Paul, Conway Clash in First Televised Debate
Kentucky Senate candidates Rand Paul (R) and Jack Conway (D) sparred over taxes, entitlement reform and cap-and-trade energy legislation in their first televised debate on “Fox News Sunday.”
Conway, who is the Kentucky attorney general, defended his support for extending all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. Republicans have accused him of flip-flopping on the issue, first saying he backed extending most of the Bush-era cuts and later saying he supported extending all of them. “I was talking about the special interest provisions that allow companies to ship our jobs overseas,” Conway said of his former stance. He emphasized that he was one of the few Democrats to support the Bush tax cuts in 2002.
Paul, a tea party favorite, said he did not think it would cost the government anything to extend the Bush tax cuts, which carry a price tag of $4 trillion. “Look at whose money it is. It’s the people’s money, who earn the money, and we give up some to pay taxes. So I’m not seeing that as a cost to government,” the Kentucky Republican said.
He added, “But I will immediately introduce bills to reduce spending.”
On entitlement reform, Paul said it may be time to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare and Social Security for new recipients. “You’re going to have to have eligibility changes for the younger people,” he said. “And I think all younger people, if they’re honest and will admit to it and have an adult discussion and not demagogue the issue, will admit that younger people will have to have different rules.”
Conway instead called for cracking down on fraud and ending offshore tax loopholes as a way to rein in entitlement spending. He took a shot at Paul for supporting an increase in the Medicare deductible. That approach would be “taking our health care system back to a pre-World War II system,” the Kentucky Democrat said.
Paul fired back by accusing Conway of supporting cap-and-trade legislation, which he said would be “a disaster for coal jobs” in Kentucky. The attorney general said he never supported the bill passed by the House in June 2009, but Paul interrupted and cited news reports from last year that highlighted Conway’s support for it.
“You said you wanted to be part of the negotiated compromise,” Paul said. “You were for it so you could be part of fixing cap-and-trade and making cap-and-trade work.”
Conway clarified that he is “always going to protect coal and I’m always going to protect electricity,” but he said he did not support the climate change bill that passed the House. “Don’t read the Bowling Green News. Take a look at my actions as attorney general,” he said.
Both candidates portrayed themselves as being within the mainstream of their parties. Conway defended signing a MoveOn.org pledge in support of a public insurance option in the health care overhaul and in support of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy that bars openly gay service members.
“I abhor discrimination,” he said, referring to his support for repealing the military policy. “I’m certainly not going to be to the left of Barack Obama.”
Paul, who has proposed creating a Senate tea party caucus, dismissed past criticisms from Conway that he is “crazy” and “out of touch.” He emphasized that, if he wins, he would back Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in keeping his leadership post and not push to install another tea party favorite, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), in the slot.
“I will vote for whoever comes out of the caucus as the leader, and I presume that will be Sen. McConnell,” he said.