Last Monday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and her Republican challenger Susan Hutchison met for their first debate leading up to the November midterm election. The event yielded a window into federal policy elements that figure prominently for each candidate and will likely affect Washington State.
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Hutchison, the former Republican Party of Washington chairwoman, largely toed the party line, supporting Trump agenda items. She was supportive of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the renegotiated NAFTA treaty, and trade tariffs that she spoke of Trump instituting “to help fix the trade disparities.”
Yet she walked a fine line in pledging support for the President himself explaining,
“I’ve been watching President Trump, and all I know is you have to judge him by the results.”
Cantwell challenged Trump’s tariffs emphasizing that they will cost Washington’s agricultural industry key access to Asian and other markets and consequently, profits.
Speaking about gun control, Cantwell supported raising the legal age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles to 21 from 18 and backed universal background checks, proposals in line with Proposition 1639 that Washingtonians will vote on in November. She also stated she supports passing federal law that prohibits people who’ve been committed for mental-health treatment or found not guilty by reason of insanity for certain crimes from possessing a firearm.
Hutchison largely disagreed calling the current gun-control debate “rhetoric” and pointing to the mental health treatment system as the real issue.
On the issue of health care, the debate began with the question, “What is the solution for a health care system that can financially cripple someone when they are sick?”
Hutchison began by stating that the two most important things in health care were access and cost. And then followed up by stating that,
“The only way to lower the cost of medical care is the free market system.”
She explained that she thinks what the Democrats are offering with “health care for all” or “Medicare for all” is really socialized medicine, which she compared to the VA system and criticized.
Cantwell, on the other hand, pointed to the ACA as opening access those to over 650,000 people in Washington State.
“Because of it [the ACA] we have reduced by half the number of medical bankruptcies and we have drastically cut the number of people who don’t have insurance. I have heard all over the state how happy people are.”
Cantwell proclaimed that health care “is a universal issue and a basic right,” and continued to denounce the short-term, stripped down health insurance plans or “junk insurance” advocated by the Trump administration. She offered Washington State’s former Basic Health Plan as a model for affordable, comprehensive insurance nationwide that would allow individual market purchasers to band together to use market influence to negotiate for lower costs.
Hutchison countered by contending that though Obamacare has resulted in higher coverage rates that when it comes to the uninsured,
“They all went to Medicaid, but somebody has to pay for that and in this state we are going to have to pay a mighty high price in the years to come because there just wasn’t enough to cover those Medicaid patients.”
She continued to advocate again for a free market approach, “where competition lowers the prices and provides the coverage so that no one goes without.”
In response, Cantwell suggested that the market alone could not fix the problems of access and cost.
“When you don’t provide solutions for the marketplace, what happens is that uncompensated care runs up the cost for all of us and makes our own insurance rates more expensive.”
But Hutchison disagreed stating,
“Obamacare was meant to fail so that we could move to socialized medicine and the Republicans are standing firm for the free market.”
Later in the debate, the two also sparred about protections for pre-existing medical conditions in the ACA with Cantwell emphasizing that she would fight to protect the provisions and Hutchinson indicating that they were never in jeopardy.
Despite Hutchinson’s name recognition and a healthy funding, the incumbent, Cantwell, is favored to win in November. Early polling in May, before the August primaries winnowed the field, showed Cantwell with a 16-point lead over Hutchison. The two candidates will meet for a second debate on Oct. 20th, at Spokane Community College.