BOISE - Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador wants to raise the Social Security retirement age to 70, cut a third of the staff at the Pentagon and ban all abortions other than those to save the life of the mother.
The freshman congressman took all three stands during a debate broadcast live Thursday night on Idaho Public Television. His Democratic challenger, Jimmy Farris, differed sharply on the retirement age and abortion, but found common ground with Labrador on trimming military spending.
“I think there are a number of places that we would agree and admit that we can find savings,” Farris said. “If Pentagon staff is one of them, I’d certainly like to look at it.”
The two faced off in the “Idaho Debates,” a three-decade-plus tradition in Idaho political races. The debates are sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Idaho Press Club and Idaho Public TV, and are broadcast live across the state.
“I went to Washington and I promised you two years ago that I would fight for less spending, less government, less regulation, and I would fight to make Idaho a stronger place,” Labrador said. “I think I have kept that promise.”
Farris, a former NFL football player and first-time candidate, said he wants to bring a new spirit of teamwork to Congress. “One of the biggest problems in Congress right now is the inability of members to work together, no matter what we put on the table,” he said.
Asked about Social Security and Medicare, Labrador said, “People like myself - I’m 44 years old - I need to realize that I’m going to have a different program than exists today. And I think one of the first things we need to do is start increasing the age of retirement. I think that by itself could help us with the solvency of both programs.”
He added, “There’s been some discussion about raising it all the way to the age of 70, and I don’t have a problem with that.” When Medicare and Social Security were first started, he said, “We … actually had much less longevity than we have today.”
Farris responded, “I disagree with the congressman on raising the retirement age. We can make one simple fix with Social Security that would maintain its solvency for the next 75 to 100 years, and that’s simply raising the income cap.”
Farris called for raising the current $110,100 cap on income that’s taxed for Social Security to $150,000 or more. “That would provide significantly more revenue coming into the Social Security fund,” he said.
On military spending, Labrador, who’s been helping GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaign to Hispanic voters around the country, departed from Romney’s position. Romney is calling for increasing military spending to a minimum of 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product from the current 3.5 percent, a significant increase.
“I have talked to people that work in the Pentagon and they say that we could actually cut about a third of the staff in the Pentagon and we could still have military readiness taken care of,” Labrador said. “I actually disagree with Mr. Romney, even though I support him 100 percent.”
The congressman said shortly after taking office, he went on a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “We were looking at all the money that was being spent in the war, and specifically programs with USAID and other programs where we were trying to help the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “We had billions and billions and billions of dollars in fraud, waste and abuse. We were handing cash to some of the tribal lords in Afghanistan. … You cannot tell me there’s not enough cutting that we can do.”
He added, “There are a lot of things that the military keeps telling us that they don’t need. I want to listen to the generals, I want to listen to the people on the ground.”
Farris said, “I think Raul makes a good point about military spending. One of the ways that we appropriate money to the military is basically to give them a number and say, ‘Buy whatever you can with it.’ … I think we can change the way we appropriate money in the defense budget.”
Labrador said he wouldn’t fire a third of the staff at the Pentagon; he’d make the cuts through attrition, as people retire.
Labrador, who has co-sponsored five bills in Congress to restrict abortion rights, including one to grant full constitutional rights at conception without exception, also departed from Romney’s stance on abortion. “I support banning all abortions except for cases of life of the mother,” he said.
Romney wants a ban with exceptions also for cases of rape or incest. Asked why he didn’t support that, Labrador said, “I think life begins at conception, so I believe it’s important that we protect life.” But he said if a bill with Romney’s three exceptions came before Congress, he’d support it. “I believe life is precious,” Labrador said.
Farris said, “This is an issue where we strongly disagree. I do support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. … I don’t think it’s the government’s place to be making decisions for women about their health care.”