Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said national security issues like ISIS and the Ebola virus cannot be adequately addressed unless the nation solves its debt problem. His Democratic opponent, Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson, criticized Crawford’s vote against a bill to fund and reform the Veterans Administration.
The two faced off Friday morning in the last of 10 debates this week for statewide and congressional offices, nine of which were hosted by AETN. The debate on the University of Central Arkansas campus is available for viewing here. Libertarian candidate Brian Willhite also participated.
Crawford said he had voted against his own party’s budget resolutions because they did not contain structural reforms such as constitutional amendments requiring a balanced budget or imposing spending limits. “They don’t force Congress to behave and abide by a certain structure with regard to our spending,” he said.
McPherson said he was running for Congress because he is frustrated by Washington’s gridlock and dysfunction. He said he had enacted balanced budgets as a mayor and restaurant owner. While the government needs to be more efficient, it also needs to invest in areas where there is a return. “Blanket cuts just don’t work,” He said.
Willhite said he also supports a balanced budget amendment, as long as it accomplishes its goal by cutting spending, not by raising taxes. He said agencies such as the federal Department of Education should be cut.
McPherson faulted Crawford for being one of five members of the House to vote against providing $10 billion for private providers to serve veterans when the Veterans Administration system is overloaded. Crawford said he voted against it because the statutory authority to do that already existed and because the bill did not hold staff members accountable for problems that were occurring in that troubled agency. McPherson replied that almost everyone in Congress had voted for that bill at a time when Congress can’t agree on anything.
McPherson also criticized Crawford for what he said was a late endorsement of the proposed state minimum wage increase. McPherson said that, when the minimum wage was raised at his restaurant, he wasn’t forced to lay off workers, and he actually saw an increase in business because customers had more money. He said he had canvassed for signatures to put the question on the ballot. Crawford said the minimum wage should be a state issue with no federal standard.
All three candidates said they opposed raising the gas tax to pay for highway infrastructure. Crawford said there is no appetite for doing that in Congress. One possible source of funds is enacting policies that would encourage corporations to repatriate revenue being kept overseas for tax avoidance purposes. He also mentioned nonfederal solutions and public-private partnerships. Willhite proposed privatizing roadways and funding them through voluntary taxes such as a lottery or toll roads.