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Smith and Muri debate the issues in showdown over Congress seat
In the race for District 9's U.S. House of Representative seat, Federal Way voters have a choice between two contrasting candidates in the November election.
Pierce County Councilman Dick Muri, a Republican, hopes to unseat incumbent Adam Smith, a Democrat who was elected to the office in 1997.
On Oct. 13, more than 220 people packed Federal Way High School's Little Theatre to question the candidates on issues including the economy, military and health care. During the debate, Muri worked to present himself as a fiscal conservative. Smith worked to present himself as a practical lawmaker.
Economy and taxes
Muri said he would stop all earmarks, which are legislative provisions that send funding to specific projects. "Everyone wants to be a hero and bring home the bacon," Muri said. "We can't afford it."
Smith countered, saying earmarks benefit the district he serves: "I'm going to advocate for my district, not turn it over to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C."
One topic that surfaced was the "Bush tax cuts" enacted by former President George W. Bush. The controversial tax cuts, which expire after 2010, are aimed at the nation's wealthiest taxpayers. Muri supports the tax cuts at all levels. He said taxes take away incentive to invest and produce, and keep banks from lending money.
Smith said he supports extending most of the tax cuts, along with simplifying the tax code to reduce deductions and write-offs.
Muri said he supports a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would cut $1.3 trillion. Smith said a sudden cut of $1.3 trillion would devastate the nation's economy at the expense of key programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and education.
Smith opposes more deficit spending, but acknowledged that government stimulus creates jobs and helps the economy in the short term. Muri called the federal stimulus bills "a mistake."
As for making cuts, Muri said the military and veterans are off the table. He supports cuts to Community Development Block Grants and the Department of Education, and would "stop bailing out cities, towns and corporations."
Smith cited that defense and veterans make up 33 percent of the federal budget. "I'm not going to stand here and pretend I can cut $1.3 trillion out of the budget," he said.
Both candidates expressed different views on job creation. Muri called for reduced regulations, along with increased "certainty," for businesses in order to stimulate job growth. Smith said training and education for all ages is key to giving workers the skills to compete in the global economy. Smith advocates training for laid-off workers and veterans.
Smith supported a Wall Street reform bill that puts restrictions on "how much you can bet if you're a financial institution," saying it was critical to protecting the nation's economy. Smith also noted a record level of privately held debt that contributed to the recession. Muri said he would make sure Wall Street bankers don't "play games with people's money" and that "nobody is too big to fail."
Locally, Smith cited his work to find funding for the I-5 Triangle project as his proudest accomplishment to benefit the Federal Way region. Other local projects include securing soundproofing retrofits for the Highline School District to deal with runway noise from SeaTac airport. He also participated in efforts to reduce the Howard Hanson Dam's chances of flooding the valley.
Muri did not cite any accomplishments that benefited the Federal Way area, but said he has participated in votes that saved money and built up "rainy day" money while on the Pierce County Council. "We've learned to say no," he said.
Discussions on the national health care bill revolved around Muri's opposition to it and Smith's support for revising it.
Smith said the national health care bill must be fixed. He recalled a three-month period — which is longer than lawmakers work on any bill — to study and vote on health care reform.
"The key issue is cost control," Smith said. "Long before health care reform was passed, our health care system was busted."
Muri is opposed to the health care bill, saying that mandates lead to higher and unnecessary costs. He supports repealing and replacing the health care bill, which he called "Obamacare," and said the whole process was poorly done.
"You should be able to pick what you need and what you want," Muri said. "We need competition within the state and outside the state."
Military and defense take up a significant portion of the federal budget. Both candidates advocate for veteran benefits and education.
The candidates differed in their views on the military's relationship with the private sector. Smith pointed to successes in connecting private businesses with the military and creating synergy with Joint Base Lewis-McChord in South Pierce County. These partnerships create potential for jobs, such as life sciences technology that was first tested at Madigan hospital, Smith said.
Muri said that anything not related to a combat readiness mission should be done by the private sector in order to make the military more efficient. "The private sector does a lot of things better than the military," he said, noting that private businesses can hire and fire more easily than the government. He also opposes any push by the current administration to turn private sector jobs into government jobs.
On the subject of the controversial ruling to end the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy, Muri said "don't ask don't tell" is working and that he would not repeal the policy. "It's a shame we have to have a judge say it's unconstitutional," Muri said, adding that the goal should be to keep sex and sexuality out of the workplace.
Smith said the policy is not working and keeps thousands of men and women out of the military. He supports repealing the policy. "It is way past time to fix it and make our military stronger by keeping the people who want to serve in it," he said.
Both candidates recognized the nation's security interest in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and also lauded programs that help U.S. troops transition successfully into civilian life upon returning home. Both agree that long-term presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is not good for the nation in financial and moral terms.
In the August primary, Smith received 55.9 percent of the vote in King County, while Muri received 22.4 percent out of four candidates. According to an Oct. 14 report in the Tacoma News Tribune, Smith had reported $602,568 in contributions as of July, while Muri had raised $167,991 at the end of last month.