Saturday, November 28, 2015         

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Economy, spending top issues in debate

Congressional candidates Djou and Hanabusa face off on Hawaii Public Radio

By Derrick DePledge


U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said Tuesday that her top priority would be job creation to help with the nation’s economic recovery if she is re-elected to Congress in November, while former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, her Republican opponent, said he would focus on the federal government’s $16 trillion debt.

Hanabusa and Djou, in a one-hour debate on Hawaii Public Radio in their rematch in urban Honolulu’s 1st Congressional District, offered voters ideological contrasts.

Hanabusa said Hawaii-born President Barack Obama and the government have had a role in the recovery and stressed the importance of restoring hope and confidence in the nation’s direction.

Djou said the country is headed in the wrong direction and that he has more faith in the individual and small businesses than in the government.

“It is unfortunate that there is this sense of dysfunction within Congress,” Hanabusa said. “But I will tell you, we may have dysfunction, but it’s like everything else. There are people who make up Congress who you can find to work together, and I have found many of them.

“And I am fully confident that on both sides of the aisle, that if we turn to Congress, we can work together and make things better.”

Djou said the nation risks moving down the same “fiscally destructive” path as many European countries.

“Our nation is at crossroads,” he said. “Right now, what America and Hawaii and what our families face is extraordinarily challenging. Our economy is growing too slowly. Our unemployment rate continues to be far too high.

“But I also want to emphasize here: We have this enormous national debt looming over our children and our grandchildren.”   

Hanabusa questioned several votes Djou cast before leaving Congress two years ago that appeared inconsistent, including a vote on a spending bill with reductions to veterans’ programs and military construction.

Djou, who served six months in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Reserve, bristled at any suggestion that he does not support veterans and the military.

“Let me make this very clear: I’ve served our country. … Any sort of allegation that I don’t care about our service members, that I do not care very deeply about the service that I rendered on behalf of the United States — of the American people — in combat in Kandahar province with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Infantry Division, is a complete flat-out lie.”

Hanabusa pressed him to explain his vote.

“You know, Charles, you didn’t answer my question,” she said. “I’m not questioning your loyalty or the fact that you served. All I want to know is why did you vote against this specific bill?”

Djou said he favored spending reductions to the veterans and military construction programs, not their elimination.

“I believe that our budget needs to shrink, and all departments need to reduce its spending,” he said. “And when we’re spending too much money that we don’t have, and shifting the bill to the next generation, that’s irresponsible.”

Hanabusa said she supported the reductions to growth in Medicare included in the federal health care reform law, which extends the life of the program and helps expand preventative care and prescription drug coverage for seniors. Djou said he would consider a premium-support option in Medicare, which involves voucher-like payments so seniors can buy private insurance as an alternative to traditional Medicare.

Hanabusa and Djou also differed on the federal mortgage interest deduction for homeowners. Djou said he would consider eliminating the deduction in the context of broader income tax relief, while Hanabusa described the deduction as essential for many families, particularly in the middle class.

On the Honolulu rail project, Hanabusa said the state’s congressional delegation has an obligation to seek federal funding to carry out the expectation of voters who approved the project.

Djou said he would abide by the will of the next Hono­lulu mayor, but he opposes the rail project because he believes it is too expensive and will not produce a sufficient reduction in traffic congestion.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, a candidate for mayor, has said he would block the rail project if elected. Kirk Caldwell, a former acting mayor and city managing director, supports the rail project with modifications.

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