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Partisanship, coronavirus spending, health care dominate Slotkin-Junge debate

Elissa Slotkin for Congress

In the first of what are expected to be three debates, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI 8) accused Republican challenger Paul Junge of “cherry picking” statistics and making misleading claims, while Junge said Slotkin pretends to be more bipartisan than she really is. 

Slotkin won Michigan's Republican-leaning 8th Congressional District in 2018, after President Donald Trump won the district in 2016.

Junge’s campaign ads have accused Slotkin of voting with Nancy Pelosi “96% the time,” a statistic Slotkin said during the debate is misleading, because it’s based on a small portion of more than 800 votes Slotkin has cast in her time in office.

“Bipartisanship really runs in my blood,” said Slotkin, a former CIA analyst. “Because in national security it’s really a focus on the mission, and not which party you’re from.”

Junge, a former TV anchor and Trump administration official, was challenged to point out issues where he would disagree with President Trump. Junge said he would be opposed to President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the payroll tax, a major funder of Social Security and Medicare. Junge said eliminating the payroll tax would be a “non-starter," although he could be open to suspending the tax as a short-term economic stimulus measure. Slotkin said she also opposes eliminating the payroll tax.

Junge also said he would oppose cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, something Trump has proposed twice.

On Coronavirus relief aid

Junge said the HEROES Act Democrats passed in the House, a measure Slotkin voted for despite 14 Democrats breaking with their party on the issue, is a deeply partisan bill package that never stood a chance of becoming law. Negotiations in Washington over another round of Coronavirus funding have been stalled for weeks.

“If that’s an example of the bipartisanship that you’d be getting from Congresswoman Slotkin, I think the 8th District deserves better,” Junge said.

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Paul Junge, a former TV anchor in Lansing and Trump administration official, is the Republican candidate for the 8th District seat held currently by Slotkin.

Slotkin said she “didn’t love” the bill and voted for it to get more money to Michigan after the state was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in the spring.

“If you would vote against money for our small businesses, if you would vote against help for our schools, that’s your choice,” Slotkin said.

Both candidates were asked if they supported more economic stimulus bills from Congress, and to estimate how much the initiatives they support would cost.  

“It’s not easy for me to put an exact dollar amount on what we need,” Junge said. “We should focus on problems [state and local governments] have faced because of the coronavirus.… I would continue unemployment benefits.”

Slotkin is a member of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, a bipartisan group that introduced its own plan for a path forward on an economic stimulus plan. Slotkin said that plan includes funding for state and local governments, unemployment insurance, and stimulus checks. She said it would cost about $1.4 trillion, and the money would last until February.   

“It is a good compromise way forward,” Slotkin said. “I was sad that my own leadership in the House of Representatives as well as the Senate were resisting to using it as a framework.”

Protecting pre-existing conditions

Slotkin said she considers the most important issue in her district to be the matter of protecting health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. In a pending case before the Supreme Court set to be heard a week after the election, the Trump administration is supporting a lawsuit that could strike down the Affordable Care Act, and with it the guarantee that no one can be denied health care coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition.

Pressed by Slotkin to define his stance on the issue, Junge said he “absolutely” supports protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. After the debate, Junge said he hadn’t read the lawsuit and “didn’t know” whether the Trump administration was doing the right thing by supporting the lawsuit.

“As a member of Congress I won’t have a role in what a Biden or a Trump administration chooses to do with lawsuits or issues before the Supreme Court,” Junge said. “What’s more important as a member of Congress is to say, should that court case go against us, what are we going to do instead?”

Junge said if protections for people with pre-existing conditions were struck down by the court, he would support separate legislation to put those protections into law.

The federal deficit

Both candidates said it was appropriate to see Congress spending huge amounts during a pandemic, but that the federal deficit is an issue meriting some concern.

Slotkin said the federal government could save billions of dollars by repealing a law that prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug prices on behalf of people it insures.

In response, Junge said: “I didn’t come tonight with a list of specifics on cutting spending.… The priorities for Congress when the new Congress comes in is going to have to be continuing to fight the coronavirus pandemic.”

Junge and Slotkin will next debate at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 27 at an event hosted by WDIV-TV.

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.