For the second time in less than 24 hours, the two women competing to represent Eastern Washington in Congress faced each other on a public stage in Spokane.
Both Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Lisa Brown said they enjoyed the format of Thursday afternoon’s debate at the Spokane Club, sponsored by Spokane Rotary 21, which concluded a frenzied two days of sparring on several topics that have defined the closely watched race between two political veterans.
“I think you prepare. You get all in the zone, and then you stay in the zone,” said McMorris Rodgers, not far removed from a televised appearance Wednesday night at the Fox Theater.
“Actually, the kind of review you do of the issues, and I did it just yesterday, so I didn’t have to do it again today,” Brown said. “It was good. And I’m a member of Rotary 21, so this was a familiar environment.”
It was one of the few areas of agreement between the two candidates. A host of issues already have played out on the campaign trail, with both candidates spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the district. Health care, the leadership of their political parties, taxes and the candidates’ long legislative records dating back decades were among the topics Rotarians asked about.
A lingering point of contention for Democrats, not just in Washington state but nationwide, following the GOP health care vote last year, is what that legislation would have done for sick people trying to secure coverage.
Brown has argued that the GOP health plan McMorris Rodgers voted for last year and previous legislation at the state level would not have protected coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, a phrase that entered the political buzzword lexicon in the months following the narrow defeat of the bill in the Senate. A key feature of the existing health care law is a prohibition on charging more or denying coverage for people seeking coverage if they have an existing medical issue.
McMorris Rodgers, in both Wednesday and Thursday’s debates, accused Brown of falsehoods on her record regarding pre-existing conditions.
““I take offense to anyone who would suggest that I would vote not to protect those with pre-existing conditions,” McMorris Rodgers said in the debate Thursday.
Analysts toiled over the effects the health care law would have on those seeking coverage with existing medical conditions. Here’s what they found.
The American Health Care Act, as it passed the House of Representatives, enabled states to seek waivers from certain requirements of the Affordable Care Act. That included a provision that penalized people for not maintaining continuous coverage. The Republican law would have allowed insurance companies in states that chose to opt out of the federal system to create new, more expensive premiums if a person with a pre-existing condition allowed their health care coverage to lapse for more than 63 days, rates that would have stayed in place for a year before reverting back to a presumably lower community rate, according a fact-check of the law’s implications by Tthe Washington Post.
But some analysts, including those at the Brookings Insitution, have argued that community rating pools would be affected by the law’s changes, casting doubt on those rates remaining low if the bill became law.
In the meantime, those beneficiaries could have been placed in a high-risk pool set up by the state, should they seek a waiver from federal Affordable Care Act rules and coverage. The GOP health bill allocated $8 billion to support such pools, a figure that some analysts said wouldn’t be enough to maintain coverage for all those who might allow their insurance to lapse for the amount of time that would enable companies to underwrite new, more expensive policies.
In its analysis of the House-passed legislation last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 23 million fewer Americans would have comprehensive health care coverage under the GOP plan than current law. But that doesn’t include “a few million of those people” who would use tax credits in the plan to buy less comprehensive coverage. Democrats have called such coverage “junk plans,” while Republicans – among them those in the Trump administration – have said such plans offer affordable options for those seeking short-term coverage that isn’t all-inclusive.
McMorris Rodgers backs Ryan, Brown allies with Obama
Candidates were asked by moderator Gary Stokes, a Rotarian and general manager of KSPS-TV, which political leader of their party they most identified with.
McMorris Rodgers, who has invited several allies of President Donald Trump to the district in recent weeks for campaign fundraisers, opted for her colleague in the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan, over the president, Vice President Mike Pence (who spoke at a McMorris Rodgers campaign fundraiser) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely with Paul Ryan, so I’m going to choose Paul Ryan,” McMorris Rodgers said of the Wisconsin Republican, who earned national prominence first as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and is seen on Capitol Hill largely as the architect behind the party’s fiscal policies, including a plan for a private option for Medicare. Ryan is one of several GOP members who opted to retire this year.
McMorris Rodgers called him a “servant leader.”
“He’s never forgotten that it’s about the people,” McMorris Rodgers said.
Brown selected former President Barack Obama from a list that also included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Brown endorsed Obama in his 2008 candidacy against Clinton and has been supported by Pelosi’s political action committee, but hasn’t committed to whom she’d vote for to lead the party in the House if elected.
“I believe he accomplished some really important things in his administration,” Brown said of the former president. “But I also believed he set a standard for decency and lack of scandal that I wish we still had in our country.”
Brown opted to retort after McMorris Rodgers’ answer that she believed Republicans “value following the leader, probably more than Democrats do. I think that could be a strength in some circumstances … but I also believe that can be a weakness.”
McMorris Rodgers opted not to respond to Brown’s answer.
Brown on taxes, McMorris Rodgers on government involvement in health care
Rotary 21 allowed each candidate to submit a question to their opponent. McMorris Rodgers asked Brown why she felt it necessary to bring a lawsuit against the state a decade ago challenging the supermajority requirement to raise taxes that was inserted into the law by an initiative.
Brown said she did so because she felt the existing law was unconstitutional and noted the state Supreme Court agreed in a subsequent ruling.
“During the years that we were under that initiative, you couldn’t even close a tax loophole without a two-thirds vote, which meant that you ended up with not being able to take care of our state’s primary, constitutional goal of funding K-12 education,” Brown said.
McMorris Rodgers said she believed Brown was too quick to look to tax increases to solve government funding problems.
“I am concerned that too often, Lisa has looked to raising taxes as a solution, when I think that we must look at how we prioritize the federal government,” the congresswoman said.
Brown asked McMorris Rodgers if she believed government shouldn’t be involved in health care, what did she believe about Medicare, Medicaid and care for veterans, all of which are administered by the government.
“What happens with government-run health care is that you have a lack of access, and you have rising costs,” McMorris Rodgers said. The congresswoman pointed to Medicare, and the difficulty recipients have in finding a new doctor who will accept them.
“Too often, Medicare isn’t actually providing the providers what they need. In rural Eastern Washington, rural hospitals are on the verge of closing because Medicare and Medicaid pay a fraction of the actual cost of what has been promised,” she said.
Brown agreed that providers in the district aren’t being compensated correctly. But she said that could be fixed through altering formulas.
“That’s my specialty. I did that with child care when I was at the state level,” Brown said.
Thursday’s debate will re-air next week on KSPS World, antenna channel 7.2, at 1 p.m. Wednesday and 5 p.m. Oct. 28. A final debate between the two candidates is scheduled for Wednesday in Walla Walla.
Editor’s note: This story was edited Oct. 30 to correctly quote McMorris Rodgers’ statement on her record on pre-existing conditions.