Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas and his Republican challenger, Matt Mowers, clashed Wednesday over the federal coronavirus response, taxes and health care in their first debate ahead of the November election.
Pappas said the administration of President Donald Trump fell short on testing and refused to follow science in fighting the pandemic. He also said he supported a nationwide mask mandate.
“This is a time of incredible national loss and we mourn the loss of so many Americans. It didn’t have to be that way,” Pappas said in the debate, sponsored by New Hampshire Public Radio. Candidates were in separate studios at the station.
“This administration has not trusted the scientists, have not lifted up public health messages,” he said. “They have politicized things like mask wearing that could have saved tens of thousands of lives in this country.”
Mowers, whom Trump has endorsed, acknowledged more needed to be done, including ramping up testing and continuing to invest in a “safe, reliable vaccine.” He said he supported travel restrictions and the wearing of masks but opposes mask mandates.
“Unfortunately we just heard a lot of politics coming from Congressman Pappas where he is trying to blame and obfuscate but not taking responsibility,” he said. “I’ve taken this crisis seriously since Day One.”
Both candidates support a new round of COVID-19 aid.
Mowers said he wants the Paycheck Protection Program expanded and funding to reimburse state and local governments for coronavirus-related spending. He blamed the failure to “get something done” on Democrats, including Pappas and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I’m really concerned for the restaurant industry as the weather gets colder that they are not going to have the ability to continue to stay open and actually provide customers with the service that they need to keep their business afloat and their employees employed,” he said.
Pappas responded by accusing Mowers of not supporting direct aid to state and local governments – something Mowers denied.
“Our state economy is driven by our Main Street businesses and they have unique needs. We’ve got to make sure all tools are on the table,” Pappas said.
The two clashed on taxes, with Mowers suggesting that Pappas supports a huge tax increase that would undermine the economy recovery and penalize middle-class Americans. Pappas said he was not pushing for a tax increase, only bipartisan comprehensive coronavirus relief.
Pappas criticized 2017’s $1.5 trillion tax overhaul. He didn’t say whether he would support a repeal but called for a fair tax code that required those at the the top “to pay their fair share.”
“A couple of years ago, the Republicans in Congress passed through a massive tax cut – trillions of dollars of our tax money given away to the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations – at a time when the economy was growing,” he said. “Now those same Republicans in Congress are fighting us to give additional help to workers who are out of a job, to small businesses who need assistance. This is about priorities.”
Mowers, who has signed a pledge not to raise taxes on anyone, said he supported the tax bill signed by Trump and insisted it gave much-needed help to middle class families.
“We need right now someone who understands what middle class families have gone through because they lived it,” Mowers said. “We need to make sure that we’re actually supporting our middle class families by lower their taxes not trying to raise them.”
Pappas also vowed to support expanding the Affordable Care Act and lower costs, while Mowers said he wants to repeal and replace it, citing the increasing cost of premiums.
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