Senate candidates respond to national debt, shutdown


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In light of a partial government shutdown, fiscal responsibility was the highest concern shared among the five Republican U.S. Senate candidates on Oct. 12 during the Johnson County annual barbecue.

All five Republican candidates for the Senate participated in a forum, and roughly 120 community members also attended.

“We’re very excited because we’re the first eastern Iowa forum of all five of the Senate candidates,” host Karen Fesler said.

A speech from Johnson County Republicans Chairwoman Deb Thornton kicked off a number of addresses by emphasizing the need to downsize government, replace the Affordable Care Act, and implement further spending cuts.

“The important thing to know is that the government now consumes 20 percent of our American gross domestic product,” said Thornton, who announced at the event she will step down from her position. “If nothing is done … 40 percent of our money will go to Washington D.C.”

Now 14 days into the government shutdown, various government institutions and national departments have closed, with a negative impact in a still fragile national economy.

Currently, 350,000 federal workers are sitting idle, and hundreds of thousands are working without pay, and a number of government services, from environmental inspections to home-loan applications, are shut down.

Once Congress fails to raise the debt limit, which currently stands at approximately $16.7 trillion, the government will not only have to cease borrowing funds but will also be unable to pay employees in the short-term.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, said with the shutdown crisis and no response from the Democrats, it is impossible for budgets to be passed.

“[Obamacare] is raising our taxes, and it is driving premium costs up for average Iowans,” Ernst said. “In order to start reducing our debt, we also have to have cuts, and Democrats are not willing to talk about that.”

Across the political table, Democrats, however, say they don’t negotiate for a reason.

“I think Republicans realize they have made a mistake and took the economy and government hostage,” said Mike Carberry, the chairman of Johnson County Democrats. “Democrats are doing what we practice in America, which is we don’t negotiate with hostage takers.”

For David Young, chief of staff to Sen. Chuck Grassley, the debt affected by the Affordable Care Act is unsustainable.

“It’s crazy that we’re talking once again about lifting the debt ceiling,” he said, noting that he doesn’t believe a shutdown should have played out. “We’ve done it 53 times since 1978, and here we go again.”

But one Ames businessman and U.S. Senate candidate sees the shutdown as a possible solution to finding ways of climbing out of the country’s financial turmoil.

“I’m OK with [the government shutdown],” Scott Schaben said. “Hopefully, it draws attention to our current fiscal status … Eventually, things are going to have to come [to a] head, and we’re going to have to start changing directions and start getting out of debt.”

Matt Whitaker supports a very short-term shutdown to negotiate Obamacare; however, he said, bipartisan agreements need to be reached.

“It’s not like we didn’t know Oct. 1 was coming,” Whitaker said. “They had nine months to negotiate a new budget, a new continuing resolution.”

As a small-business owner, Whitaker said, he could directly see jobless rates influenced by the Obamacare.

However, Carberry said Obamacare has had no effect on jobs.

“[Current job losses] have nothing to do with Obamacare, and [Republicans] are blaming it a year and three months before the employer mandates goes into effect,” Carberry said.

In addition to other Republican candidates, Sam Clovis, a tenured professor at Morningside College, said the interest taken care of only inside Washington, D.C., is accountable for the shutdown.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know if that’s pragmatic right now,” he said. “Because we have a budget, and it already has a $700 billion deficit built into it … we’re going to continue to grow that debt forever. As far as I can see is $700 billion a year now.”

UI political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle said he doesn’t foresee cuts to the federal deficit anytime soon.

“[Bringing down government spending] is going to be difficult, simply because we’ve been spending more than we take in for so long that people are kind of used to it,” he said. “But certainly, over time, they would want to see a balanced budget sometime in the future.”

DI reporter Brent Griffiths contributed to this article.

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