U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and challenger Democrat Mary Baechler went toe-to-toe in a candidate forum Monday night at Columbia Basin College, arguing their positions on matters such as health care reform, balancing the federal budget and supporting agriculture.
Hastings spoke of his record in Congress in fighting to preserve hydroelectric dams in the 4th Congressional District and stopping increases to federal deficit. He characterized the upcoming election on Nov. 6 as a national referendum on the policies of President Barack Obama and other Democrats, including Baechler.
"I believe we're headed in the wrong direction," he said.
Baechler spent much of the forum needling Hastings over his support of legislation she said didn't support the area and how she would work for voters regardless of party.
"We need an end to the divisiveness," she said.
The Tri-City Herald, League of Women Voters of Benton and Franklin Counties, several chambers of commerce, Charter Communications and the Associated Students of Columbia Basin College arranged the forum.
Baechler, a businesswoman from Yakima, stressed job creation as a way to lead the country to prosperity rather than continuing to cut from social safety nets such as Social Security and Medicare.
Hastings, who's been in office since 1995 and hails from Pasco, said he wants to see a balanced budget amendment to right the country's finances and to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, which he said would save trillions. He also wants to end what remains of the bailout programs carried out under Obama and President George W. Bush, reassess foreign aid and look at drawing down funding from National Public Radio and Amtrak.
In the August primary, Hastings received 57 percent of the vote, while Baechler had 28 percent.
Both said they'd be advocates for agriculture, with Hastings saying his role as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee has allowed him to protect valuable dams and his attempt to provide more funding for agricultural research.
"I can watch out for the best interests of the Pacific Northwest," he said.
Baechler said she'd push for more regional water storage planning, providing incentives to farmers who innovate and market their products and work to increase global exposure for the region's agriculture.
Both said there needed to be new legislation to address migrant workers in agriculture, with Hastings saying it would help business and Baechler stressing the need for ethics in dealing with illegal immigration.
"We have built this region on immigrant workers," Baechler said.
Baechler spent much of her time attacking Hastings for his past support of legislation favoring oil and coal companies, who aren't in the region. She also criticized him for his support of a budget drafted by Republican Vice Presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, which calls for a voucher program for Social Security.
"It would end Social Security as we know it, throwing seniors into a social experiment," she said.
Hastings defended his support of Ryan's budget and the voucher program, saying Americans needed a choice in how they save for retirement. He criticized Baechler's support of Democratic policies he said have failed and her lack of solutions.
"If you don't have a solution other than to criticize, (the programs) will still go broke," he said of Social Security and Medicare.
Both struggled to say how they can differentiate from their party to finish work in Congress. When asked for three areas they'd be willing to compromise in order to pass legislation, Baechler said she has to always be willing to compromise.
Hastings said compromise can only work when the system works. He noted the House has approved budgets, but the Senate hasn't passed a budget proposal in three years.
"Pass something so we can work through the differences," he said.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; email@example.com