House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endured a barrage of personal attacks in his general election debate against Democratic challenger Wayne Powell Monday night.
Throughout the hourlong debate, hosted by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Powell, a former Army colonel, called the No. 2 ranking House Republican “dysfunctional” and accused him of selling his votes to big money corporations.
"When I hear fiscal cliff, I hear a person who is dysfunctional, a person who will not cooperate, will not sit down with the opposing party which is what we need to do," Powell said before exclaiming that taxes should go up for individuals who make more than $500,000.
Cantor attempted to explain his preferred solution to avoid the fiscal cliff -- a one-year tax rate extension, while Congress undertakes a massive overhaul of the tax code. But Powell refused to relent.
“We don't want to raise taxes. We want to reform taxes,” Cantor said.
To which Powell, a practicing attorney, responded, “I vacillate between the blame game analogy and the pixie dust politics that I keep hearing from Mr. Cantor – and tonight – it’s all about taxes, we can’t let taxes go up. I’ve got some of your literature, most of which is lies about me … he never talks about working people, he only talks about businesses … how about tax incentives for regular people trying to put bread on their tables?”
Powell paraphrased Bruce Springsteen “we have to take care of our own. … Yes we need to have tax reform and no we don’t necessarily have to raise taxes, but we have to distribute it fairly. The people that make the most have to pay their fair share to be blessed to live in this land we live in! And that’s the way I look at it!”
Cantor retorted, “it’s about income mobility. It’s not, as Mr. Powell suggests, income redistribution, that somehow, we in Washington have to decide who gets what.”
Later in the debate, the candidates for Virginia’s 7th District, were able to pose a question to each other.
Cantor asked Powell about the pledge on his campaign website that Powell's first act as a member of Congress would be to introduce a bill to publicly finance political campaigns. How could Powell propose that, Cantor asked, in these current dark economic times.
“Don’t we have more pressing issues than to create a government welfare program for politicians,” Cantor asked.
But Powell didn’t take the bait – he turned the question on Cantor.
"Actually, I don’t think that public financing of elections is a great idea," Powell said. "But let me tell you something, based on the corporate welfare that you are receiving, in order to run your campaigns, at least it’s better than that, at least it comes from the people and not the corporations.”
The barbs continued throughout the duration of the only debate that the candidates intend to have before Election Day. Monday’s debate was the first that Cantor has held in 10 years, since his last sparring session with former congressman and “Dukes of Hazzard” star, Ben "Cooter" Jones.
Powell attacked Cantor for agreeing to the billions of dollars in automatic cuts to the Defense Department, set to take place on January 1st, since the supercommittee – created as part of the deal to avert a budget crisis last summer – was unable to find the offsets elsewhere.
Cantor tried to point out that President Obama insisted on the sequestration provision in order to agree to the Republican demand that an increase in the nation’s debt limit must be paid for.
But Powell, who spent 30 years in the Army and Army Reserves, questioned Cantor’s qualifications in agreeing to such broad, undefined military cuts.
“Perhaps if you've been part of that ground force known as the U.S. Army, you'd be more familiar with why the sequester is a bad idea in the first place,” Powell charged, after noting that the Defense Department budget is “bloated” and needs to be cut.
Cantor said that just because he didn’t serve in the military does not mean he isn’t patriotic.
The House Majority Leader said that he recently spoke with the Chairman Martin Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the impending sequestration. He said Dempsey told him,
"'You are really going to have to rethink the nature of our being a superpower because we will not have the resources any longer to have the perspective of looking globally’ - it's a very scary thing, this sequester."
Powell countered, “The biggest danger to national security is you continuing to be the Majority Leader in the Congress … you talk about national security issue, look in the mirror because you caused it.”
In his concluding remarks, Cantor made a point of saying that the debate had been “peppered with what is wrong with politics today … a rash of personal attacks and attacks on my family,” before attempting to shame Powell, “I think you underestimate the decency of the people of this district.”