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Djou and Hanabusa show different views on Medicare and Social Security

Both candidates pledge to protect the entitlements, but split on health care legislation

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 1:40 a.m. HST, Oct 22, 2010

Protecting Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs for seniors was the theme last night as the candidates for Hawaii's 1st Congressional District squared off in the final debate in a televised series.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Charles Djou and Democratic state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa both said they would vote against privatizing Social Security and fight any effort to raid the trust fund.

But as they have shown throughout the debates, they differed on how the government should pay for such programs in the face of pressure to reduce the federal deficit.

As he has stated consistently, Djou called for returning unspent federal stimulus funds and trimming the federal work force to 2008 levels, while Hanabusa said her first act, if elected, would be to ensure legislation is introduced to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

Djou again took aim at the Affordable Health Care Act, saying reforms are needed to avoid sizable cuts in Medicare.

"I am committed to making sure we have a healthy, vibrant Social Security system and Medicare system. That's also why I believe that the health care bill -- which is going to cut half a trillion from the Medicare program -- is unfair and dramatically needs to be reformed," he said.

Hanabusa pointed out that the bill contains a specific section to guarantee Medicare benefits, and a $500 billion figure Djou referenced would be savings from crackdown on fraud. She accused Djou and Republicans of trading in the "politics of fear."

"The one thing we cannot have is for our kupunas to be concerned about whether Medicare is going to be cut, Social Security as well," she said.

With polls showing the race in a virtual tie, the rhetoric in the campaign has sharpened as the series of debates drew to a close.

Djou, as he has throughout, stuck to his message of hammering the Democratic majority in Congress for a dysfunctional culture and a "spend to no end" mentality that has led to record national debt and unacceptable unemployment rates.

Hanabusa, appearing more aggressive than in previous debates, attempted to show a more intimate knowledge of detail -- at one point quoting a specific section and page number from the 2,000-plus page health care act -- while also trying to catch Djou contradicting his words.

In one exchange, Djou said in the short term, he favored more federal dollars to support the growing number of residents seeking federal assistance.

"We have to be compassionate, we have to reach out and find ways to help the least well-off in our society," he said. "But over the long term the single best way to help those who are least well-off is a growing economy and a low unemployment rate."

Hanabusa said Djou's statement was contradictory to his stance that stimulus did not work, noting that federal stimulus funds helped Hawaii address the state's growing number of Medicaid recipients.

"If you believe Medicaid should be available and if you believe we must help those in need, then you can't say stimulus didn't work."

The debate, sponsored by AARP, was televised on KHON.

Before the debate, Hanabusa picked up an endorsement from another high-profile Democrat, former President Bill Clinton.

"I witnessed firsthand the kind of obstructionism and partisan bullying we can expect if the Republicans gain control of Congress," Clinton said in a statement released by Hanabusa's campaign. "America can't afford to return to the policies that put us in this crisis, and Colleen Hanabusa is the kind of experienced, effective voice that we need to keep moving forward."

There was no immediate response from Djou's campaign.

President Barack Obama endorsed Hanabusa in a television commercial that began airing Wednesday.

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