By Bob Salsberg and Steve LeBlanc Associated Press
---- — SPRINGFIELD — Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren fought yesterday over who would be better at creating jobs, cutting taxes, holding down the federal deficit and protecting Medicare during their third debate in Massachusetts’ closely-watched Senate race.
The meeting at Springfield’s Symphony Hall stuck mainly to the issues and steered clear of much of the personal sniping between the candidates that has marked the campaign to date.
A recurring theme in the debate was Warren’s assertion that Brown was protecting millionaires at the expense of average Americans, countered by Brown’s insistence that any increase in taxes would hurt the economy.
Warren supports allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire on Dec. 31 for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers, as part of what she called a balanced approach to erasing the federal deficit. Brown believes the cuts should be continued for all taxpayers and that tougher spending controls are needed.
Warren began the debate by faulting Brown for voting against a series of Democratic-sponsored jobs bills, while also noting Brown has vowed to repeal the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act if re-elected.
Brown cited higher taxes as the reason he opposed the jobs bills and said that while he supported Massachusetts’ landmark health care bill, he opposes the federal version because it also included tax increases.
Brown referred to what he called “Obamacare” as a “jobs crushing bill” and warned seniors that it would cut Medicare spending by nearly three quarters of a trillion dollars. Warren said the law would not cut benefits by “one penny.”
Warren also criticized Brown for opposing the so-called Buffett rule, which would require those earning $1 million a year or more to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.
“Senator Brown voted with the billionaires, not with the secretaries,” said Warren, who also criticized Brown for signing conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s no-new-tax pledge.
Brown said there needs to be a “top-to-bottom review” of the federal tax code rather than a reliance on additional tax increases.
“I’m not going to be raising taxes on anyone in Massachusetts or anyone in the United States,” Brown said, who also warned that taking away oil subsidies could push up the cost of gas at the pump.
On women’s issues, Warren said she would be the stronger of the two.
Warren faulted Brown for supporting an amendment, which was defeated, that would have let employers or health insurers deny coverage for services they say violate their moral or religious beliefs, including birth control. She also criticized Brown for voting “against a pro-choice woman from Massachusetts to the U.S. Supreme Court” — a reference to Elena Kagan.
“I want to go to Washington to be there for all of our daughters and all of granddaughters,” Warren said.
Brown said he supported the amendment because “I am not going to be pitting Catholics against their faith,” and opposed Kagan because of her lack of judicial experience.
Brown also described himself as “pro-choice” and said he and Warren “both support Roe v. Wade.”
The candidates agreed on some foreign policy goals.
Both said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has to go given the thousands of individuals killed since the uprising began. “The citizens there are being slaughtered,” Brown said.
Both also agreed Iran has to be prevented from developing nuclear weapons. “It’s destabilizing to the world,” Warren said.
Brown at one point turned around one of Warren’s pet phrases, her assertion that the middle class was getting “hammered.”
“Professor Warren, I suggest you put down the hammer,” Brown said. “It’s your regulations and your policies ... that are going to be hurting middle class families and all classes of families in the United States.”
But the Republican also had some praise for Warren, commending her for helping create a consumer federal protection agency in Washington.
But when Brown then took credit for casting a decisive vote in favor of a financial reform bill, Warren quickly attacked him for supporting measures that would weaken the law and for accepting campaign donations from Wall Street interests.
The two also sparred on higher education.
Brown noted Warren’s nearly $350,000 annual salary as a Harvard Law School professor, which he said adds to the cost of education.
Warren replied that she went to public colleges — the University of Houston and Rutgers University — adding that the country needs to reinvest in higher education to help other students get ahead.
One notable topic that failed to surface was the controversy surrounding Warren’s claims of Native American heritage that led off the first two debates.
Brown said after the debate he didn’t raise the issue because, unlike the first two debates, he wasn’t asked about it.
Wednesday’s debate was their first and only one held in western Massachusetts and was carried live by local television and radio stations. The candidates appealed to voters in the region with frequent references to local communities, businesses and military bases.