By Tim Carpenter
Congressional candidates Paul Davis and Steve Watkins clashed on immigration and health care reform Wednesday during a public forum that highlighted similar views on the harm of agriculture tariffs, the need for infrastructure improvements and the high priority of better care for veterans.
The two major party nominees were given questions in advance by the coalition of organizations sponsoring the event in southeast Kansas and both were instructed not to directly attack each other because the barrage of TV attack commercials by super PACs hungry for a 2nd District win had become intolerable.
Watkins, a Topeka Republican without prior political experience, said he would urge Congress to respond first to the immigration crisis with construction of a longer border wall with Mexico. He also would strive to improve the visa system and hit back at cities that refused to help federal agents enforce immigration law.
“First, I’m a build-the-wall guy. That doesn’t make us mean spirited or the racist bigots some leftists would have you believe,” Watkins said. “I’m proud of our country. I want to keep our culture.”
Davis, a Lawrence attorney who served in the Kansas Legislature, said Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., squandered opportunities in the past to adopt comprehensive immigration reform by engaging in useless bickering. He said too many people were illegally crossing the U.S. border and the work of federal agents to stem human trafficking ought to be lauded.
He said there was bipartisan interest in dealing with the Dream Act children of illegal immigrants and to solidifying the documented immigrant labor force for agriculture and other industries.
“We’re a nation of immigrants,” Davis said. “People who are contributing to our economy, that are playing by the rules, that are paying taxes, that are learning English should be given a pathway to becoming an American citizen.”
In response to the moderator’s question about rural health care, Davis said the federal government would serve interests of southeast Kansas by cracking down on high prescription medicine costs and speeding generic drugs to market. He said popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act should be retained, including protection of people with pre-existing medical conditions, and Kansas ought to expand eligibility for Medicaid.
“You can’t talk about access to health care without addressing the issue of cost,” Davis said. “Right now, Washington, D.C., is playing politics with your health care day in and day out.”
Watkins, who has a father and wife who work as physicians, said the problem was rooted in the imposition of Obamacare and an obsession among liberal politicians to impose unnecessary regulations on doctors. He said the remedy to the flawed health care system was to let capitalism take over.
Davis and Watkins agreed the Social Security system was underfunded in the long term, and both said they were committed to meeting government obligations to seniors.
Watkins said those who had retired or were approaching that age must have their Social Security benefits protected, but he offered a warning to Americans in their 40s or younger. He said his generation should focus on avoiding debt, budget carefully and invest wisely because Social Security in the future won’t be as generous.
“My advice to people my age and less is don’t expect those types of benefits — not at the rates we’re currently receiving them,” Watkins said.
Davis said shielding Social Security income was among the most important duties of a bipartisan Congress. He said a recent House Republican proposal to cut $14 trillion in future Social Security benefits was irresponsible.
“I think that is wrong,” the Democrat said. “That’s a tremendous amount of money.”