Congressional debate focuses on seniors issues

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Prescription drugs and Social Security dominated the first major debate in Snohomish County between the 2nd Congressional District candidates Monday night.

That may be because of who sponsored it — AARP and the Snohomish County Council on Aging — but those topics have also been top campaigning issues for Rick Larsen and John Koster.

The two apparently took good notes from the first presidential debate earlier this month.

Unlike George W. Bush and Al Gore, Larsen and Koster dressed in markedly different outfits — Larsen wore a light brown ensemble and Koster was attired in a dark suit and burgundy shirt. They also were polite to each other, avoiding audible sighs or disparaging rolls of the eyes.

And, for the most part, they stayed within the time limits, although Larsen did talk a bit long on two occasions.

They agreed on quite a bit.

Both believe the Canadian health care system should not be a model for the United States; both said they would vote to repeal the tax on Social Security benefits, put into place by the Clinton/Gore administration; neither would support raising the age of eligibility for Medicare; both support access to in-home health care on an equal basis with nursing home care; and both believe Bill Gates should qualify for Social Security benefits.

"If you pay into Social Security, you should get the benefits out of Social Security," Larsen said.

The major disagreement of the evening was over the connection between the nation’s surplus, the faltering Social Security system and the lack of prescription drug benefits for seniors.

Larsen, a Democratic Snohomish County councilman from Lake Stevens, told the audience of about 100 that he wants to use part of the projected surplus to pay down the national debt. Then he’d like to put the interest savings in a protected Social Security trust fund and use part of the remaining surplus to provide prescription drug benefits for all seniors, regardless of their income.

That’s too much government for Koster, a Republican state representative from Arlington. He’d rather give some of the surplus back to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, then reform Social Security by partially privatizing it and putting some of the funds in a protected lockbox

And he’d like to pay for prescription drug benefits for low-income seniors only by streamlining Medicare through privatization, which he said would lower costs through competition.

The 1 1/2-hour debate was moderated by Ed Bremer, director of Everett radio station KSER 90.7 FM.

Voting could start as early as this week. Absentee ballots for the Nov. 7 general election will be available as of Wednesday.

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