Harris, Kratovil Debate Economic Remedies

The candidates in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District traded remedies for the economic crisis, argued positions on the war in Iraq, health care, and the environment, and at times, characterized their foe as “”more of the same”” in Tuesday’s debate at Salisbury University.

Republican state Sen. Andy Harris, of Cockeysville, said the looming crisis spawned by failing sub-prime mortgages and an international credit crunch was the “”direct result of the liberal Democrats.””

Democrat Frank Kratovil, the Queen Anne’s state’s attorney, blamed the emergency on “”those issues that got us here in the first place,”” such as deregulation policies favored by Republicans.

It was the second of four debates for Harris and Kratovil, joined by Libertarian candidate Richard Davis, of Hurlock, and the increasingly alarming news from Wall Street trumped the district’s other concerns.

Moderator Don Rush, the news chief at Delmarva Public Radio, kicked off the debate by asking whether the candidates would have voted for the $700 billion bailout that failed in Congress Monday.

“”I would have voted against that plan,”” Harris said. He linked the crisis, which began with home foreclosures, to other rising costs facing the middle class, such as fuel, energy and health care. He called for a solution where the government would insure — not buy — failed mortgages and securities, reducing costs passed on to taxpayers.

“”Everyone said the sky is falling,”” Harris told reporters before the debate. “”Well, the sky certainly hasn’t fallen yet. We’ve got time to get this thing right.””

Kratovil declined to answer directly, saying the point was moot since the bill failed, but that the original plan offered last week by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, “”didn’t protect the taxpayers, it didn’t make sure that if we did bail these companies out, the taxpayers would benefit from it.””

A passable bill should include more oversight, more rewards for taxpayers if the bailout is successful, and should limit compensation for the executives of the troubled companies, Kratovil said before the debate.

“”Given where we are with those companies, I’m not sure these CEOs chould be getting anything,”” he said.

Harris, after the debate, advocated increasing the federally insured deposit limit for banks, as one measure to alleviate the crisis, among others.

Harris and Kratovil acknowledged a difference of philosophy on the economy, and went on to batter each other on issues like the war in Iraq, the environment and health care.

Kratovil attacked Harris’ voting record on environmental issues, saying repeatedly that he is the sixth-least environmentally friendly state senator.

Harris knocked Kratovil for flipflops on immigration policy.

At times, the debate turned acid. During a line of questioning about energy policy, Harris commented that, “”There have been a number of cases in which you chose not to prosecute drug dealers and sex offenders in Queen Anne’s County,”” eliciting a chorus of boos.

Kratovil seized the moment to interject, “”Is this the kind of politics we want to continue, folks?””

Voters denounced attacks from both sides. “”I still wish there wasn’t so much high-school stuff,”” said Gerldine Bell, of Salisbury. “”Being an informed citizen is really hard enough.””

Davis, the quieter, third-party man, was often the voice of reason amid bickering between two candidates who are neck-to-neck in recent polls.

“”We’ve got troops in a lot of places where we shouldn’t, and Republicans didn’t send them all there,”” he said as Kratovil and Harris pointed fingers at each other over whose party was to blame for the troubles in Iraq.

And Davis didn’t mince words on health care, either: “”I believe that everyone wants to live forever, and they want someone else to pay for it.””

Copyright © 2008 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism