Politics & Policy

O’Donnell, Coons Debate Highlights Policy Differences

Tonight’s debate between Republican senate candidate Christine O’Donnell and Democrat Chris Coons showcased the differences between the two candidates. On issues including tax cuts, abortion, Supreme Court decisions, health care, immigration, and cap-and-trade, O’Donnell and Coons advocated entirely different positions.

In tone, it was a debate where O’Donnell occasionally appeared flustered, but mostly held her own, sincerely and passionately arguing for her positions. Coons spoke easily, but often showed irritation at O’Donnell, making statements like “There’s a lot to respond to,” after O’Donnell finished speaking. And CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer decided to give O’Donnell a lecture at one point about her new ad starting off with the phrase “I’m not a witch,” telling her that she had given the controversy legs by mentioning it in her ad.

On job creation, Coons said, “We need to change crazy tax policy in Washington” that gives companies incentives to ship jobs overseas, and praised the research and development tax. “Best thing the government can do … is to get out of the way” of small business owners and entrepreneurs, argued O’Donnell. She said she supported extending all the Bush tax cuts, eliminating the death tax, rolling back regulation, and a two-year holiday on capital gains tax.

“I think we should do those tax cuts that have the best chance of getting our economy going again,” said Coons, who said he was for extending most of the Bush tax cuts. He does not favor extending them for the wealthiest, although he indicated that he wasn’t sure if $250,000 was the appropriate amount at which to draw the line.

“Cancel the unspent stimulus bill [and] put a freeze on discretionary spending,” said O’Donnell when asked how she would reduce spending. Coons said he was inclined to support President Obama’s proposal for a three-year non-defense discretionary spending freeze. He also spoke about the need to cut defense spending.

“We have to look hard at whether we’re continuing to contribute to America’s security by having 100,000 troops on ground,” Coons said on Afghanistan. O’Donnell blasted Coons for his support of timelines for withdrawal, saying that “a random withdrawal will simply embolden terrorists.”

O’Donnell also faced several questions about her past statements. “This election cycle should not be about comments I made on comedy show a decade and a half ago,” she replied at one point. She declined to state her current beliefs on evolution, firmly stating that she felt it should be up to local schools to decide how to teach the issue. Asked about prior income tax problems, O’Donnell said the IRS had admitted it made a mistake on her taxes — and added that this showed why the IRS should not be in charge of health care.

And when Coons addressed the topic of O’Donnell’s prior controversial statements, O’Donnell teased him, saying, “You’re just jealous that you were not on Saturday Night Live.”

“I’m dying to see who’s going to play me,” Coons responded. He also defended himself later about the Bearded Marxist charge, stating that he had never been anything “but a clean shaven capitalist”

When teacher unions were brought up, Coons praised Delaware teachers for agreeing to charter schools and other compromises to help the state compete in Race to the Top. “No problem with recognizing teachers … are entitled to good standard of living,” he remarked. O’Donnell highlighted the teachers union’s endorsement of Coons, and although she spoke about empowering teachers, she also touted her support for vouchers and charter schools. She said she did not support abolishing the Department of Education.

The two sparred about immigration, with O’Donnell saying that border security had to be the top and only priority until it was achieved. “When we tried amnesty in the 80s, it backfired,” she observed. Coons agreed that the border needed to be strengthened, but also spoke about industries relying on illegal labor and the need to create a path to legal residency for illegal immigrants willing to learn English and pay fines.

On the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, O’Donnell said that it should be the military’s decision and should not be decided by judges or Congress. “I would move swiftly as a senator to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Coons, later talking about Harry Truman’s decision to make the military racially integrated.

O’Donnell advocated a complete repeal of Obama’s health-care plan, slamming it for forcing businesses to give up providing employees with insurance and raising health-care costs. She spoke of reforming the system by instituting tort reform, insurance buying across state lines, and policy portability, for those who wish to keep their policy but switch jobs. Coons acknowledged the bill was far from perfect, but said “I would stand for it and implement it responsibly.” He also spoke out against liability caps for medical lawsuits.

The candidates also talked about their disagreements over abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research, the Citizens United decision, and increased offshore oil drilling. It was a debate with few surprises, but one that made abundantly clear that Delawareans have a very clear choice this November.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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