NORTH CONWAY – For the first time in this heated campaign, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Scott Brown met face-to-face today, but rather than the expected fireworks, the two focused on issues ranging from the economy and federal deficit to foreign policy, the role of the federal government and health care.
It was the first of four debates between the two. Today’s event was sponsored by the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council and was held at the North Conway Grand Hotel.
While Shaheen accused Brown of not understanding New Hampshire and of being a follower of big oil companies, Brown repeatedly accused Shaheen of backing President Barack Obama 99 percent of the time. Both were familiar themes.
Brown said that Shaheen’s votes in favor of Obama policies has resulted in higher costs for energy, higher taxes “and a health care system that is not functioning properly.”
“Last week, the President said this election is about him and I agree,” he said. He said that while she has been a “rubber stamp” for Obama, he has been an “independent voice.”
Shaheen, however, shot back, “When he represented Massachusetts in the United States Senate, he supported big corporations, he support those tax loopholes, he was not there for our small businesses.”
Asked about the nation federal budget’s $650 billion deficit, Shaheen said progress has been made in reducing the deficit to about “half of what it was when I took office.”
She said she has worked with Democrats and Republicans to try to reduce the deficit and suggested one way to cut the deficit is to eliminate the subsidies to oil companies and close loopholes.
Brown said that to cut those subsidies would result in higher energy costs for consumers.
While Shaheen called for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, Brown said he opposed any tax hikes and said cutting the deficit can be accomplished through efficiencies. He said he supports a Balanced Budget Amendment.
On foreign policy, Brown said, “We need to restore America. The President has a confusing and incoherent foreign policy.” He noted that former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the Obama foreign policy is marked by “fits and starts.”
Shaheen said the United States “has an important role to lead the world…with military might, moral authority, through the United Nations, and sometimes with economic assistance.”
She said the President should seek congressional authority for the use of military force but said she regretted that partisanship has been injected into foreign policy.
“It used to be that partisanship ended at the water’s edge,” Shaheen said. “We haven’t seen enough of that in recent years.”
Without specifically accusing Brown, she said there should be no “fear-mongering” or “grandstanding.”
“I want the President to succeed,” said Brown. “But when he talks about drawing a red line in the sand and nothing happens, that emboldens our enemies.”
Brown blamed Obama and Shaheen for the current rise of Islamic terrorism. He noted that Shaheen did not sign a letter that he and other senators signed urging Obama to keep a residual force in Iraq.
Shaheen said that the letter was signed only by Republicans.
Both candidates supported the current airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and both supported stripping the citizenship from Americans fighting alongside ISIS.
Brown said climate change is the result of a combination of man-made and natural causes, and he accused Shaheen of supporting legislation that would “pave the way” to a national energy tax.
Shaheen said climate chance is “real” and “we need to take action now. We need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
“This is a clear difference,” Shaheen said. “Scott Brown has opted to support big oil companies,” and, she said, received contributions from oil companies totaling $500,000.
Shaheen touted her support for energy efficiency measures, while Brown supported an “all of the above” approach and criticized Shaheen for opposing the Keystone Pipeline.
Both candidates said the Northern Pass project should be buried if that is the consensus of the Granite Staters in the northern part of the state.
Brown criticized Shaheen for signing a letter to the IRS seeking an investigation of tax breaks for social service organizations, saying that she is in favor of having the IRS target conservative groups.
“I was one of the first senators to call for an audit of the IRS,” Shaheen responded. “But we have a different view. I don’t believe social service organizations should be allowed to get write-offs if they are campaigning and I don’t care if that is on the left or right.”
Brown accused Shaheen of trying to distort his record on women’s issues after she incorrectly accused him of voting to block funds for Planned Parenthood.
“We’re both pro-choice and I believe women should have access to health care,” he said.
But defending his support for the Hobby Lobby U.S. Supreme Court decision and the Blunt Amendment, Brown said corporations “should have religious freedom.”
Noting his difficult upbringing, Brown said, “When it comes to fighting for women’s rights, senator, with all respect, I’ve been doing it since I was five years old.”
But Shaheen,cautioned, “You have to listen not just to what Scott Brown has to say about this issue with respect to pro-choice, you have to look at what he’s done. This effort was not about religious freedom. It was about denying access to contraceptive coverage for women.”
Brown said he would vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then “work with the states” to hammer out individual replacement programs. Shaheen said such an approach would “throw tens of thousands of people off of their health care” and would restore discrimination and other issues that she said the ACA has addressed.
On immigration, Shaheen stressed that she supported the same comprehensive immigration law that was backed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte and senators of both parties. Brown called the billl “too lenient.”
Shaheen criticized Brown for missing hearings on border security while a senator. Both agreed that it is difficult for senators to have a 100 percent attendance record, but said “when you make one of the hallmarks of your campaign border security and you miss every single issue, that’s an issue.”
Moderator George Epstein, chairman of the Echo Group, a health care software firm, added a few lighter questions to the issues-oriented event.
Shaheen said she preferred large dogs; Brown said he has no preference and likes all dogs. Shaheen’s favorite movie is “Casablanca,” while Brown’s is “Braveheart” and “The Patriot.” Neither like naps, they said.
Brown campaign manager Colin Reed said:
“Today, Granite Staters heard two very different visions for how to move our state and country forward, and the choice could not be any clearer. Over the last six years, Senator Shaheen has broken her promise to Granite Staters by voting with President Obama 99 percent of the time, including casting the tie-breaking vote for Obamacare and serving as a silent shadow for his incoherent foreign policy. This November, a vote for Jeanne Shaheen is a vote for a continuation of President Obama’s agenda, because as he said last week‘every single one’ of his polices are on the ballot this election. Scott Brown represents a change for the better – an independent voice who will always put New Hampshire first.”
A Shaheen spokesman said:
“Today’s debate made clear that Jeanne Shaheen will always stand up for our small businesses and middle class families and put New Hampshire first. Meanwhile, Scott Brown doubled down on his record of supporting special breaks for Big Oil, Wall Street and companies that outsource jobs, all while opposing common sense legislation that has benefited New Hampshire’s tourism industry and small businesses. This debate further proved that he is not for New Hampshire, never was, and never will be.”