By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA – Maybe Republican Steve Daines and Democrat Kim Gillan think they can win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives without first telling voters what they’ll do when they arrive there.
On the Montana State University-Billings campus Tuesday night, both candidates again went to enormous lengths to duck, dodge and generally avoid taking firm positions on key issues.
This isn’t the first time the two politicos, each hoping to succeed Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg in Congress, have acted this way. In a televised forum last week, Gillan couldn’t tell viewers how she’d shore up the Medicare problem, while Daines offered little insight on how he’d cover uninsured Montanans who would lose health coverage if Republicans repeal the 2010 health reform law.
Tuesday night in front of a near-capacity crowd in the school’s auditorium, Daines and Gillan offered lazy platitudes about how to address the nation’s growing national debt, now registering more than $16 trillion.
Panelist Mike Dennison of Lee Newspaper asked the two candidates which three programs they would cut given the chance in a fiscally responsible Congress.
He received very little substance in return.
Daine took his shot first, telling onlookers that he would encourage a multi-faceted approach to solve the country’s fiscal woes.
“We are not going to get out of this debt crisis with spending cuts alone,” Daines explained, adding that he would seek to implement policies to grow the economy, thereby increasing revenues to pay for government programs.
He offered two solutions for reductions: general cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the GOP’s favorite bogeyman, and the Department of Energy’s loan to Solyndra.
For those keeping score at home, Solyndra’s $500-million loan comprises about .12 percent of federal spending.
In other words, that won’t solve the debt problem.
Gillan offered even less, instead inserting her pre-planned talking points blasting companies that use outsourcing.
“You need to look at budget cuts or trimming our budget, but you also need to like at why we continue to provide tax breaks and losing revenue to corporations that ship our jobs — American jobs — overseas,” Gillan emphasized.
Dennison wasn’t amused. Two questions later, he returned to the same topic, knocking both candidates for lacking specific details in their original answers.
“Will you answer it, or will you be like every other politician that says ‘oh, we can cut the budget, but nothing’s going to be cut that’s going to affect you here?” Dennison chided.
Gillan took the query, turned it around and discussed her affinity for federal cash.
“In our highway and transportation system, we depend upon those federal dollars, not just so everyone in this room can get around, but our small businesses have an opportunity to transport goods,” Gillan offered.
She then reached up and grabbed the low-hanging political fruit.
“You know one of the areas I will firmly cut and work on is anything I identify as waste and fraud that affects Montana,” Gillan said.
Who doesn’t want to cut waste and fraud?
Daines again took his chance, finally offer some semblance of substance. The Republican candidate praised the House version of the nation’s 10-year farm bill, a measure projections say will cut $35 billion in federal spending over the next decade. That’s $11 billion more than the Senate-passed iteration.
Neither bill has passed the opposing congressional chamber.
Daines and Gillan debate for the final time Oct. 13 in Bozeman.