Saturday, October 23, 2004

Debate stresses differences in deficit, Iraq, Medicaid

By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (above) and his challenger, Ohio Sen. Eric Fingerhut (below), faced off in their second debate Friday.
Photos by ERNEST COLEMAN/The Enquirer


Republican U.S. Sen. George Voinovich and Democratic challenger Eric Fingerhut stood just a few feet from one another during a televised debate Friday at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center downtown, but their stance on critical issues facing the country and Ohio couldn't have been further apart.

The candidates went toe-to-toe for an hour in front of an audience of about 100 people. It was only their second public face-off.

In one exchange, Voinovich said that when he arrived in Washington he was looking for ways to balance the budget and control spending, while some of his colleagues "were spending money like drunken sailors."

Later on, Fingerhut took a shot at Voinovich for referring to himself as a "deficit hawk." Fingerhut said policies supported by Voinovich helped turn a budget surplus into a record deficit.

"If he's the biggest deficit hawk in the Senate, then we really are in trouble," Fingerhut said.

Fingerhut, 45, a former U.S. representative who is term-limited as an Ohio senator after this year, began the debate by criticizing his opponent for voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq without adequate troops or an exit strategy.

"We didn't build the adequate coalitions necessary to secure the country," Fingerhut said. "I will do whatever is necessary to defend our nation, but I'm not going to vote to send our troops to war without a strategy to bring them home."

WCPO coverage and video of debate
Voinovich, 68, a former governor of Ohio, defended his vote, saying President Bush "did the right thing." .

Bush "understood that Saddam Hussein was a threat to that part of the world," Voinovich said.

Fingerhut was also highly critical of Voinovich's support of the Medicare-reform bill designed to provide better prescription-drug coverage. He said the half-trillion-dollar program was "deeply flawed" and was driving up the cost of prescription drugs for everyone, particularly senior citizens.

Fingerhut said he would lift the prescription-drug import bans from Canada - a measure he said his opponent has voted against twice. He also said he would scrap the current Medicare plan.

"The Senate has made (health-care problems) worse," Fingerhut said. "I want to replace it with a plan much cheaper and better for seniors."

Voinovich said his plan would give an additional 650,000 Ohioans good prescription drug coverage, while his opponent wants to repeal the prescription drug benefit. Voinovich criticized Fingerhut for wanting to turn Medicare into a government-controlled program.


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