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Cantor, Powell face-off in first and only debate


MANAKIN SABOT—Rep. Eric Cantor accused opponent Wayne Powell of offering no solutions to national problems, while Powell accused Cantor of being out of touch with everything but corporate interests in the 7th Congressional District’s only debate, held here Monday night.

The contentious debate at Carmax headquarters was held before about 200 state Chamber of Commerce members and viewers of C–SPAN, which broadcast the debate live.

A combative Powell took Cantor to task for taking corporate campaign contributions, not having served in the military, and refusing to consider tax increases on the wealthy to help solve the federal debt and deficit issues.

Cantor said Powell complains that everything is wrong, but his only solutions to fix problems are to raise taxes.

The hourlong debate was moderated by political analyst Bob Holsworth.

His first question was on an issue that came up several times later—the “fiscal cliff” faced by the federal budget if Congress doesn’t act to renew tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, and if Congress also doesn’t act to avert steep cuts to defense and other spending by January.

Cantor said he favors extending those tax cuts for another year, to give Congress time to work on reforming the tax system in such a way as to reduce the tax rate for corporations and individuals.

“A tax increase is the last thing that our economy needs right now,” Cantor said. “There’s agreement on both sides of the aisle that we need to reform the tax code and bring rates down.  For the last two years it’s been very difficult to try to get both sides to come and say hey, we want to solve these problems.”

Powell called the very term “fiscal cliff” “Washington-speak,” and blamed Cantor for a lack of cooperation during budget and debt ceiling talks last year.

Cantor would “kick the can down the road,” Powell said.

“I hear a person who’s dysfunctional, a person who will not cooperate, will not sit down with the opposing party,” Powell said.

He adopted a proposal from Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine  to let tax cuts expire on those making more than $500,000 a year.

Powell said he favors keeping commitments to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while cutting other areas like defense—but with a “scalpel, not an axe.” Powell, who served in the  Army and Army Reserve  for 30 years, said his military experience gives him  insight into how to cut the defense budget that Cantor—who did not serve—doesn’t have.

“The defense budget is bloated by anybody’s standards,” Powell said, advocating cuts to defense contractors.

Powell several times brought up the fact that Cantor hasn’t served in the military, and accused him of last year voting to continue congressional pay in the event of a budget stalemate while voting against extending pay for military members, including Powell’s son.

Cantor said that was not true.

“Nobody  ever would want to deny the pay to our men and women in uniform, and frankly that’s what’s at stake with the sequester right now,” Cantor said. “I thank you for your military service, Wayne, and I thank your son. Every day I go to Washington and try to address the needs of our veterans.”

Asked about the sequestration cuts—including billions from defense—that were approved last year by members of both parties, including Cantor, Cantor blamed President  Obama for forcing Republicans to support it.

“(Powell) knows the president insisted on its insertion into the debt ceiling deal  we were put in a position where there was no other choice,” Cantor said.

Powell disagreed.

“It’s Mr. Cantor’s problem, it’s the Congress’ problem, they’re the ones that created the budget,” he said.

Cantor said Powell has only problems, but no solutions.

“There is nothing but insistence that everything is wrong but no prescription on how to fix it coming from Mr. Powell,” he said.

Powell accused Cantor of having no positions that didn’t involve lowering taxes and eliminating regulations.

“It’s all about taxes, we can’t let taxes go up.  He never talks about working people, he only talks about businesses,” Powell said. “How about tax incentives and tax cuts for just regular people who are just trying to put bread on their plates?”

Cantor said Powell is right that disagreements over taxes have held up budget negotiations in Washington. But, he said, raising taxes would put additional burdens on workers and businesses.

“What’s good for the country is to create jobs. That’s how we get going again,” Cantor said.

The debate dived into the personal repeatedly, as Powell accused Cantor of being beholden to special interests at the expense of his  constituents.

“It is almost obscene the millions of dollars that you’ve earned,” Powell said.

“Does anyone in this room think these corporations are giving him [donations] because he’s a nice guy?  They do that because they want him to vote the way they want him to vote.”

Cantor said Powell’s negativity is what’s wrong with politics.

“You can go on your personal attacks all you want but it’s not doing anything to create a job or reduce the deficit,” Cantor said. “That’s what’s wrong in Washington. Name calling and personal character assassination doesn’t get us anywhere.”

He said Powell’s “rash of personal attacks  make it a lot harder to solve problems, to compromise, to sit down and get something done.”

Asked about environmental regulations regarding coal-fired power plants, Powell said he wasn’t familiar with those regulations but that the country must focus more on renewable energy.

“The days of the fossil fuels are numbered,” Powell said.

Cantor said additional regulations are strangling industries, including the coal industry, and that using America’s own resources like fossil fuels lower energy costs.

“Bottom line, the EPA is off base” on regulations, he said.

The two also differed on the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law.

Powell said he generally favors it, although he doesn’t like its mandates, and said he doesn’t want it replaced with a system in which seniors must go out and seek coverage.

Cantor has opposed the ACA from the start, although he would favor keeping provisions like covering children until they’re 26 and ensuring coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“We can do this, and we can maintain the kind of benefits that Bob spoke about, so people can have the kind of health care they want, not what Washington tells them,” Cantor said.

This was the only scheduled debate between Cantor and Powell.

The 7th District runs from Richmond north to Culpeper, including all of Culpeper, Orange and Louisa counties, and most of Spotsylvania County.