KENNEWICK — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dino Rossi accused Congress of bankrupting America during a campaign stop in Kennewick on Wednesday, and said he finds overspending in the nation's capital "morally reprehensible."
"Washington, D.C., needs some adult supervision," Rossi said during a meeting of the Pasco-Kennewick Rotary Club.
Rossi, a former state senator and two-time gubernatorial candidate, is one of 14 opponents hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Patty Murray, who is seeking a fourth term in the Senate.
A Sammamish real estate entrepreneur, Rossi is considered by many to be the Republican front-runner in the race, although fellow Republican Clint Didier, an Eltopia farmer and former pro football player, has generated buzz by securing endorsements from tea party favorites Sarah Palin and Ron Paul.
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Rossi said Wednesday that his campaign efforts will be focused on comparing and contrasting himself with Murray, rather than going after fellow Republicans.
"I don't run against Republicans," he said. "I run for the position. That's all we're going to do until November."
He came late to the race -- declaring his candidacy in late May just two weeks before the filing period opened -- but had been courted by state and national Republicans for months after several polls showed him running neck and neck with Murray in a hypothetical match-up.
Rossi said he doesn't think entering the race later than other candidates put him at a disadvantage for the upcoming Aug. 17 primary.
"What it has done is that I'm missing about a year and a half of overhead," he said, referring to the costs other candidates have had to pay to run their campaigns.
His campaign recently announced he had raised $1.4 million in his first month of campaigning -- well outpacing Didier, who last reported to the Federal Elections Commission at the end of March that he had raised $351,518 since declaring his candidacy in January.
Murray reported having $5.9 million on hand at the end of March, the last date for which FEC reports are available.
Rossi said Wednesday that none of the money he has raised came from state or national Republican campaign committees. He believes most of it came from individual donors who supported him in previous elections.
The FEC website doesn't show any reports yet filed by Rossi listing his donors.
On the issues, Rossi said he would repeal the health care reform bill passed earlier this year and replace it with a new set of reforms, including allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, reforming the laws governing medical malpractice lawsuits, and allowing health care consumers to create medical savings accounts.
"There are a lot of ideas that make more sense and won't bankrupt America," he said.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the final reform package published in March found the cost of implementing the bill over 10 years is about $940 billion, but also estimated that taxes, penalties and cost-savings would allow the plan to pay for itself and reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the same period.
Rossi said the taxes in the bill will be a burden on small-business owners and damage an economy struggling to emerge from a lengthy recession.
"It really was a tax-and-spend bill with a little health care sprinkled on top," Rossi said. "When we talk about taking money from small- and medium-sized businesses ... it is going to be crushing."
Rossi also attacked Murray for accepting earmarks for projects in Washington.
Murray's campaign fought back, saying that what Rossi dismisses as earmarks are projects the state needs.
"Sen. Murray has fought hard for the state to get projects funded that might not otherwise be considered in Washington, D.C.," said Murray campaign spokeswoman Julie Edwards. "Hanford is an example of that."
In 2009, Murray brought $2 billion home for Hanford cleanup from the stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009, as well as $2.1 million to extend Steptoe Street in Richland and Kennewick, and $809,000 for Kadlec Regional Medical Center's new pediatric center, Edwards said.
Murray secured $1.9 million in 2010 to finish realigning Road 170 in Franklin County, which was badly damaged by a landslide in 2006.
"Patty Murray has been a champion and fought for the state every day," Edwards said.
Rossi said the most important consideration right now should be making sure the government isn't spending more than it's bringing in.
He said money left over from the stimulus bill and Troubled Asset Relief Program financial industry bailout should be used to pay down the deficit before it hurts the economy.
The government also should focus on easing the tax and regulatory burden on businesses, he said.
"We have to set up modest taxation and sensible regulation with no guarantee of a bailout," Rossi said.
The Senate primary is Aug. 17.
The top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 2 general election regardless of party affiliation.
-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org