U.S. Senate candidates Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin faced off about taxes, the middle class and the national debt at their first debate Friday in Milwaukee. Both candidates were on the attack and blamed each other’s parties and former administrations for many of the country’s problems.
Thompson, the GOP candidate and Wisconsin’s longest serving governor, labeled Baldwin, a Democratic congresswoman, as an extremist who has done little aside from raising taxes. He also accused her of being a “taxer and spender.”
“I get things done,” Thompson said. “I make sure things happen.”
Baldwin, who would be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate if elected, blamed former president George W. Bush’s administration for adding $3.5 trillion to the national deficit because of tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They call that conservative?” Baldwin said. “Those words have lost their meaning.”
Thompson, who served as the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Bush administration, is one of Wisconsin’s most well-known Republicans. Baldwin asked voters to look beyond Thompson’s popularity.
Both candidates claim to be champions of the middle class and said they anticipate a tough campaign. The candidates also agreed that troops need to be withdrawn from Iraq and that it needs to be easier for legislation to pass in the Senate.
Most legislation needs 51 votes to pass the U.S. Senate, but senators in the minority party have frequently threatened a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to force any substantive vote.
“The 60 percent rule in the U.S. Senate should be done away with,” Thompson said.
Baldwin agreed that “there ought to be real reform in the Senate.”
Marquette graduate student Nicky Brown attended the debate and thought the best moments of the night were when the candidates managed to agree.
“The debate was so intense,” Brown said. “Everything was just really tense the entire time. I liked when they would agree on something because it gave the room a little time to breathe and take a minute away from all of the stiffness.”
Despite their similar views regarding Senate voting procedures and the withdrawal of troops, Thompson and Baldwin disagreed on most everything else.
Thompson said Baldwin wants the government to control people’s health care choices, referencing Baldwin’s support of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Baldwin responded by pointing to Thompson’s plans to repeal the law.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student Josephine McKinley appreciated that Thompson and Baldwin were earnest and unafraid of calling each other out.
“They really went at each other,” McKinley said. “They really weren’t afraid.They just went for the jugular at every chance. It was really cool because they were so smart about it, too – each of them had totally valid points.”
Baldwin called for ending tax loopholes and deductions that encourage the outsourcing of jobs, as well as the rule on “carried interest” that allows hedge fund managers to receive compensation at a tax rate far less than ordinary income.
“That’s why we see the presidential candidate on the Republican side (Mitt Romney) paying such low taxes,” Baldwin said.
Thompson said he cut taxes dozens of times and created more than a half million jobs during his 14 years as governor. He called Baldwin the top spender in the U.S. House of Representatives and blamed her for allowing the nation’s debt to grow to $16 trillion.
Brown said the Senate debate set the tone for this month’s presidential debates.
“I thought it was a great debate overall,” Brown said. “I am so pumped up for Wednesday’s presidential debate now. The Wisconsin debate set my expectations high for Romney and Obama.”