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Pakootas, McMorris Rodgers clash on Obamacare, casino

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and her Democratic challenger Joe Pakootas clashed over Obamacare, minimum wage, the best ways to bring jobs to the region and a new West Plains casino in their second debate of the campaign.

In a taped debate broadcast Thursday evening on KSPS-TV, Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District found a few areas of agreement. Both were wary of sending American ground troops to fight ISIS, although McMorris Rodgers said it was up to President Obama to make the case for any such strategy and Pakootas said part of the strategy needs to come from Congress which should stop “fingerpointing.” Both said they think the Veterans Administration needs a “change of culture” to do a better job of serving veterans.

But on most points, the five-term congresswoman and the chief executive officer of the Colville Tribal Federal Corp., disagreed sharply. . . 

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. . .On Obamacare, which McMorris Rodgers has voted repeatedly to repeal, Pakootas argued the landmark health care legislation is working because many people who were previously denied medical insurance are able to afford it. The big scares didn’t prove true.

“Doctors are not leaving in droves. Death panels are not happening,” he said.

But some people have lost the coverage they preferred or can’t see their old doctor, McMorris Rodgers said.

Asked if she’d vote again to repeal the law, she replied: “I believe that we need to start over.” She’d keep some aspects of current law, such as not allowing insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. But she’d expand health savings account, allow small businesses to form groups to qualify for better coverage, and allow customers to buy plans from other states.

McMorris Rodgers wouldn’t vote to change the federal minimum wage law, saying the individual states should decide whether the floor should be higher than $7.25. Minimum wage should be viewed as a beginning, and people should not be “trapped” there, she said. Pakootas supports a $10.10 minimum wage, contending that raising that wage would boost local economies because those workers spend their wages locally.

To increase employment, Pakootas said he’d support a $7 billion package of infrastructure improvements that would provide jobs and fix crumbling roads and bridges. McMorris Rodgers said she’d support streamlining the tax system with lower corporate tax rates. Pakootas replied that he, too, supports a streamlined tax system but Congress never does that, it provides new tax preferences for businesses, pursuing a “trickle down effort that does not work.”

McMorris Rodgers said she does not support the current proposal by the Spokane Tribe for a new casino on the West Plains, contending the planned location on Highway 2 presents a threat of encroachment to Fairchild Air Force Base and its flight patterns, based on her conversations with commanders at the base and the Pentagon.

Pakootas said he supports the casino proposal, provided the tribe follows all federal and state rules, adding Fairchild officials had a chance to weigh in on concerns when the project was being studied. “In that environmental impact statement, there were letters from commander at Fairchild Air Force Base. There was no encroachment concerns, there was no flight pattern concerns at that time.”

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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