If it were not for a vote by Jerry Moran in 2003, Todd Tiahrt suggested Tuesday, tax cuts pushed by former President George W. Bush might now be permanent.
Tiahrt said his congressional colleague put the GOP in a "weaker position."
Moran called the claim a "bogus idea." He said his vote against a budget resolution was an attempt to reduce spending.
Although both are conservative, the two House members are striving to show voters they are different as they campaign against each other for an open U.S. Senate seat.
Their latest attempt came Tuesday during a debate sponsored by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce at the Hyatt Regency Wichita. About 225 people attended the debate, the third in the last eight days and the final one between the two before the Aug. 3 primary.
Immigration continued to be a hot topic. Both candidates accused the other of having supported amnesty for illegal immigrants.
During the debate, Tiahrt announced that former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, a strong supporter of cracking down on illegal immigrants, had switched his endorsement from Moran to him.
But talk about the Bush tax cuts were at the forefront of the day's issues.
All of the Bush tax cuts will expire Dec. 31 if Congress fails to act. Both Democrats and Republicans want to keep the 2001 and 2003 tax reductions for families earning up to $250,000; President Obama and Congressional Democrats want to end the break for those who earn more.
"Had (Moran) stood with us on the first round of Bush tax cuts," Tiahrt argued, "we would have had a stronger position to negotiate with the Senate. We could have had (the cuts) permanent."
After the debate, Moran said, "When he says I voted against Bush tax cuts and it's my fault they are expiring, it's a false statement.
"They set an expiration date because of the way the Senate operates. It has nothing to do with my vote. It's bogus."
He said he supported the Bush tax cuts every time there was a vote specifically on them in Congress.
But Moran was one of 12 Republicans to vote against the budget resolution in March 2003 that included a permanent $726 billion tax cut. The bill passed, 215-212.
"A budget resolution is the broad outline of revenue and spending," he said. "I voted against that one because I felt we were spending too much money."
When the topic came up during the debate, Moran said, "My message to my Republican leaders was, 'Yes, cut taxes, but get in line with spending.' "
He said the budget proposed in the resolution in 2003 had an estimated deficit of $490 billion.
Following the debate, Tiahrt said, "He comes back and says, 'Oh, I voted for the Bush tax cuts.' Well they are half of what they were, and they are temporary."
Tom Little, a Mound City accountant and the third GOP candidate, was not invited to participate in Tuesday's event.
Before the debate, former Kansas Attorney General Robert Londerholm announced he was dropping out of the race. The Overland Park attorney said he achieved his goal of making the other Republican candidates aware of the threat posed by the growing federal debt.
Moran said after the debate that he didn't know anything about Tancredo changing endorsements.
Although both candidates have said they oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants, Tancredo said in a letter that Moran had misled him on both Moran's record and Tiahrt's.
Moran contends Tiahrt once supported amnesty based on Tiahrt's past backing of bills designed to give some young illegal immigrants a break on college tuition — a position Tiahrt has repudiated. Tiahrt has countered that Moran voted in 2003 against a Tancredo proposal to cut off federal funds to cities not allowing law enforcement officials to turn over information about immigrants.