BUTTE — In their first debate, U.S. Sen. John Walsh and his challenger, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, disagreed on the Affordable Care Act, campaign finance reform and the federal minimum wage.
Walsh, a Democrat, and Daines, a Republican, joined by Libertarian Roger Roots, participated in a debate at Montana Tech sponsored by the Montana Newspaper Association and Montana PBS. Montana PBS aired the Senate and House debates on Sunday night.
Daines, asked about the federal health care law and how he would fix it, said, “Washington, D.C.-centered solutions are not the right solutions for Montana. We need Montana-centered solutions.”
Since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Daines said it is not solving the problems it was intended to solve. Instead, Americans have seen their premiums and their deductibles go up.
He supports the law’s provisions to allow young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they are 26 years old and preventing insurance companies from looking at patients’ preexisting conditions to deny coverage.
Walsh said the United States must move to a system under which “all of our citizens can receive quality affordable health care.”
“The president promised we would see health care costs come down,” Walsh said. “He promised that if you like your insurance company, you could keep it. He promised if you like your doctor, you could keep him. I’m hearing from Montanans that that’s not the case. So until I see the costs of health care come down in Montana, the jury is still out from my perspective.”
Walsh said the only health care plan Daines has come up with is to privatize Medicare, which would shift costs to the backs of seniors.
In response, Daines said, “John says the jury is still out. Well, I’ve got news. The Montana jury is still out and they don’t like Obamacare.”
Roots said he would work to repeal the health law, Medicare and Medicaid and get the government out of health care.
On campaign finance reform, Walsh criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on independent expenditures in political races and called for campaign finance reform.
“I do not believe corporations are people,” Walsh said. “I still recall that July 1, 2004, when over 700 of Montana’s finest men and women were lining up to get onto an airplane to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t recall seeing any corporations in line to go with us.”
He criticized Daines and “his out-of-state friends” for “coming into Montana to swiftboat me.” That was a reference to the term used to describe the attacks on 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry‘s military record in Vietnam.
Daines indicated he supports the Citizens United and other Supreme Court rulings on campaign finance laws.
“The Supreme Court holds the First Amendment in very high esteem, as they should,” Daines said. “They’ve had several rulings that ensure that the First Amendment is protected.”
He said most Montanans would agree there is too much money spent in politics.
Roots called it “a national disgrace” that Walsh and fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Tester are seeking to give government more authority” over free speech.
Walsh was the only one of the candidates to support raising the federal minimum wage from the current rate of $7.25 an hour, but he said he wasn’t sure of the level it should be.
“There are hardworking families working two jobs at below the poverty level,” Walsh said.
Daines said Montana doesn’t need the federal government say what the minimum wage is. He said Montana needs jobs that pay $25 or $50 an hour. Montana’s minimum wage is $7.90 an hour, while the federal rate is $7.25.
Roots called the idea of a minimum wage a dumb idea, saying it would harm poor people by costing them jobs.
Walsh took several shots at Daines that the Republican, who leads in the polls, simply ignored. They included Walsh’s claim that Daines spent six or seven years in China working for a company that shut down jobs in the United States and created jobs in China and that Daines opposes legalized abortion.
Likewise, Walsh didn’t respond to Daines’ claim that the senator attended an anti-coal rally in Billings recently.
Walsh was appointed to the Senate earlier this year to succeed longtime Sen. Max Baucus, who was appointed U.S. ambassador to China. Walsh previously served as lieutenant governor and as the state’s adjutant general.
Daines was elected in 2012 to the state’s lone congressional seat. He lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 2008. Daines was a top executive at RightNow Technologies in Bozeman.
Roots is a college professor in Texas who lives in Livingston. He ran for secretary of state k in 2012.