TOPEKA — Congressmen Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran sparred over nuanced differences in policy Tuesday during a televised debate.
The wide-ranging debate touched on immigration, trade with Cuba, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, health care reform and federal stimulus spending. The two congressmen are considered front-runners in the race for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate.
Moran, of Hays, pressured Tiahrt on his changing stance on illegal immigration, pointing out that at one time Tiahrt supported the Dream Act, which included in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants and which Moran said would have provided amnesty.
Tiahrt, of Goddard, said he initially supported the Dream Act. "Some time ago," he said, "I thought it was compassionate to not punish the children for the parent's sins."
He said his view has changed over time. "We must say no to amnesty, we must do the things necessary to make sure people are only here on legal status," he said.
The solution is to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, he said.
Tiahrt in turn argued that he has a better record opposing tax increases than Moran.
"What we want for our kids is the opportunity for them to start a business or find a good-paying job," he said.
The solution is to reduce government regulation and taxes, Tiahrt said, adding that Moran cast a vote that prevented tax cuts implemented during President George W. Bush's administration from becoming permanent.
Moran retorted that he had voted more than 200 times to lower taxes and had opposed spending and deficit increases even when his own party was pushing for the programs.
"The direction we are going is a terrible mistake for today and for tomorrow," Moran said.
He said he never voted against the Bush tax cuts and that one of his first acts in Congress was to oppose the estate tax.
Both said they opposed the recently passed federal health care reform.
Tiahrt touted his work on legislation that would decrease the numbers of tests doctors order to fend off potential lawsuits and attack high health care costs by reforming medical malpractice. The changes proposed in his bill could reduce health care spending by 10 percent, he said.
He also said that federal health care reform should be repealed and replaced by the free-market system.
Moran said he immediately introduced legislation to repeal federal health care reform. The reform "sends a message to the American people that somebody else is reasonable for their well-being," he said.
He said he pushed for the new law to be repealed and replaced with something better.
Tiahrt framed the election as a decision about what kind of Republican Kansans would send to the U.S. Senate.
"It is important that we send someone who is a leader that can get things done," he said. "Someone who is not a compromiser like a John McCain... someone who is strong like Sarah Palin."
Moran positioned himself as the candidate who is more in touch with Kansas values and who has opposed spending increases even when it meant voting against his own party when Republicans borrowed and spent too much money.
"Our country is bankrupt. It means we can no longer afford to do things politics as usual," he said.
Tiahrt and Moran are the apparent front-runners in the race for the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback. Brownback is leaving his seat to run for Kansas governor. The other Republican candidates for Senate are Tom Little and Bob Londerholm, former state attorney general.
The Republican primary winner will face the Democratic winner of a five-way primary between Robert Conroy, David Haley, Lisa Johnston, Charles Schollenberger and Patrick Wiesner.
The hour-long debate was hosted live by KSNT in Topeka. It is scheduled to air at 10:35 p.m. Sunday on KSNW, Channel 3, in Wichita.
Moran and Tiahrt will debate again July 13 at an event hosted by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce at the Hyatt Regency Wichita. The event starts with lunch at 11:15 a.m., followed by the debate from noon to 1 p.m.
The event is open to the public. Cost is $40 for chamber members and $50 for nonmembers. The debate will be televised later that day, at 7 p.m. on Channel 22.
The only debate open to all Senate candidates will be from 6:30 to 7 p.m. July 12 from the studios of KWCH, Channel 12, in Wichita. Except for parts of southeastern Kansas, that debate will be shown live throughout the state on various CBS stations and Sunflower Broadband in Lawrence.