Incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, sparred Tuesday (Oct. 13) with rivals William Hanson, D-Camden, and Frank Gilbert, L-Tull, over the fate of healthcare expansion, a second pandemic stimulus package, the national debt and other topics during a debate on Arkansas PBS in the 4th District Congressional race.
It’s possible that parts or all of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in November. Westerman said he has proposed a bill that would continue parts of the ACA including protection for those with pre-existing conditions and it allows parents to keep their college age students on their plans. There are provisions to lower costs and expand coverage in his plan, he said.
Hanson blasted his plan, noting that it had no co-sponsors when it was introduced. He said there was no need to replace the ACA and it provides coverage to hundreds of thousands of people in the state. The former lawyer and law professor said the ACA needed modifications.
Gilbert agreed that the ACA is now a popular program nationwide and he thinks it’s because of several changes including the removal of the individual mandate.
For months, Congress has debated a second stimulus package to provide relief in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hanson said it’s desperately needed. Millions of people are receiving unemployment benefits as the country has been enveloped in the worst recession since the Great Depression. He said the U.S. House has already passed a stimulus plan that the U.S. Senate has refused to consider.
Gilbert said the reason the economy tanked is that the Chinese government introduced the virus into their population and then it spread across the world. He said there is no amount of tax money that can be allocated to solve the economic carnage brought on by the virus.
Westerman said he supports passage of a second stimulus package, but he wants the elements of any bill to only pertain to specific pandemic relief. He noted that the bill that has passed the House had provisions supporting the post office and state tax relief among others.
One of the most explosive issues during the 2020 election cycle has been police reforms. Gilbert said society needs to transition from a system where “bully” police officers simply collect fines for speeding and we need to adopt a more community approach to policing. Police forces across the country have been militarized and that is a trend that needs to stop, he added.
Hanson, who spent many years working in law enforcement, said the statistical proof about how blacks are disproportionately impacted by the police are clear. The system is rife with inherent racial bias and it needs reforms, he said.
Westerman said that what happened to George Floyd, a black man killed by the police in Minneapolis on May 25, was unacceptable. He noted that a Senate bill that would have studied no knock warrants, provided body-cams for officers has been rejected by Democrats. The congressman said he doesn’t agree with the entire platform of the national Black Lives Matter movement, but did say that “black lives matter” and he quickly followed that with “all lives matter.”
When asked about the surging national debt, which has now topped $27 trillion, Westerman said there are a host of social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt that continues to increase the national debt. The federal government takes in plenty of money; it needs to cut spending, especially healthcare spending, he said.
Hanson said it would be hard to stop spending during a pandemic, but said if he were elected he would push to nullify the tax cuts passed in 2017. He said the tax cuts were a giveaway to the wealthy and corporations. He noted that in recent decades the deficit has ballooned at a much higher rate during Republican administrations including presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
Gilbert said the national deficit was akin to generational theft. He said each generation keeps passing debt onto the next, and the government must develop policies to stop spending.
Both Westerman and Gilbert said they are pro-life and staunchly oppose abortion. Gilbert supports individual states deciding abortion laws, while Westerman said he supports ending any type of late-term abortion.
Hanson said he’s pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean he supports abortion. He said he supports a woman’s right to choose, and the decision should be between “a woman and her God.”