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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Truth testing the debate between Patty Murray and Tiffany Smiley

After the Northwest Passages Eastern Washington Debates, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley shake hands at Gonzaga University’s Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center on Oct. 23. Debate moderator and former Spokesman-Review reporter Laurel Demkovich looks on.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

When candidates debate, they can get a bit careless with the facts or simplify complicated issues. Sunday’s debate between U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley was no exception.

Here are a few things the candidates said that may have caused viewers to question their ears.

Did Murray question the 2004 presidential election, as Smiley charged in a response to a question about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol?

Yes, although it’s very much an apples-to-oranges comparison to the events leading up to and during the certification of Joe Biden’s election. Murray voted to certify George W. Bush’s re-election on Jan. 6, 2005, but said she “agreed with many of my colleagues who have raised questions about voting irregularities.” She said Congress needed to do everything to make sure problems in recent elections aren’t repeated.

Will the Inflation Reduction Act reduce inflation the way Murray said, or is Smiley right that the Congressional Budget Office said “it does nothing to control inflation”?

Smiley is right that the CBO and some other economists say the act will have no effect on inflation in the short term and a “negligible” effect after about five years. But some other economists disagree and say it will reduce the deficit and will have beneficial effects on different groups. Murray is right that the act has certain provisions that will reduce costs for some people, particularly Medicare recipients that need insulin to control their diabetes, because it caps their monthly payments for that drug.

What about those 87,000 IRS agents in the act, and Smiley’s contention people who make $25,000 or less are more likely to be audited?

The bill has a funding to hire 87,000 personnel for the IRS, although not all of them would be agents. The agency is experiencing a backlog of processing filings and is expecting a significant number of retirements, so much of the money is going to fill current or projected openings.

Over the last decade, the percentage of audits for individuals dropped. Right now, people who make less than $25,000 or more than $200,000 are more likely to get audited. But tax experts say the increase in personnel is unlikely to focus on low- and middle-income families – or anyone earning less than $400,000 a year.

Who supports keeping government out of a woman’s ability to make choices about abortion?

Murray wants to codify the basic tenets of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision into federal law. In a sense, that would mean Congress would decide the law for the country.

Smiley said the decision should be left up to the states, which is what the U.S. Supreme Court said earlier this year in a decision that overturned Roe, and she supports Washington’s current law, in which voter initiatives essentially have codified Roe. But in some other states, legislatures have severely restricted the right to abortion within their borders.

Would breaching the Snake River dams mean “turning the light out on every Washingtonian” as Smiley contended in listing the problems with removing dams in an effort to save salmon?

Smiley is right that farmers would be among the most affected by breaching because they rely on the controlled river for shipping grain, which would then be carried by rail or trucks, as she suggested. But the four dams produce about 1,000 average megawatts of power, according to the Bonneville Power Administration. That’s about the energy consumed by 800,000 homes and is about 4% of the region’s energy supply.