6th district candidates spar on economy, more at Turner Ashby High School
By Jeb Inge
BRIDGEWATER -- Monday's debate between the candidates for Virginia's 6th Congressional District didn't bristle with the dismissive body language or allusions to Big Bird featured in the presidential and vice presidential showdowns, but it was no less indicative of the disparity between candidates facing voters on Nov. 6.
In their second of three debates - held at Turner Ashby High School's auditorium - Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke) and his challenger, Democrat Andy Schmookler, faced questions on economics, health care and transportation from students of Rockingham County high schools.
Goodlatte, currently in his 11th term, largely spoke in themes of restricted government and an increased reliance on personal responsibility.
To Goodlatte, economic growth and government spending are the two biggest issues facing the nation.
"We can create millions of jobs if we would have government policy that encourages investment in our economy and ... a domestic energy policy that would incentivize the production of more of all sources of energy domestically," Goodlatte said in his opening statement.
Goodlatte credited the federal government's "over-regulation" of the manufacturing and financial sectors with the hampering of economic growth under the Obama administration.
Without that regulation, businesses will have increased fiscal breathing room and will infuse jobs and capital back into the economy.
"There needs to be employment not just for young people, but for all people in this country, and in far greater numbers," he said.
Schmookler, a self-proclaimed "seeker of the truth," credits his perceived lack of honesty in Washington with bringing him into politics for the first time. He attributes that lack of honesty and "truth telling" to Goodlatte and the Republican Party.
"It is as a truth-teller and not a partisan that I say, never in our country's history has a political party been so dishonest with the American people," he said.
Schmookler went on to liken Goodlatte's themes of limited government to scare tactics broadly used across the Republican Party to garner support for GOP resistance to "big government." He then went on to purport that Goodlatte supports a type of "big government" that "tramples on the liberties that the founding fathers gave us."
The candidates fielded questions from students on a number of topics:
On the cost of higher education
Goodlatte, in the vein of his earlier message on limited government, said that college costs are primarily the responsibility of private institutions in the case of private schools and state governments with public universities and community colleges. He also urged that the federal government refrain from setting price controls or placing restrictions on public and private institutions.
Schmookler attacked Goodlatte, claiming he voted against measures for the continued stabilization of student loan interest rates, which Goodlatte claimed he supported.
Schmookler then deemed education a "right" and advocated an increase in Pell grants and student loans.
On Social Security
Schmookler cited income disparity as a catalyst for Social Security's revenue generation or lack thereof. But he advocated only minor tweeks rather than full privatization, which he said would then turn the program into a "Wall Street casino."
Goodlatte said he believes that by borrowing from Social Security, the government adds debt to future generations, and instead advocates making the program actuarily sound, citing the importance of people paying into the system who will later take out.
On defense spending
Schmookler, who previously worked for the U.S. Army and as an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., lambasted the current level of defense spending. He urged a reduction of spending in favor of other sectors.
"Can you imagine any reason why a country with our values should be spending as much as the rest of the world put together?" he asked.
Goodlatte advocated striking a balance between spending and fiscal responsibility, but also urged that cuts should not be high and done only when full budgetary reviews were completed.
The debate, held at 10:30 a.m. and the closest to the northern Shenandoah Valley, was attended by an audience nearly two-thirds high school students.
When asked about problems facing transportation in the Shenandoah Valley, Goodlatte cited a limitation on resources, brought on by trillion-dollar deficits. He went on to highlight his efforts on starting expansion and widening projects on Interstate 81. He also highlighted efforts to improve railroad infrastructure, such as the Heartland Corridor project, which would then take heavy truck traffic off of Interstate 81 and onto rail.
Schmookler sees transportation projects as a method to increase jobs, but blamed Republicans for blocking Obama administration efforts to increase such projects.
Schmookler and Goodlatte will meet for a third and final debate on Tuesday at Liberty University in Lynchburg.
Contact Region Editor Jeb Inge at 540-465-5137 ext. 186, or firstname.lastname@example.org