Sen. Orrin Hatch and his opponent Scott Howell discussed political gridlock in Washington and the economy during Wednesday night’s televised senatorial debate.
The debate was moderated by David Magleby, BYU professor of political science and founder of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, and was filmed at the KBYU studio on BYU campus. Debate questions came from audience members.
Hatch suggested his seniority will help Utah lead in Washington, and Howell addressed why seniority is the cause of political gridlock.
“If we want a different America, we have to start electing differently,” Howell said. “The seniority system is what’s breaking America today.”
This notion of seniority was mentioned repeatedly by Howell throughout the debate. In a press conference following the debate, Howell even went as far as to set a term limit for himself should he be elected.
“I would serve two terms. I would get in, serve, and get out,” he said.
Howell repeatedly called Hatch out on his political rhetoric.
“When we divide our country like you’re trying to continue to do, Orrin, it is disruptive, it’s obstructionism, and it doesn’t help the American spirit,” Howell said.
Hatch told Howell in Washington things would be different.
“If you were to go back there you’d be right in the middle of a bunch of liberals who are not going to let you do anything but be liberal on their side,” Hatch said.
Health care and the Affordable Care Act were popular topics among the audience questions.
Hatch denounced the act, saying, “The Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable.” He continued by saying Utah was doing better without government intervention and responsibility should remain with individual states.
Hatch and Howell agreed that the lack of bipartisanship in the passage of the act is unacceptable, but Howell did not oppose the entire act.
“I don’t want to go back and kill it. What I want to do is go back and amend it and make it better and work with Republicans in order to find that common ground,” Howell said.
Economy and the national debt
Hatch echoed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when asked about the issue of poverty. Hatch said the most important thing to end poverty is to “have a good economy. That we get people back to work. That we get jobs.”
Howell said, “The biggest issue we’re facing in this country is the debt and deficit. We have to solve this. We’ve got to go back and make some challenging cuts.”
The Democratic challenger cited his business experience at IBM and proposed steps modeled after business.
“We have to go through and do a performance review on each and every department within the federal government to make sure we’re getting effective and efficient government,” Howell said.
Hatch once again cited his seniority and leadership position in the Senate as the solution to the deficit.
“I’m the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. … The fact of the matter is that if we’re going to solve this problem it’s going to be that committee that does it,” Hatch said.
Following Howell’s proposal to return to tax rates prior to the Bush tax cuts, Hatch shared what he has observed over his 36 years in the Senate.
“When Republicans have gone along with Democrats to increase taxes in favor of getting some deficit reduction, the taxes always go up, the deficit reductions never occur,” Hatch said.
In response to a question about their beliefs on foreign policy, Hatch and Howell largely aligned with their respective parties.
Howell referred to the Middle East as a “powder-keg”; it must be approached cautiously, but Howell declared, “I want us out of Afghanistan tomorrow.”
He shared his sympathy and allegiance to Israel and desire to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons but disapproved of the recent wars in the Middle East, saying, “We’ve had two unfunded wars that (have) led this country to a financial catastrophe, which my opponent voted for both times.”
Hatch showed his support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and condemned President Obama’s unwillingness to listen to military leaders.
“We can’t just walk away from all of this. One of our obligations is to fight and let people know that we’re not going to be people to step on.”
In the press conference following the debate, Hatch continued to speak of his experience and leadership in Washington and attempted to refute Howell accusing him of unwilling to reach across the aisle.
“I’ve had a lot of Democrats come up to me when they thought I was going to go the same way that Sen. Bennett did and that I’d probably be defeated out here and said, ‘you gotta win, you’re one of the few guys that can bring us together,'” Hatch said.
Howell described Hatch as living in the past.
“They (Hatch and Kennedy) were two great men working together, but you don’t see that nowadays,” Howell said. “We have to have a transformation of leadership and bring in new thoughts and people who have new ideas, bold ideas with regards to what we need to see in this country. We are at a crossroads in this country.”