The federal government — and the Obama administration in particular — were the targets of four Republicans running for the U.S. Senate at a business group's candidate forum this afternoon.
Ted Cruz, David Dewhurst, Craig James and Tom Leppert talked for about an hour at a Texas Association of Business conference in Austin. They agreed on several points during the forum.
If you had just touched down in Texas, you might have thought the candidates were running for president, or that President Obama had moved to Texas to run for Senate.
Cruz said the election is about two questions: "Will the next senator from the state of Texas be a strong conservative? And No. 2, will the next senator from the state of Texas be a fighter?"
He called Obama "the most radical president this country has ever seen" and said Texas should lead the fight against him.
"What I bring is the perspective of someone who's been in business," Leppert said. He said that he's the only candidate in the race who has signed both sides of a paycheck and that it will take someone with that skill-set to "fix things in Washington."
James, the newest candidate in the field, opened with a quick bio and what is apparently the catchphrase of his campaign: "God is God, family is family and the Constitution is the Constitution." He, like the others, said he wanted to counter what Obama has done with health care and other programs.
"We've seen President Obama trampling on the Constitution, trampling on our rights and I just can't take it any more," Dewhurst said in his opening remarks. "That's why I'm running."
All four candidates said they want to save Social Security. All said they would preserve benefits where they are now for people at or close to retirement.
James would turn Medicare back to the states. Dewhurst said he "always favors private solutions rather than federal solutions." Cruz said federal entitlements "are out of control." He said medically related decisions should be made between patients and doctors rather than "by federal bureaucrats."
Asked about a balanced budget amendment, Cruz said he would vote for an amendment if it required a supermajority to raise taxes and had a cap on the size of the budget. Leppert would cap the size of the budget to the country's gross domestic product. James said the budget shouldn't grow if the economy doesn't grow. Dewhurst said he moved the state Senate last year to pass a resolution calling on Congress to pass such an amendment.
All four candidates are opposed to holding a constitutional convention to rewrite that document. Leppert said, in essence, that it would open a can of worms and start fights over everything in the document. The problem, he said, is that the House and Senate aren't doing their jobs. "We need to address the actual problem," he said.
James suggested consolidating Cabinet jobs to save money. Homeland security ought to be part of the Department of Defense, he said. Dewhurst said other agencies could be eliminated; Education, for instance, and Energy. Cruz would kill Commerce, Education and the National Endowment of the Arts. "I'll tell you the agency I would most like to eliminate — the IRS," he said. He'd push for a flat tax. Leppert answered that he has already cut a budget, as Dallas mayor, and has the experience to do it in Washington.
To another question, Dewhurst said long-lasting benefits give people a disincentive to get off of unemployment insurance and back to work. "Should we be looking at some public service for this? Drug testing?"
Cruz agreed. "Ninety-nine weeks is way too long," he said. And James chimed in, too. "We're bankrupting the human spirit by giving them 99 weeks."
The Endangered Species Act — and the fight over lizards in oil fields in West Texas — also got a unanimous reaction from the candidates. They're against it.
"Today, jobs are an endangered species," Dewhurst said, to applause from the business audience.
"That's our lizard," Cruz joked. "And they make darned fine boots."
Most of their answers stuck to the subject matter, but there were some elbows. And for the candidates, they came from a familiar voice in the quartet. After the former solicitor general targeted the lieutenant governor over state government spending, James popped off: "Let the record show that it took 30 minutes for Cruz to get after Dewhurst here."
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