There was passion and there were numerous interruptions, but the rancor, cheers and theater at U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ town hall meeting in Spokane on Thursday were muted compared to the forum she held last year.
Only about 150 people attended her Spokane summer town hall meeting at the Lincoln Center. Nearly 600 showed up last year.
The evening largely turned into a debate about taxes and spending, with McMorris Rodgers arguing for lower taxes and lower government spending to help improve the economy, while some in the audience suggested that wealthy Americans should pay more.
She answered questions for almost an hour. Attendees were given raffle tickets to submit if they had questions and were called to the microphone if their number was drawn.
McMorris Rodgers started by calling for an “honest debate” to get deficit spending under control.
“When that bubble bursts and then the federal government cannot fulfill the obligations that it has made, that is going to be very painful,” she said. “If we start making the tough decisions now, it’s going to be less painful than just kicking them down the road.”
McMorris Rodgers warned against allowing income tax rates to increase at the end of the year, as they are scheduled to do unless Congress and President Barack Obama intervene. McMorris Rodgers, along with most Republicans in the House, supports maintaining current rates for everyone. Democrats in the Senate support increasing rates on individuals earning more than $200,000 or couples earning more than $250,000 a year.
She quoted Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has warned against a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that could send the country back into recession.
“He coined it the ‘fiscal cliff,’ ” she said. “That is what we are facing if the current tax rates are allowed to expire.”
Democrat Rich Cowan, the co-founder of a local film production company who is challenging McMorris Rodgers in the November election, sides with Senate Democrats on the issue.
Local Democrats organized an effort in hopes of stacking the questions, sending a memo to supporters inviting them to pick up a list of “talking points” to repeat in the town hall.
McMorris Rodgers largely kept her composure at the forum, often under pointed questions, but she appeared flustered after Darci Osborne told her that her opposition to the Affordable Care Act and support for a Republican budget authored by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan “would be very detrimental” to her daughter, a student at Otis Orchards Elementary School, and others with developmental disabilities.
After a pause, McMorris Rodgers said she disagreed, paused again and asked for a minute to formulate her thoughts.
“I’m trying to figure out where to start here,” she said.
McMorris Rodgers called Medicaid an “important safety net” and defended her support of the Ryan plan because, she said, it would give states more flexibility “to decide how those dollars can be spent best.”
She called the health care law signed by Obama a “false promise” and warned of “waiting lists” to see doctors, a claim that some in the audience loudly mocked.
Even as the national political landscape focused on abortion this week as high-profile Republicans called on Missouri congressman Todd Akin to withdraw from his U.S. Senate race as a result of controversial comments on abortion and rape, social issues weren’t brought up at the forum.
After the forum, McMorris Rodgers, who has been a spokeswoman for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign on women’s issues, said she had not talked to Akin personally about his comments but did issue a statement calling his comments “disturbing and unacceptable” and has called for him to take his name off the ballot.
McMorris Rodgers, who opposes abortion unless a woman’s life is at stake, declined to provide details about what offended her about Akin’s statement.