Newton — On a night when most political focus was on the Presidential Town Hall debate, the candidates for Iowa's Second Congressional District met for an Iowa Public Television debate in Newton.
Democrat Dave Loebsack and Republican John Archer took questions from Dean Borg of IPTV, as well as Kay Henderson of Iowa Public Radio and James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The candidates were asked about a variety of topics, including whether or not the candidates were satisfied with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's decision to accept the blame for the attack on a US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
"I'm very interested in getting to the bottom of what happened," Loebsack said. He wants to find those responsible for the attack and hold them responsible. Loebsack wants to ensure the security of our missions abroad, and began to discuss the world traveling he has done as a Congressman and a former college professor.
"I understand the security situation," Loebsack said. Henderson pressed him regarding whether or not the security at the embassy was adequate. Loebsack said he would like Congress to conduct a full investigation.
"We have to protect our men and women...as best we can," Archer said. He felt the security was inadequate and wondered why it is taking so long for the federal government to get to the bottom of what happened.
From there, the discussion shifted to domestic issues, specifically the Wind Energy Tax Credit.
Archer believes the credit should be extended temporarily until the technology advances to a point in which the credit is not needed. He had visited TPI Composites in Newton days before the debate.
"We can't pull the rug out from under their feet," Archer said. "This is one area I disagree with Governor Romney." Archer supports an extension of the credit for 3-4 years. He blames Congress for being "dysfunctional" in its failure to extend the credit.
"The fact that Congress is dysfunctional is not news," Loebsack said. He pointed to his record of being a champion for wind energy and dug at Archer for not openly saying he would vote for the credit if elected.
"There's bipartisan support to extend that credit," Loebsack said. He was asked why Congress did not get the credit extended. Loebsack replied, "Ask Speaker Boehner," and went on to say that Tea Party members of the Republican majority do not like the credit and see it as another government handout.
Archer then began to discuss Loebsack's "ineffectiveness." He said the Second District should elect someone who can go to leadership on both sides of the aisle and promote Iowa values.
Archer used the Des Moines Register's article in which the newspaper called Loebsack Iowa's least effective legislator again later in the debate. Loebsack dismissed the article as a "beauty contest" for the pundits that really meant nothing.
A pro-Loebsack campaign commercial was played for the audience, one in which Archer is accused of being a corporate tool for shipping jobs overseas. Archer called the commercial "mostly false." Archer is a lawyer who has been employed by John Deere for 12 years. Though John Deere is never named in the commercial, Henderson pressed Loebsack about this.
"It's not about John Deere," Loebsack said. He went on to discuss voting against three NAFTA-style trade agreements to try to protect American jobs.
"It can be any corporation," Loebsack said. "It's his partisan policies."
"I haven't heard my opponent say 'John Deere,'" Archer said. He added that the trade agreements Loebsack spoke to were supported by Tom Vilsack, United Auto Workers and Barack Obama.
"Those trade agreements create thousands of jobs," Archer said.
"The problem is fair trade," Loebsack said. He believes the agreements will send jobs overseas because trade partners may not compete fairly. Loebsack specifically mentioned China, whom he believes is manipulating its currency to gain an advantage.
"If we're going to play by the rules, we have to make sure our trading partners do as well," Loebsack said.
A second commercial was played, this one was pro-Archer. In it, Loebsack is portrayed as someone "sleeping" on the job and accuses Loebsack of cutting $716 billion from Medicare, through his vote for the "Affordable" Care Act.
"There are no cuts to Medicare," Loebsack said. "John supports the Ryan Plan." Loebsack went on to say that the Ryan Plan, written by Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan, would take money out of Medicare and not replace it.
Loebsack insisted that he is not tired, and that the only thing tired in this campaign is commercials like the one played.
The candidates were asked about tax increases. Current tax rates are set to expire at the end of the year. Increases will hit all levels of wage earners unless Congress takes action.
"Now is not the time to raise taxes," Archer said. He blamed Congress for doing nothing and creating uncertainty in the business world, which has led to economic problems. Archer believes businesses want to hire, but are afraid to because they don't know what their costs will be in the future.
"I have my own bill," Loebsack said. His bill would extend tax rates for the middle class for one year, but return to Clinton-era tax rates for those making $250,000 and above. Small business owners and famers would be exempt from the tax hike even if they make more than $250,000.
Henderson asked Loebsack about the Estate Tax. Loebsack said he would make it 35 percent and keep an exemption at $5 million. He would like to tie the tax to the value of farmland.
Archer was disappointed that Loebsack's proposal was only good for one year. He believes Congress needs to make more long-term commitments to help provide certainty to businesses who want to plan for the future.
"These one-year extensions must come to an end," Archer said.
Candidates were asked about raising the gas tax. Neither candidate supports raising the federal gas tax.
Lynch asked Loebsack about lowering business tax rates. Loebsack's reply was that things need to be made in America. People are tired of importing, he believes, and there is a lot that can be done to improve the corporate tax rate that may be a hinderance to American companies.
While Loebsack did not give a specific figure as for what the rate should be, Archer said he would put the figure between 22-23 percent. Archer went on to say that the Democrats had the Presidency and supermajorities in the House and Senate for the first two years of Obama's term. He believes they could have addressed this issue then, but they did not.
"What is the role of government?" was the next question posed by Henderson.
"My job is not to create jobs," Archer said. "My job is to create the environment that encourages investment and job creation." This can be done by providing investors with certainty, Archer said.
Borg asked him how he would work to provide certainty. Archer said it would begin with a strategic energy policy and setting benchmarks.
Loebsack said he agreed with Archer on much of this and that the "fiscal cliff" should be avoided.
"I would love to see a farm bill passed," Loebsack said. He plans to work across the aisle, think rationally and work together.
"I have a proven ability to do it," Loebsack said.
Iran was the next subject addressed.
"We never should have been in Iraq in the first place," Loebsack said. He added that it is time to bring all of America's troops home from Afghanistan as well. "We've got a lot of other threats."
Loebsack has served on the Armed Services Committee and he believes the mission was accomplished in Afghanistan. Borg asked him about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Loebsack said he is willing to keep the "military option" on the table.
Archer criticized Loebsack for supporting "an artificial timetable" for withdrawal from Afghanistan. He would base his military decisions on the advice of generals and commanders on the ground. His commentary included accusing Loebsack of being in front of the President's timetable, when Loebsack said he wanted troops out in 2013, instead of 2014 as the President has said. Henderson then told Archer that his fellow Republican, Tom Latham, said that he would like to bring all of the troops home "tomorrow." Archer said he did not have the best information, but he would listen to military leaders.
The candidates were asked what they would do if Israel, America's closest ally in the region, chose to attack Iran.
Loebsack refused to engage in the hypothetical, but said he supports Israel and its ability to choose its own course.
"They have to make their own decisions," Loebsack said. He is more interested in looking out for America.
Archer said that if Iran has a nuclear weapon, America needs to back its closest ally.
"We must stand with our closest ally and engage in that process," Archer said.
Loebsack and Archer were asked if the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was working. Loebsack believes it is. Archer again said he would base his opinion on whether or not military leaders felt it was working.
"We must listen to our subject matter experts," Archer said.
Immigration is one area in which Archer feels the federal government has understated its authority, though he does not believe American troops should be stationed at the border with Mexico. He is also not in favor of mass deportation.
Loebsack said he voted to improve border security, but the real problem with immigration, as he sees it, is employers who hire and exploit those here illegally. He believes the key is to crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Loebsack also supports measures to grant legal resident status to those immigrants who have fought in the military.
Archer pointed out that the Department of Defense is an employer as well, and that Loebsack's plan to crack down on employers who hire illegals is inconsistent with that stance. Archer does not support the Dream Act, either.
Lynch asked the candidates if the "Farm Bill," which is 80 percent nutritional programs today, should be divided into two bills; one specifically addressing farming and food production, and the other addressing the nutritional programs.
Loebsack said no one thinks that is a good idea. He blamed Boehner again for holding up the Farm Bill. The Democrat-controlled Senate did pass a Farm Bill this year.
Loebsack went on to discuss his visits to several farms this year, due to the drought. He was critical of Congress' decision to pass a "stripped down" farm aid bill in response to the weather struggles.
Archer placed blame on Obama, saying he could call Congress back to finish the Farm Bill. This is not the case, as the President does not have the authority to order them back, while Boehner does have this power. About Lynch's question, Archer believes separating the bill is worth a try.
"We need to innovate. We need to try new things," Archer said.
"(Boehner) sent us home because he was afraid of the Tea Party folks in his party," Loebsack said as to why the House did not approve the Farm Bill.
Social Security was the next topic. Archer said any reforms need to be done on a bipartisan basis, as it was done by Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neal in the 1980s. Archer believes part of the problem is that when one discusses changes to Social Security, he or she is demonized.
Archer is in favor of allowing younger generations to put part of their Social Security taxes into private accounts. Loebsack said privatization of this program, proposed by President George W. Bush, was rejected by America.
On Medicare, Loebsack said the ACA added eight years to this program's solvency. He would like to see Medicare reimbursement rates change, so that states with higher quality ratings, including Iowa, receive better reimbursements.
Loebsack used this discussion to attack Archer on a comment he made, regarding 50 percent of Americans feeling entitled to government assistance. He claimed that Archer may be "out of touch" on the issue, due to this.
Archer again attacked Loebsack for voting to remove $716 billion from Medicare and a 15-person panel that will stand between doctor and patient. Loebsack said he does not regret his vote and that rationing of care is forbidden in the bill and that if the law is repealed, there are people who will lose their health insurance.
Archer said his comment was not intended to insult beneficiaries. There are more people who are unemployed and on food stamps.
"We need pro-growth measures to get people off food stamps," Archer said. Lynch asked if unemployment benefits should be extended beyond the current 99 weeks. Archer believes 99 weeks is plenty. Loebsack said if people need the benefits, they should be extended.
Loebsack then promoted his Sectors Bill that would strengthen training and education. This bill would be the first one he would like to see passed if he is sent back to Congress. For Archer, his priority would be a Balanced Budget Amendment, as he sees spending and debt as roots to America's problems.
Following the debate, Blake Miller of Newton said he felt Loebsack won the debate. He will likely support Loebsack on Election Day because of Loebsack's experience.
Dan Kelley, a Democrat State Representative from Newton, is also supporting Loebsack. He is proud of his candidate's performance in the debate.
Kelley said he is disappointed with Archer's statement about the 50 percent, and believes that Americans need to provide a hand up to help those who are struggling.
The entire crowd was not pro-Loebsack. Marvin Potter of Newton felt his candidate, Archer, won the debate and did very well. Potter, a senior citizen who is on Social Security and Medicare, did not think Archer was insulting him.
"I don't think he was slighting us," Potter said. Margaret Jorris of Newton also agreed.
"I think John won," she said. She was also pleased that Archer said he would not support an extension of unemployment benefits.
Archer himself felt the debate went well. He said big government has not worked and if elected, he would use his business experience to help the country.
"I think it went well," Loebsack said. He felt he articulated a clear distinction between himself and his opponent. He does not think Archer provided enough answers and is still disappointed in the 50 percent comment.
"He's really talking about Social Security recipients," Loebsack said. Loebsack also claimed that Archer meant Medicare recipients and veterans as well. Archer was asked if he meant to include veterans, and he flatly denied this. Archer believes that if there is one group of Americans who deserve the best care, and respect, it is veterans.