By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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SEQUIM — Republican Bill Driscoll and Democrat Derek Kilmer differed on Wild Olympics legislation, Medicare vouchers and tax increases for millionaires in their first face-to-face debate in the 6th Congressional District race.
But Driscoll, 49, a Tacoma Republican, and Kilmer, 38, a Gig Harbor Democrat and state senator who grew up in Port Angeles, also took similar stands on other issues at their candidate forum face-off Friday, held before more than 100 at a Sequim Sunrise Rotary meeting at SunLand Golf & Country Club.
They were the top two winners in the Aug. 7 primary for the 6th District position, which covers an area with more than 325,000 voters and includes Clallam, Jefferson, Grays Har-bor, Mason and Kitsap counties and part of Tacoma.
Driscoll, a former Marine and a businessman with experience in the forest products industry, and Kilmer, vice president of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, are vying for the two-year seat being vacated by 18-term U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks.
The forum was moderated by Sunrise Rotary President-elect Mike McAleer.
Those in the packed dining room had asked 10 questions of the candidates in rapid-fire fashion — Driscoll and Kilmer were given 60 seconds to answer each query — before Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict took his turn.
“Is there anything you guys don't agree on?” Benedict asked.
The candidates did draw lines in the sand over tax breaks and proposed Wild Olympics legislation.
“Now is not the time to reduce the timber harvest by even 1 percent,” said Driscoll of legislation proposed by Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell.
Their Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012 would designate more than 126,500 acres of new wilderness in Olympic National Forest. It is now in committee in the House and Senate.
Driscoll said the legislation would reduce timber harvest, which has been cut 94 percent since 1988, by an additional 1 percent.
Kilmer said the Dicks-Murray plan was “fundamentally different” than the proposal that prompted it — a plan from a consortium of organizations called the Wild Olympics Campaign — that included a much-disputed willing-buyer, willing-seller provision that would have allowed Olympic National Park to buy up private land.
That provision is no longer in the proposed legislation.
Dicks and Murray, Kilmer said, have tried “to address the concerns of private property owners and the impact on working forests,” he said.
“It's moving in the right direction,” he said, adding, “There needs to be a conversation about increasing harvest levels in federal forests to make sure there is an adequate supply for mills.”
Kilmer, calling the federal deficit “an enormous problem,” also said continuing to extend tax breaks to people who make more than $1 million annually “does not make sense.”
A deficit reduction plan should include significant cuts, but tax cuts for the middle class should remain, he said.
In his answer to Benedict's question, Driscoll said he would “put everything on the table” for revenue increases.
But in terms of increasing taxes, “I do not want to do anything to disrupt the recovery,” he added.
“It should be a comprehensive solution.”
The two also differed on presumed Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan's budget proposal to establish a Medicare voucher system for those younger than 55.
Driscoll said he was worried that President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act calls for $700 billion in cuts and reduces reimbursements to hospitals such as Olympic Medical Center, though Democrats say the law specifically forbids cuts in benefits.
Reforming Medicare will take a “bipartisan approach,” Driscoll said, a let's-work-together sentiment repeated by both candidates.
The voucher plan authored by Ryan and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Portland, Ore., is “a good place to start,” Driscoll said.
“It protects everyone who is 55 and older to ensure it's sustainable in the future.”
“It's easy for folks in D.C. to talk about cutting programs,” responded Kilmer, adding that he did not support turning Medicare “into a voucher system.”
He said the Wyden-Ryan plan would increase costs to seniors by $6,000 a year and suggested looking at fraud reduction as a way to reduce the program's costs.
The independent fact-checking website www.PolitiFact.com — winner of a Pulitzer prize — has rated the cost estimate “half-true.”
Both candidates also were asked if they would sign political activist Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge.
House members who sign it will “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and will “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates,” according to the pledge
Kilmer's one-word answer was “no.”
Driscoll would not sign it either, he said, adding that it would not make sense to make the pledge because it would prohibit reforming the tax code and reaching a bipartisan solution.
“Everything has to be on the table to get the budget under control,” Driscoll said.
Both also said they were pro-choice. Both said they want to see abortion be “rare.”
Driscoll added that he wanted to “depoliticize” the abortion debate and protect people's “religious freedom of conscience.”
Kilmer said he also was opposed to term limits, and while Driscoll said he favored them, getting them approved in Congress is not “achievable,” he asserted.
After answering 17 questions, Driscoll in his closing statement called for addressing the federal deficit with bipartisan solutions.
“I don't believe sending folks to D.C. who are part of the political machine, part of the political hierarchy, is the way to do that,” said Driscoll, who is vying for his first elective office.
In his closing statement, Kilmer said he voluntarily reduced his own legislative paycheck when state employees had their paychecks cut, one of his few references to his seven years as a state legislator, two of which were in the House.
His economic development experience is what's needed in Congress, he said.
“We've also got to get Congress back to work,” Kilmer said.
Like Driscoll, he called for bipartisanship.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.