Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and her Republican opponent Susan Hutchison sparred on tariffs, housing and health care during a debate Saturday afternoon at Spokane Community College.
The debate – which was in a town hall format – was the second time incumbent Cantwell, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate, and Hutchison, a former television anchor and GOP party chairwoman, have met in a public forum.
When asked by an audience member if she would advocate for tariffs on trade partners, Hutchison said she believes in fair trade.
“What we are seeing right now in the tariff discussions around the world with President Trump and the administration is an effort to make the playing field even, which has been uneven for a very long time,” she said. “I’m very pleased with what this administration has been able to negotiate when it comes to the agreement with Mexico, Canada, the European Union and South Korea.”
Cantwell said she’ll work on lifting tariffs on products made in Washington state that are now being penalized in other areas of the world, stating that tariffs “are a last resort, not a first resort.”
“Why should apples, cherries and potatoes still face additional tariffs in Mexico, when it has become a big market opportunity for us?” she asked, adding that she will support the new USMCA trade agreement.
When candidates were asked if they would support a single payer Medicare system, Cantwell said she believes access to health care is a basic right for people.
“I prefer something that I authored in the Affordable Care Act. The concept is working now in several states and basically, people are able to buy insurance for just $35 a month if they qualify,” she said. “That includes prescription benefits as well as dental.”
Cantwell said if individuals and small businesses bundle up health care as a group, it could force a discount from providers and drug providers, which is working in New York.
Hutchison said she would fight any attempt for the federal government to take over health care.
Patients wouldn’t benefit from a socialized health care system because they may have to wait in long lines to receive care, or may not have a choice in a physician, she said.
“I can’t imagine that we would gain by having the government take it over,” she said.
Cantwell said more than 30,000 Spokane residents received health care as a result of the ACA.
“I want people to have affordable access to health care. I want great providers to be here in Spokane and I want the solution to work for us,” she said.
One resident asked candidates how they would tackle rising housing prices and supply in the state.
Both candidates agreed that housing has become a dire issue in Washington state.
Hutchison claimed Cantwell had “a heavy hand in developing the Growth Management Act” in legislature.
“There is no question we have outgrown the Growth Management Act,” Hutchison said. “Everywhere I go across this state, people are concerned about the cost of housing.”
Hutchison said the cost of land has skyrocketed, causing a reduction in affordable housing projects.
“It is a crisis and it has to change,” she said. It’s something I’m committed to when I’m your Senator.”
Cantwell said she’s working with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to increase public-private partnerships for more affordable housing.
“What people don’t know is that we’re in a crisis of affordable housing here in Spokane, in Seattle, in many parts of our country because we haven’t kept pace with supply,” she said.
Cantwell said affordable housing tax credits are helping more projects to be constructed by developers – such as the Ridpath Hotel in downtown Spokane – which is now being renovated for workplace housing using tax credits.
Hutchison said Cantwell has forgotten about Eastern Washington and she’ll work for the people.
“That’s one of the reasons why I’m in this race,” she said. “I want you to know when you elect me as your senator, I will care for you. I will be here often. I will be your voice and when I’m elected your senator, it will be a great new day in Washington state.”
Cantwell said she’ll continue to work across the aisle to get things done for the state of Washington.
“I want to focus on our economy of the future, so that everybody has access to affordable health care and affordable housing and has good paying jobs,” she said. “That is going to be a part of the legacy we’re growing in Eastern Washington.”
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Oct. 22, 2018 to correct the number of Spokane resident that Cantwell said received health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
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