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Cantwell, Baumgartner exchange political jabs

Cantwell and Baumgartner shake hands after their debate in Seattle on Friday. (Associated Press)
Cantwell and Baumgartner shake hands after their debate in Seattle on Friday. (Associated Press)

Senate candidates debate everything from Afghanistan to coal exports

SEATTLE – Republican Mike Baumgartner repeatedly criticized Sen. Maria Cantwell on Friday for “going to war on a credit card” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called for a 1-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline to help fund the troops.

“The country has not gone to war,” Baumgartner said, trying to turn much of the only debate in Washington’s U.S. Senate campaign into a discussion about Afghanistan. The military, and their families, bear the brunt of the two conflicts, he said.

“All of America did go to war,” Cantwell shot back at one point. “We support our troops and we thank them. That’s why I’m working to make sure (veterans) have jobs.”

Fuel taxes should be used for roads and other infrastructure, she added.

The two-term Democratic incumbent and the freshman Republican state senator from Spokane who wants to replace her disagreed on many things during the one-hour debate: health care reform, the best way to keep the country from going over a “fiscal cliff,” immigration and how to react to a new casino on the West Plains proposed by the Spokane Tribe. But in answering many questions from Enrique Cerna from KCTS-TV and Kim Abel from the League of Women Voters, Baumgartner brought the subject back around to Afghanistan.

Asked what to cut from the federal budget to avoid mandatory cuts, Baumgartner replied: “The first thing is end the war in Afghanistan.” After that, he’d “take another look at Bowles-Simpson,” a proposal that includes cuts in defense and domestic spending as well as some tax increases.

“Sen. Cantwell and her colleagues haven’t passed a budget in two years,” he added.

Cantwell said it was the policy of the Bush administration to keep wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “off the budget.” She said she would seek higher taxes on Wall Street and oil companies, both of which are seeing high profits, and doesn’t like the cuts to Social Security that Bowles-Simpson proposed.

Baumgartner said he’s opposed to a plan by the Spokane Tribe to build a casino outside of Airway Heights: “It’s right next to Fairchild Air Force Base. I don’t think this casino is the right move.”

Cantwell said she knows Fairchild officials and many businesses are concerned about the proposal, but the casino is still going through the process needed before it can be approved. “I don’t know whether they even meet the requirements” in federal law to expand their gambling operations, she said.

The candidates disagreed on the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented aliens who came to this country as children to stay in the United States and attend college. Cantwell supports it. Baumgartner said immigration problems are no better than when she was elected 12 years ago and said President Barack Obama’s decision to implement those provisions when it stalled in Congress represents “a new level of the imperial presidency.”

Cantwell said she has concerns about proposed coal ports, which would ship American coal by train across Washington, destined for China. Having better ports is good, she said, but it would be better to move China toward renewable energy: “I want to see us get off fossil fuel.”

Baumgartner said he has concerns about traffic tie-ups and dust from the coal trains, but he wouldn’t oppose it because of questions about releasing more carbon into the atmosphere: “China’s going to burn coal whether we like it or not,” he said, so the question is where they buy it.

He agreed that global climate change is occurring, but “I don’t agree with the idea that every scientist believes it’s man-caused.” Cantwell said she’s been working to reduce the use of fossil fuels, adding “I don’t want to drill off the coast of Washington and I don’t want to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.”

Cantwell said the Senate is tied up by members of the tea party who refuse to compromise.

No, it’s tied up by hyperpartisanship, Baumgartner argued: If she can’t work with the tea party, they’re not going away.

Asked about the nation’s deficit, Baumgartner said one of his mentors, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, said to say repeatedly that the nation was running a surplus when Cantwell was elected. The fact that the Senate hasn’t passed a budget in two years is a “bipartisan failure,” he said.

Replied Cantwell: “There’s a reason why Sen. Gorton isn’t here today.”

That reason: She beat him in 2000. She said Friday it was because she better represents values of Washington voters.



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