SOMERSET, Pa. − The candidates in a competitive House race here sparred over taxes and spending in their only debate Friday night, as Republican Tim Burns went on the attack against Rep. Mark Critz’s brief record in Congress.
Burns, a businessman making his second bid for the 12th district seat, accused Critz, a Democrat, of shifting his position on the Bush tax cuts and took him to task for voting against a raft of measures brought up by House Republicans in recent months.
Critz defeated Burns by eight points in a May special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha (D), in a race where both parties spent heavily to win. Now the underdog, Burns was clearly the aggressor on Friday.
While Critz brushed off or ignored several lines of criticism from Burns, the Republican appeared to break through when he rattled off a list of bills Critz opposed that were part of the GOP “YouCut” effort in Congress, including one proposal to crack down on unpaid taxes by federal employees.
Critz did not address the measures individually, saying only that they were “probably some sort of parliamentary trick” - a response that drew some derisive laughter from a crowd divided between supporters of both candidates.
The Democrat stressed his independence from the party leadership in Washington. He declined to endorse Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for another term, and he highlighted his opposition to healthcare and cap-and-trade energy legislation. Critz also said he would have voted against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, passed under the Bush administration to bail out failing banks, as well as the economic stimulus plan enacted under President Obama. “I can’t say that TARP and the stimulus were successful or unsuccessful,” Critz said. “I wouldn’t have supported them.”
Critz said he would back an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class but not for the wealthy; Burns called for an extension of all the tax rates and a cut in the rate for corporations. He also criticized Critz for casting a vote to adjourn the House in September before voting on the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year.
Outflanking Critz to the right, Burns took hardline stances on healthcare and energy issues. While many Republicans have called for repealing and replacing the healthcare law, Burns focused only on repeal. “There isn’t anything in there I think we should keep,” he said. Critz opposed the law but does not support a full repeal.
And though both candidates oppose the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House last year, Burns went further in denouncing the science behind climate change. “I don’t believe in man-made global warming,” the Republican said.
Critz largely avoided direct attacks on Burns in the hour-long debate, though he did suggest his opponent was beholden to corporate interests and ideology. He also criticized Burns’s support for House GOP leader John Boehner (Ohio), whom he said had backed privatizing Social Security.
“People come before corporations. People come before the business,” Critz said. “My ideology does not prevent me from working with other people.”