban. In his answer, he again referred to his military service.
Toomey responded by noting that he also had the endorsements of the major police organizations.
The 57-minute debate ended with final statements from both men.