The Republican and Democratic candidates in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District squared off Tuesday night in a live televised debate held in the Fred Maytag II Auditorium at DMACC’s Newton campus.
It was the third time Rep. Dave Loebsack, the Democrat, and challenger John Archer, the Republican, had taken part in a one-on-one forum. The candidates are due to face each other again this Saturday in an event hosted by St. Ambrose University and the Quad City Times.
Approximately 75 people were in attendance, filling less than half of the auditorium.
The lively and, at times, heated debate was part of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” debate series and featured Dean Borg as moderator. James Lynch, political writer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Radio Iowa news director O. Kay Henderson provided the questions.
Henderson opened the debate by asking the candidates about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya. Loebsack insisted there should be a congressional investigation after the election, while Archer asked why, after five weeks, the American public doesn’t know all of the facts in the incident.
Lynch used his first question to ask about wind energy and the Production Tax Credit. Both candidates agreed the tax credit, the brainchild for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), should be renewed as a means of fostering more industrial job creation.
“The Production Tax Credit has broad, bipartisan support in Congress, but it’s the Republican leadership in the House that won’t let it come up for a vote,” Loebsack said. “It’s a no-brainer. It provides about 6,000 jobs for Iowa, and it promotes clean energy. It’s the right thing to do, but Speaker Boehner won’t allow it to come up for a vote because he’s afraid of the Tea Party elements in his own party.”
The issue opened the door for Archer to paint Loebsack as part of the “failed leadership” in Washington, D.C., and as an ineffective legislator. He pointed to a Des Moines Register article that identified Loebsack as the least effective member of Iowa’s congressional delegation.
The debate quickly turned to the tone of political advertising in the campaign. The candidates were first shown an ad produced by Loebsack’s campaign that attacked Archer for his work for John Deere.
Archer called the ad “mostly false,” but acknowledged he does have investments through his retirement fund that are tied to foreign companies. He said most people with retirement funds, such as 401(k)’s, are similarly tied to foreign investments.
“So with regard to that, I’m guilty as charged,” he said. “But to attack my employment with John Deere is just the same old shenanigans we’ve been seeing. I’m proud of my work for John Deere.”
“What were you thinking by attacking John Deere in that ad?” Henderson asked Loebsack.
The congressman said the ad wasn’t about John Deere, but about Archer’s positions on free trade. He said he was against trade agreements that ship jobs overseas or give incentives to do so.
Archer said the free trade agreements most recently adopted by Congress were heavily supported by both Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Governor of Iowa, and the United Auto Workers trade union.
“These agreements will bring thousands of manufacturing jobs, and Congressman Loebsack voted against them — against the support of folks within his own party,” he added.
Loebsack countered, saying the free trade agreements aren’t fair, and that the U.S. should do more to hold its trading partners’ feet to fire to ensure fairness. He pointed to Chinese currency tampering as one example.
The panel also briefly reviewed an ad released by a political action committee in support of Archer that accused Loebsack of sleeping through congressional meetings. Loebsack denied the allegations, noting he attended more than 400 meetings last year.
Henderson then asked the candidates for their positions on tax cuts. Archer said he would vote to renew the “Bush tax cuts” in order to provide some certainty for employers and investors.
Loebsack pointed to a bill he has offered in Congress, HR 6262, which would extend the tax cuts for one year for the middle class, but would restore higher tax brackets to the higher “Clinton-era levels” while exempting farmers and small business owners. According to the House website, the bill has only three co-sponsors signed on.
“That’s just kicking the can down the road again,” Archer said. “We need a five-year Farm Bill, a six-year transportation bill. These one-year extensions must come to an end to provide more certainty so investors and employers can start investing in more job creation.”
On the issue of corporate tax rates, both candidates agreed rates — which are the highest among industrialized nations — must come down to make the U.S. more competitive on a global stage. The question, Loebsack pointed out, is how low those rates should go.
“I’m not willing to talk about a specific number, because it’s something both sides need to sit down and figure out between themselves,” he said. “I’m in favor of lowering the rate, but what that actual rate should be is something to be negotiated.”
Archer said the rate should fall to 22 or 23 percent, but was willing to have a corporate tax rate as high as 27 percent. He noted Democrats had overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008 and yet failed to do anything about the corporate tax rate.
The debate later turned to a discussion of U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The candidates sparred over the timeframe in which U.S. troops should be removed from the region with Archer suggesting Loebsack was “in front of the President” on the issue.
“The Congressman has said he wants to pull our troops out in 2013; that’s faster than the President has stated,” he said. “If our generals and commanders tell us the mission has been accomplished, by all means, bring our troops home. But, I don’t think you should be getting in front of the Commander-in-Chief on this. It’s a dangerous proposition ... I agree we should withdraw our troops as soon as possible, but not by putting our military in harm’s way.”
Henderson then asked the candidates if they would support going to war with Iran alongside Israel, if Iran was deemed to pose a threat to the U.S. and its interests. Loebsack refused to “discuss hypotheticals,” while Archer said the U.S. must “back its closest ally in the region” if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons.
Lynch asked the candidates for their positions on border security and illegal immigration. Both said they supported stronger border security, but disagreed on aspects of the Dream Act, which allows some illegals to obtain citizenship after serving a period of time in the military.
The candidates then sparred over the Farm Bill with Archer saying he would support splitting the agricultural aspects from the nutritional aspects into a separate bill. Loebsack panned the idea, saying there is no support for it in Congress and suggesting again that Republican leadership in the House was to blame for the Farm Bill’s failure to pass.
“Speaker Boehner should call us back,” he said. “It’s great to have all this time to be out campaigning, but we need to deal with this right now. Speaker Boehner won’t do that because he’s afraid of the Tea Party types. I’ve been one of those out there saying this is something we need to address now and not put off until after the election.”
Archer attacked Loebsack for having a voice in Washington that has “fallen on deaf ears.” He again pointed to the Des Moines Register article that labeled Loebsack as the state’s least effective legislator — an article Loebsack called a “beauty contest geared entirely for the Des Moines market and all of its political talking heads.”
The candidates then duked it out over Social Security and Medicare. Archer noted the last time Social Security was changed, it was done in a bipartisan manner between then-Speaker Tip O’Neal and then-President Ronald Reagan. Loebsack accused Archer’s plan to allow younger taxpayers to put a portion of their Social Security taxes into individual retirement plans as privatization that would only further destabilize the program.
On Medicare, they fought over the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — and the impact it would have on Medicare recipients. Loebsack used that as an opportunity to call Archer out on an earlier statement during the campaign similar to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s now-infamous “47 percent” speech.
On unemployment benefits, Archer said he was opposed to extending them beyond the existing 99-week benefit for Iowans. Loebsack said he was opposed to extending the credit “ad infinitum,” but said it should be extended as needed and mentioned his “sectors” jobs bill that would connect federal programs with what Iowa is already doing with its Skilled Iowa program.
At the end of the debate, both candidates were asked what bill they would most like to see on the President’s desk for signature. Loebsack said he would most like to see his sectors bill passed, while Archer said he thought a Balanced Budget Amendment is most important to Americans.
After the debate, the candidates met with the media. Both men said they felt the debate went well for their respective campaigns.
Bob Eschliman can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 423 or via email at email@example.com.