by Max Brantley
Democrat Joyce Elliott and Republican Tim Griffin came together for what is likely their last debate in the race for 2nd District Congress.
Tim Griffin would completely eliminate the estate tax. Even Blanche Lincoln hasn't gone that far. He's dishonest, too, suggesting it amounts to a double tax. Most wealth accumulated in estates is appreciated assets that have not been taxed previously — see, for example, Walmart stock. Joyce Elliott's answer on this, however, is formless, terrible really. She's trying to say she's sympathetic to the wealthy without saying what must be said — the U.S. can't afford NOT to extend the estate tax, perhaps with a higher amount to pass tax free (Lincoln would exempt $10 million for a couple, an amount sufficient to free all but a handful of Arkansans from every paying an estate tax.)
John Brummett declares Elliott the winner of the debate by a landslide.
More from Gerard on the jump.
Another second district debate, another glaring example of just how different these two candidates are. The unfortunate bit is that this late in the game, a noon-time debate is liable to make little difference in the minds of the voters, who will likely see no more than a couple of sound bites on the local news.
The first question from moderator Craig O’Neill, who said he bought new tennis shoes for just this occasion, was about job creation.
Griffin said the most important thing we could do in terms of creating jobs was eliminate uncertainty. “Uncertainty over card-check, uncertainty about cap and trade, uncertainty over the ’01 and ’03 tax cuts, uncertainty over the expiration of the estate tax, uncertainty over the regulations that have yet to be written as part of the health care law that has been passed.”
Elliott later added, “To talk about uncertainty like it’s never been there before is a little bit disingenuous.”
Griffin said he believed in international trade and held up China as an example to follow. “I hear stories every day of people coming back from China and saying, ‘The folks in China are willing to do anything it takes to get our business.’ We’ve got to have that attitude here and we can do it.”
That statement was pretty low-hanging fruit for Elliott. “I do not think we have to do whatever it takes if it means we have to do the same things that China does to have jobs here in our country. In China, there are very few regulations at all. We don’t need to be over-regulated, but do we want to have our workers here treated the same way they’re treated in China? No.”
Griffin backtracked on his statement during his next response.
The deficit has become a big issue this campaign season, due mostly to Tea Party outrage and Republican talking points that never fail to mention the country’s escalating debt. When asked about specific measures that could be taken to lower the deficit, Griffin didn’t have much to offer.
“We need to take the budget back to pre-Obama levels,” Griffin said. “Non-defense domestic spending has increased 84 percent in the last two years. You can like that kind of spending, or not like that kind of spending, but, regardless, it is unsustainable… With regard to the ’01 and ’03 tax cuts, I think they ought to be extended. If we want to go find savings somewhere else to reduce spending, let’s do it. A lot of small businesses are counting on those.”
[I wondered aloud on Twitter if Griffin’s “84 percent” remark was true and was led to this exchange, provided by the Daily Howler. It’s from a House Budget Committee meeting from February of 2010 between Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Peter Orszag, who was director of the Office of Management and the Budget at the time.
REP. JOHN YARMUTH, D-KY (2/2/10): One last question. It may have been answered here, but I don't recall it. Some of our colleagues over the weekend were talking about the fact, making the claim that terms of, terms of non-security discretionary income, that we raised it 84 percent on one year. Would you respond to that and speculate on maybe how they got that number and whether there's— Well, just comment on that claim, please.
PETER ORSZAG, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND THE BUDGET: Sure. It's not an accurate depiction of the base off of which we are freezing non-security discretionary spending. What happened is that category of spending went from just north of $400 billion in 2008 to just south of $700 billion in 2009 because of the Recovery Act and because of the measures that were necessary to try to mitigate the economic downturn. In 2010, it then declined to roughly $450 billion, a little bit south of that. We are freezing off of that lower level. So it went up, came down. We're freezing off of the lower level. The claim that we're freezing off of that higher level is simply wrong. ]
“We need to look at our budget in a responsible and adult way,” Elliott said. “A very specific thing we could do is close tax loopholes because we lose billions and billions of dollars that we are giving to companies to take jobs overseas. The other thing we can do is extend the tax breaks for those folks who are making $250,000 and under, but not extend them for those making more. If we extend it for those making more, we will ad $700 billion to the deficit… It would be fantastic, and I would love for everybody to have a tax break. But at some point, we have to do at the federal level what I’ve had to do for years in the Arkansas legislature and that’s be fiscally responsible and have balanced budgets.”
Later in the debate, the issue of character, which has been central to this race, came up. Griffin tried to turn the tables on Elliott, saying there had been “a lot of distortions” about his record. Griffin told the audience, “If character is an issue, vote for me.”
Griffin also told the audience that if they had any questions about his character they need only read the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which drew a big belly laugh from the crowd. Elliott said it was not wise to rely on a newspaper editorial for a fair assessment of one’s character.
When asked about corporate influence in campaigns, Elliott brought up the recent Citizen’s United ruling and talked about the enormous influence the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was able to exert in a number of races. Griffin took the comment personally and said the chamber had not spent “one cent” on his campaign. “I’ll have to check, but I don’t think they’ve given me one penny in this race. They certainly haven’t run any ads on my behalf.” However, the U.S. Chamber did send out a mailer on Griffin’s behalf. Griffin said there needed to be transparency in the political process, not only for corporations but for unions.
Griffin said Elliott had worked as a lobbyist, referring to the senator’s work as the leader of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers in 1988. Griffin said he had never been a lobbyist, but failed to mention work he did for D.C.-based political lobbying and consulting firms in 2009.
“I’m not ashamed to have been a member of the union,” Elliott said. “To continue this effort of beating up on working folks is something I don’t understand. This is America and people have a right to join the union. I promise you, you can’t find anybody that will tell you that because I was a member of a teacher’s union that I didn’t teach my heart out… I just resent this notion that because working people want to have a voice, the way every business wants to have a voice through the Chamber of Commerce — and I have no problem with that — that somehow we are less-than.”
A crowd of over 300 turned up for the event. Audience members were to hold all applause until the end, however, Elliott supporters in the crowd had a hard time keeping their enthusiasm under wraps. Both campaigns will call the debate a “win” for their candidate. The real winner will be decided one week from today.