Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
The only debate between candidates for one of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seats was staid and civil, despite the fact that it covered hot-button issues like the federal budget, health care, and abortion.
Republican challenger Tom Smith said he would repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce government spending by reviewing each federal agency, starting with the Department of Energy. Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Casey defended his votes in favor of the ACA and bank bailout legislation, and called attention to his support for protecting Medicare, when his opponent supports privatizating the program for future generations.
But some of the most notable excerpts of the hour-long debate came spotlight what wasn’t debated, but skirted.
Smith implicated Casey in Congressional inaction on the federal budget.
“How can you sit in the U.S. Senate, and your party controls it, and you haven’t passed a budget in over three years?” asked Smith.
“That’s not true,” Casey said.
“That is true,” Smith said. “But we will go on.” And they did, without addressing why the lob was true. After the debate, Casey referred to the Senate’s action to allow the government to continue to be funded at current levels. But that was only a short-term fix, not a budget bill for the current fiscal year beginning in October.
Smith, a political newcomer, was short on specifics as he stated his opposition to bank bailouts and abortion.
Democratic incumbent Senator Bob Casey interrupted Smith again when the Republican said health care overhaul would amount to 22 new taxes on every class.
“That’s not true, but go ahead,” said Casey.
Smith paused. “So anyhow,” he continued, “the Affordable Care Act is, is dragging down this economy,” he said.
Speaking after the debate, Casey wouldn’t offer specifics, saying simply that there aren’t 22 tax increases in the health care bill. He said he supports changes to the health care reform act, but that repealing it would contribute to the nation’s deficit.
On taxes, Casey pointed to his record of supporting the reduction of the payroll tax, and said his opponent’s tax plans are straight out of a radical agenda.
“If you want a middle class tax increase, I think Tom Smith is your candidate,” said Casey.
Smith has recently gained on Casey in the polls, spurring the Democrat to take to the campaign trail more frequently, and bringing in outside spending from a Democratic super PAC to put ads on the air in Pittsburgh.
After the debate, Smith shrugged off suggestions that he seemed nervous during the debate – he called the moderator by the wrong name, twice.
“If you truly know me, I have trouble remembering names,” said Smith. He said he’s optimistic about his chances in the upcoming election. “We’ve, as you know, we’ve come a long way, and we’re going to finish it,” he said.
Analysts call the race an ad war more than anything. Casey himself said he wasn’t sure the debate would “seal the deal” for him.
“I just know that this is Pennsylvania,” Casey said, “and there are always close races.”
Reporters covered the debate as it happened Friday morning, but it won’t air until Sunday on WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.
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