Due to coronavirus, rather than holding traditional debates, Idaho Public Television is recording and airing interviews with all of the candidates for federal office this year, and on Monday aired its interviews with U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and his Democratic opponent Aaron Swisher. The candidates are all asked the same questions and the interviews are edited together to present their answers after each other, but the format of separately recorded interviews does not allow for the back-and-forth between candidates that a debate normally would
Swisher argued that, given that Democrats are almost sure to keep the House and could win the Senate and presidency, it would make sense for the state to have one Democratic seat at the table. He closed the hourlong segment with a pitch to Republicans who are unhappy with their party or with President Donald Trump, comparing the year to 1980, when many lifelong Democrats unhappy with the country’s direction crossed party lines to vote for Ronald Reagan and other Republicans.
“Those Reagan Democrats knew that our country was more important than any political party,” he said. “We’re in a different situation now, but our nation is still in trouble. We have a president who is authoritarian, who is dividing our citizenry for his own benefit.”
Simpson touted his record on helping to fund Idaho National Laboratory and on public lands-related issues, such as creating the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness and securing the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act this year, which guarantees funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund of $900 million a year and increases funding for maintenance of federal lands.
“While I’ve been in Congress for a while, it is true that I have not solved every problem the federal government has,” Simpson said. “That doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on those. But I do have some solid accomplishments that I’m very proud of.”
Swisher said he favors expanding on the Affordable Care Act, not repealing it, and criticized Simpson and Republicans in general for trying to get rid of it, pointing to a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law backed by 18 Republican-led states that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on in November. Swisher said 61% of Idaho voters approved Medicaid expansion in 2018, which has extended health care coverage to about 90,000 people, and that Simpson has taxpayer-funded health care as a member of Congress.
“He is trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and take health care away from 90,000 Idahoans who are also getting health care paid for by the taxpayers,” Swisher said.
Simpson criticized the ACA, saying he expects it to “collapse of its own weight” due to rising prices and a lack of competition in the markets. However, he said he supports keeping many aspects of it, such as its ban on denying people coverage based on pre-existing conditions or discriminating based on sex and allowing young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26.
“There are parts of the Affordable Care Act that Republicans support, and if it is a repeal and replace with something else, that’ll all be part of it,” he said.
Simpson also said he supported Medicaid expansion in Idaho and favors keeping the federal match that pays for 90% of expansion’s costs.
“You can’t take away a benefit that you’ve given,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to do. Whether it’s the right thing to do or not, you probably can’t do it.”
The two also differed on trade policy. Swisher said he supports tariffs as a way of equalizing trade between the U.S. and countries with lower wages and less stringent worker protection or environmental laws, and said he agrees with Trump that many previous trade deals were bad for American workers, although he was harshly critical of the way Trump has handled the issue.
“He seems to have started more trade wars than working with other countries to come up with better trade agreements for the United States and for United States workers,” Swisher said.
Simpson said he is more inclined to support free trade, viewing tariffs as a cost that gets passed on to consumers.
“I’ve never been a fan of tariffs,” Simpson said. “I realize occasionally they’re necessary.”
Both candidates expressed support for efforts to help Idaho’s endangered salmon and steelhead populations recover. Both said they wouldn’t rule out removing dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers, although both also said this would cause other problems for electricity generation and for the farmers who use the rivers to transport agricultural products that would need to be addressed.
“We shouldn’t just condemn one side,” Simpson said. “Both sides need to take responsibility for those actions, and we need to condemn those actions on both sides.”
Simpson and Swisher also met in a debate Wednesday hosted by and broadcast on Boise TV station KTVB. This looks like it will be the only actual debate for a competitive federal office in Idaho of this election cycle. KTVB also tried to organize debates between First District U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, and his Democratic challenger Rudy Soto, and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and his Democratic challenger Paulette Jordan, but Fulcher and Risch turned them down.
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