CONCORD, N.H. — Their families are old friends, but in the race for New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, politics comes first for Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Bass and Democratic rival Ann McLane Kuster.
The two sparred Wednesday night in an hour-long debate on WBIN-TV in a debate sponsored by AARP-New Hampshire over their differences on Medicare and taxes. Both said they didn’t like the tone of each other’s ads — which they called misleading.
But that did not stop Bass from calling Kuster a liberal who will raise taxes — a familiar Republican campaign strategy. Nor did it stop Kuster from repeatedly tying Bass to votes she said show he backs extreme Tea Party positions.
Bass and Kuster are locked in a rematch that the latest polls say is as close as two years ago, when Bass beat Kuster by about 3,500 votes to reclaim a seat he had held for six terms until losing in 2006.
They said that they would do just the opposite of each other on Medicare.
Kuster criticized Bass for voting for a budget that would end Medicare guarantees. Bass insisted he supports preserving Medicare, but he said changes must be made to prevent it from going bankrupt in 10 years.
Bass said it’s regrettable that President Barack Obama’s health care reform law cuts $700 billion from Medicare. Kuster fired back that Bass voted for budgets crafted by GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan that cut a similar amount from the program.
“We need to make sure Medicare is there for all seniors,” she said.
Ryan, a conservative Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee, calls his Medicare plan “premium support.” Future retirees would get a fixed amount to use for health insurance. Democrats call it a voucher plan.
Bass said the plan provides for options similar to the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.
In their latest television ads, Bass paints Kuster as a liberal tax supporter dancing across the screen from tax to tax while she says he is a Washington insider out for himself.
Both decried the negative, misleading tone of the ads. Bass said he is running despite the ads because he opposes higher taxes and spending.
“I am offended by the ads, but it is only because I dance much better than that,” Kuster said in a light-hearted reference to the Bass ad, calling her a liberal who loves taxes. But Kuster also took issue with the ad for saying she backs an income tax for New Hampshire. The state does not have a personal income tax and supporting one has derailed many political campaigns.
“I do not support an income tax for the state of New Hampshire period. He has that wrong,” said Kuster.
But Kuster sidestepped a question about whether she would vote for a constitutional amendment banning the tax. Bass said he supports the amendment.
Kuster opposes giving tax breaks to the wealthy; Bass argues raising taxes in a recession is a bad idea. The two agreed that the private sector, not government, creates jobs, but they disagree about government’s role.
Bass, 60, of Peterborough, argues the federal government has too many regulations, while Kuster, 56, of Hopkinton, says tax credits and other programs can help businesses grow.
The two agreed on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as quickly as feasible.
“We can’t implement a Western-style democracy in this country that has been troubled for hundreds of years,” said Bass.
Kuster said America could help build schools in the country.
“It doesn’t always have to be military help,” she said.