Congressional candidates Don Beyer and Micah Edmond squared off last week at a forum in what could rank as one of the election season’s tamest political debates. With bipartisanship as a major theme of each party’s platform, neither candidate could afford to appear confrontational.
For the two major party candidates for the 8th congressional district which comprises Alexandria, Arlington and part of Mount Vernon, the debate, hosted Oct. 9 by the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, came down to priorities. For Beyer, the Democratic candidate, the highest priority is addressing environmental concerns. While he acknowledged that this might not be the most popular stance, it was one that needed to be addressed.
“Great leaders don’t think short term, they think about 10, 20, 30 years from now,” said Beyer. “Sea levels are on the rise…. Half of all animals on planet have disappeared since 1970. As much as I care about employment, the greater threat is environmental change.”
For Edmond, the Republican candidate, nothing on the agenda was more important than solving the current financial crisis. Edmond emphasized his business background as an investment banker and his budget work for the government as crucial to his focus on economic issues.
“People want a long-term stable budget,” said Edmond. “This is a discussion about priorities, mine will be the economy. Beyer has said his is climate change, woman’s right to choose, and gun control. All important, but those are politically partisan, and they won’t do anything to help the economy or the things that you care about.”
The first question from the audience, asking how a carbon tax would help Northern Virginia businesses, indicated that both issues were a major concern to the local business community.
“It’s not designed, in the short run, to grow businesses,” said Beyer. “But look at the larger picture, at what’s happening in America and in the world, and what that’s going to mean for us, to our budgets and our businesses, if we don’t do anything about it.”
Beyer also raised the possibility of using some of the revenue raised by the carbon tax to refund small businesses and as corporate tax relief, but Edmond was skeptical.
“The short answer is, it won’t, “said Edmond. “You always hear about big sweeping government policies that will change the nature of things. That’s not progressive, it’s regressive.”
According to Edmond, the most likely scenario is that larger businesses decide they’d rather pay a fine or a tax on their polluted materials and continue to operate in the same manner. It’s the smaller businesses, he says, which will bear the full burden of a carbon tax.
“It’s going to generate a lot of money, but they won’t tell you where that money goes,” said Edmond, “but I can tell you it won’t be to the little guy.”
While each wanted certain conditions laid out, both candidates openly supported an increase in the minimum wage. According to Beyer, the full increase to $10 per hour would help lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty.
“At $7.25, you’re making less than the federal poverty level,” said Beyer. “They have to go out on food stamps and federal housing just to get by, and that’s not fair.”
Beyer acknowledged that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the increase would cost 500,000 jobs, but that this growth only represented 2 months’ worth of the current job growth trend. Beyer also accepted certain limitations, like not changing the level for teenagers still living with their parents who did not need to pay the costs adult Americans working minimum wage do.
While Edmond also supported a raise in the minimum wage, he did not want it raised to $10 per hour.
“Members of Congress must broker a compromise that was palatable to national distribution of local economic zones,” said Beyer. “An acceptable raise in minimum wage in Northern Virginia is not the same for Montana.”
Edmond also referenced a need for a small business tax cut to offset cost of an increase in the minimum wage.
Both candidates agreed that the social security system needs reform, specifically both candidates supported “means testing” which would limit social security benefits to those with greater economic need. While Edmond also stated a need to raise the retirement age to affect more long-term reform, Beyer was more hesitant.
“Raising the social security age makes sense for me and for Micah, but a lot of my employees are mechanics,” said Beyer. “I look at them and they’re worn out at 60 and 62. We’ve often had to take them off the line where they’re working transmissions and bending over inside cars all day long and give them much easier jobs, they’re just plain worn out. For the majority of Americans, who’ve spent their lives busting their backs, it doesn’t make sense.”
Beyer and Edmond both stated objections to much of the Affordable Care Act, though each voiced unequivocal support for the inability of insurance companies to deny a person based on preexisting conditions and for young adults being able to stay on their parent’s plan. Beyer cited the drop in teen abortions and pregnancies as one of the program’s biggest successes.
Edmond was more critical of the act, saying it had created an additional burden on the economy, but also acknowledged that it needs to be accepted as law now. His core complaint, that the government was even involved in the healthcare business, was met with cheers from the predominantly business-oriented audience.
Both Beyer and Edmond also agreed that the federal budget needs to have a heavier focus on transportation, specifically expansion of mass transit options.
Both also agreed that President Obama should have sought congressional approval for the air strikes in Iraq. The two differed, however, on whether or not to put more troops back on the ground in Iraq.
“We need boots on the ground in Iraq and possibly Syria,” said Edmond, emphasizing this was more likely in Iraq than Syria. “We have existing military structure in place and can set a time table. Not so in Syria.”
Beyer urged caution before more foreign intervention.
“We need to continue, as a people, to assess how much of a threat ISIS represents to us,” said Beyer. “Beheadings and all of that is incredible barbarism, but we see barbarism all around the world for much of our lives, but that doesn’t always justify use of military force.”
The forum ended with a return to the core discussion of the economy.
“We need to make the American dream more achievable,” said Edmond. “We need to put in place a long-term, stable budget that grows the economy by having incentives for businesses to create … we actually have to provide tax relief and provide targeted tax cuts for small businesses and the middle class.”
While unemployment has gone down, Edmond also lamented that unemployment is consistently twice the national average for minorities. Beyer followed up with his own unhappiness with current unemployment in America.
“We need a full employment economy,” said Beyer. “The poor are getting poorer, and that’s because there’s not enough competition for labor.”
Beyer and Edmond agreed that the United States cannot afford to decrease its investments in national defense. Beyer said that the world still looked to the United States to take a leadership role in international security. In their closing statements, both pledged to take a very bipartisan approach to their representation of the 8th District.