Republican congressional challenger Abel Maldonado said Tuesday that Congress needs to repeal the Affordable Care Act and start over. He said the act was passed by one party, Democrats, whose members did not read the 2,700-page bill.
Maldonados opponent, incumbent Democrat Lois Capps, a former nurse who has long championed the act, said she had not only read the bill, but helped write it.
It is already helping tens of thousands of people on the Central Coast, she said, as well as some small businesses.
Capps conceded the act is not all that she had hoped it would be, but added, Lets take whats good in it and strengthen that. She said the bill contains bipartisan components.
Maldonado said he could accept some portions of the act, including the section that allows young men and women to be carried on their parents policies.
But, he reiterated, the legislation is too sweeping, and the government is not set up to do such big things in the few weeks he said they spent on it.
The exchange came during a midday San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce forum at Grace Church. Moderator John Reger of KSBY asked questions that included how to deal with bipartisanship and the candidates views on womens rights.
The candidates were facing off for the first time in their race to represent the 24th District, which includes Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties and a slice of Ventura County. Capps has been in the House of Representatives since 1997.
Both candidates said improving the economy and adding jobs are their top priorities. Capps said the nation has been slowly climbing out of a very deep hole. Each candidate blamed the policies of the other party for the depth and length of that cavity.
Bipartisanship emerged as a key theme, with Maldonado repeatedly declaring that Washington is broken because members of the two parties wont work together. They fight over everything, he said.
Capps agreed, noting that she always tries to find a Republican to co-sponsor legislation. That has become more difficult in recent years, she said, although she did get a rural New York legislator to co-sponsor a bill on organic farming this session.
Maldonado did not lay out a plan to bring the hostile parties together, but he declared he would cross party lines if necessary and would have voted against the highly controversial Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., because it would have damaged Medicare.
That, said Capps, smiling, would have been a sight to see, because every other Republican in the House hewed to the party line on Ryans plan.
GOP leaders have a well-documented history of running candidates in the next election against those in their own party who cross them.
Ryan has been picked by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney as his running mate, and the so-called Ryan budget is already being widely discussed.
Capps zeroed in on the Ryan budget, which she said she finds appalling because it ends Medicare as we know it, among other things. She said she will continue to work to stop the privatization of Medicare and Social Security.
Maldonado said he would not be going back there to touch Medicare and touch Social Security. On other issues:
Women: Asked about unequal treatment of women in America, Maldonado said, This is not about women, this is not about men; were all in this together. He said fixing the economy would create more jobs for all.
Capps said women still dont earn as much as men for the same work and accused the government of wasting time by engaging in old debates and going after Planned Parenthood, birth control and other womens rights.
Energy: Both supported new forms of energy such as wind and solar power, and opposed offshore oil drilling. Maldonado, however, said he is interested in new extraction technologies, such as fracking.
Fracking liberates natural gas from subterranean shale formations. It involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground, fracturing the rock below and inducing tiny earthquakes, unfelt but detectable directly above.
Extending tax cuts: Capps favors extending tax cuts for middle-class families, but not those earning above $250,000. Maldonado favors extending them for everyone, for perhaps as long as four years.