SEATTLE — Democrat Suzan DelBene and Republican John Koster clashed on health care, immigration and funding for Big Bird on Friday in a debate which spotlighted the clear differences in their approach to governing if elected to Congress.
The two candidates vying for the open seat in the 1st Congressional District squared off for half an hour in front of a small audience in the studios of PBS station KCTS in Seattle.
As a final question, they were asked if they would continue funding public broadcasting, an issue thrust to the national stage in the first presidential debate by Republican Mitt Romney.
DelBene said she certainly would because its quality programming provides a good return for a small investment.
While Koster agreed PBS produces good programming, he said the federal government needs to rein in spending due to a rising debt. If it comes down to money for Big Bird versus seniors or veterans, he said, “Sorry Big Bird.”
The debate was taped and is scheduled to be shown at 1 p.m. Monday.
DelBene, a former Microsoft executive, and Koster, a former dairy farmer who serves on the Snohomish County Council, agreed on little Friday. And they didn’t shrink from criticizing one another, unlike at a forum last month where they politely stuck to their established talking points.
On the federal health care law, Koster said he would vote to repeal it if the opportunity arose. The law contains 21 new taxes and there are better ways to make sure people can access affordable treatment, he said.
DelBene said she strongly backs the federal law though it’s clear there will be a need to make some fixes in the coming years. She characterized Koster’s position of repealing and replacing as “trying to move us backwards.”
A question on immigration revealed one of the clearer contrasts between them.
DelBene said comprehensive reform of immigration policies is needed. She endorsed providing undocumented immigrant adults an earned path to citizenship. She also backs the DREAM Act which would undertake a similar approach for children brought to the country illegally by their parents.
Koster said anyone in the United States illegally needs to return home and apply for citizenship under existing rules.
“We are a nation of laws. We need to enforce our immigration laws,” he said.
On Afghanistan, DelBene endorsed President Barack Obama’s timeline for a complete withdrawal of troops by 2014.
Koster said soldiers need to come home as soon as possible. He disagreed with setting a specific timeline, saying he would follow the direction of the nation’s military leaders on when to withdraw.
On the question of creating jobs, Koster said he’ll focus on easing the tax and regulatory burdens faced by businesses.
DelBene said she’ll look to invest in transportation projects, which create jobs immediately, and in higher education where the next generation of workers will emerge.
“Government can help build and support a foundation” on which the economy can grow, she said.
Koster gave his most explicit endorsement to date of a controversial project to expand a marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County to handle coal exports. He said if it is not built in Washington, it will be built in Canada. The trains would still travel the same route.
“Do you want the jobs and trains, or just the trains,” he said.
DelBene has not taken a position on the project. She said she wants to wait until after an exhaustive analysis of environmental effects and economic benefits is completed.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
When to watch
The 1st Congressional District Debate will air Monday Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. on KCTS Channel 9.