East Arkansas U.S. House Rivals Clash on Budget Views

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 7:48 am  

JONESBORO - Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford said a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget is the only way to control the nation's debt, while Democratic challenger Scott Ellington said lawmakers need more self-control when it comes to spending as the two debated Thursday in the race for an east Arkansas congressional seat.

Crawford repeatedly invoked his push for a balanced budget amendment as he and Ellington faced off in the only debate in the 1st Congressional District race. The debate at Arkansas State University also included Green Party nominee Jacob Holloway and Libertarian Jessica Paxton.

Crawford, who was elected partly on an anti-tax pledge in 2010, earlier this year proposed raising taxes on millionaires in exchange for congressional passage of the balanced budget amendment. He repeated his recent pledge to not support any increase in the nation's borrowing limit or any budget resolution without the passage of a similar amendment.

"What we want to say is no to future congresses. It's not about the 112th Congress," Crawford said. "It's about the continual generational theft that's taking place here."

Ellington said Congress just needs to work together to control the nation's spending and noted that the budget was balanced during Bill Clinton's presidency without an amendment controlling spending. Ellington told reporters after the debate that he wasn't necessarily opposed to such an amendment but skeptical about how it would be enforced.

"I don't think there's a necessity to have a balanced budget at this time as much as it is to reign in some spending and have some actual self-control on the part of Congress," Ellington said.

Ellington also questioned Crawford's commitment to debt reduction, criticizing the lawmaker for his office spending more than $81,000 last year on "franking," or mailers sent to constituents without paying postage.

"Those are the things that add to the debt. That didn't stop him from sending that mail," Ellington said.

Crawford defended the mailings and said his office has tried to keep its costs down.

"We're not embarrassed or ashamed of what we've done with our franking. It's been an effective tool for us to reach out and receive feedback, as well as to let our constituents know where we stand on the issues," Crawford told reporters after the debate.

The two also sparred over the $500 billion farm bill, which was left in limbo when Congress recessed last month.

Crawford, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, defended the farm bill approved by the panel that cuts money for the food stamp program by 2 percent. Crawford said the committee wanted to find the right balance between Republicans who wanted more cuts and Democrats who wanted no reductions in the program.

"I believe that while cuts were necessary, a responsible and reasoned approach was the way it was taken by the Agriculture Committee in a bipartisan basis," Crawford said.

Ellington said he's concerned about what will happen with the legislation when Congress returns after the Nov. 6 election.

"If folks think this farm bill is bad now ... just wait until after the lame duck Congress takes over and see what happens," Ellington said. "I believe there will be even more cuts, and it's very concerning."

Democrats initially viewed the 1st District as their best chance at reclaiming a congressional seat they lost in the 2010 election, especially after the state Legislature last year redrew the district's boundaries to include traditionally Democrat-leaning areas in southeast Arkansas. But Ellington, a local prosecutor, has struggled organizationally and financially in his bid against Crawford.

The televised debate was the first between Crawford and Ellington, who has criticized the incumbent congressman for not appearing at other televised debates.

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