By Calvin Pynn, contributor
Economic recovery from the pandemic was a major theme of Monday afternoon’s debate between Rep. Ben Cline (R) and Democratic challenger Nicholas Betts, running to represent Virginia’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Cline, elected to Congress in 2018 after 16 years as state legislator, is seeking a second term in the House. He highlighted his contributions to Congressional relief measures like the CARES Act, which delivered $1,200 stimulus payments to most adults. Because his office has worked with constituents whose payments were delayed because they didn’t file their taxes electronically, Cline said he plans to focus on expanding access to broadband.
“We recognize that it is an issue, and most notably for online medical assistance and tele-health initiatives, because most people can’t make it into their doctor’s offices,” Cline said.
Betts, a Roanoke law clerk who lives in Lexington and is running for public office for the first time, said the federal government’s response to date has been insufficient. He proposed a program that would help people apply for grants to cover back rent or mortgages. By helping businesses and people whose economic prospects have languished since the 2008 recession, he said, his plan would strengthen the entire economy.
“A capitalistic system like what we have needs a healthy consumer,” Betts said. “If we don’t have healthy consumption and get it back on track, then we will have further financial problems.”
The virtual debate, hosted by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club of Harrisonburg, was attended by more than 50 constituents. Harrisonburg attorney and Rotary Club President Quinton Callahan moderated.
The debate consisted of prepared questions from the chamber and Rotary club, as well as some from the audience. Cline and Betts were also asked what their first priorities would be if elected. Cline said he would continue working in Congress to facilitate economic recovery and allocate funding to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, while also pursuing liability reform for small businesses.
“We need to look beyond recovery and toward the next step,” Cline said.
Betts’ first priority would be eliminating student loan interest.
“That would encourage economic growth and generate jobs,” he said.
While the two candidates agreed in not supporting new tax increases at this time, they expressed different ideas about government spending. Betts supports federal spending to support an economy being dragged down by the pandemic.
“We need to keep an eye on spending, but this is a crisis, and the role of the federal government is to come in, help out, and over time things can shift back more to the private sector,” he said.
Cline, however, takes a more frugal approach.
“When the other side talks about investments and purchasing power, they’re talking about deficit spending,” Cline said. “We need to remember those four words: ‘we can’t afford it.’”
Climate change a point of divergent ideas
Clear differences between the two also emerged on the topic of climate change. While Cline acknowledged the threat it poses, and the importance of investment in clean energy, he advocated for an “all of the above” approach to energy production rather than eliminating fossil fuels.
“The climate is changing and it’s something that we can all see,” Cline said, “But we need to treat energy fairly and let the markets work so we don’t boost up one type of energy over another.”
Betts said now is the time to abandon fossil fuels, and called for additional tax incentives to support wind and solar energy development.
“It may take some time, but if we don’t take some time to move away [from fossil fuels], we’ll be left behind and hurt in the future,” Betts said. “If we develop these technologies, we will be leading the world’s economy.”
Cline and Betts expressed similar views on the problem of polarization in Washington, saying that finding common ground on an individual level with colleagues from the other party would be the best way to form bipartisan solutions. Both candidates also agreed on the need police reform and greater accountability for officer misconduct, following the nationwide protests of police brutality that have occurred throughout the country all summer.
The candidates will debate again on Oct. 5, in another virtual event hosted by the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.
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