The first debate between U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and her Republican opponent Dino Rossi came down to who’s to blame for the sluggish economy.
Murray, a Democrat running for a fourth term, warned that a vote for Rossi would reverse progress.
“He wants to go back to the Bush economic policies that got us into this mess – going into two wars without paying for it, passing tax cuts that are not paid for and leaving us with tough decisions today that hurt all of us.”
Rossi pointed to the health care overhaul and stimulus spending and said leaders are “moving down a path that is very dangerous.”
“If we don’t have a course correction in this election, I think we’re going to wake up 24 months from now in a country that we don’t even recognize,” Rossi said.
Murray and Rossi faced off for the first time Thursday in a one-hour debate at KSPS studios in Spokane. It aired live on KSPS and KXLY.
Polls show the contest tight, and the race is attracting national attention as Republicans strive to win a majority in the Senate.
Murray said Rossi’s support for extending tax cuts for individuals who earn $200,000 a year or more could destabilize Social Security, halt the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and hurt student loans and construction projects that repair dams and other infrastructure.
“If Mr. Rossi gets his way and we extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans … there is no way that we can sustain the programs that are so important in front of us,” she said.
But Rossi said it’s Murray-backed spending and policies like the recent federal health care legislation that endanger Social Security and other programs. He also accused her of “class warfare” for wanting only to extend the tax cut for those earning less than $200,000.
“The biggest threat is going to be the debt – the debt that Sen. Murray has helped amass for this nation,” Rossi said. “I don’t think her spending is going to help us preserve Social Security for the future.”
Rossi targeted the new health care law and said other concepts, like laws to limit lawsuits against doctors and allow people to purchase insurance across state lines, would have been better approaches.
“You’re losing your freedoms; you’re losing your choices,” Rossi said. “This potentially could bankrupt America and also impact Medicare, as well.”
Murray said the new health law will make a difference by stopping insurance companies from denying coverage for needed care.
“The only group of people that health care in this county was working for was our health insurance companies,” Murray said. “Every family, every business, every community was struggling with double-digit increases.”
The debate hit on several topics related to the military.
Rossi said he is waiting for a study that is under way before deciding whether gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military.
Murray said she believes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy should be tossed and that sexual orientation should not be cause to discharge anyone in the military.
Rossi said setting a deadline for withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan would aid terrorists.
“What they will do is go hide out in their caves and wait until we leave,” Rossi said. “We have to give our military every tool possible so they can achieve their objective and come home as soon as possible.”
But Murray said she supports a timetable for withdrawal.
“We have a number of military families who have sacrificed so much for our nation,” Murray said. “We owe it to them to know where and how long they’re going to be there and how much more sacrifice they have to give.”
Rossi and Murray will face each other one more time, on Sunday in Seattle.