News and Tribune

October 23, 2012

Cruch time: New Albany hosts crucial senate debate as election nears

By DANIEL SUDDEATH
daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Democrat Joe Donnelly declared himself as a candidate willing to work across party lines while Republican Richard Mourdock accused him of wilting to partisan pressure on health care during the final debate for the U.S. Senate seat Tuesday.

Mourdock said Donnelly’s self-proclaimed principles “melt away like July ice cream” when he’s compelled by Democratic leadership to support a proposal he previously said he objected to.

Donnelly was initially against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act “but in the end, he decided to vote for it” while serving in the U.S. House, Mourdock said.

He added that Donnelly also flipped his position on government earmarks and support of the inheritance tax during his three terms in Congress.

Donnelly countered that Mourdock — who is the Indiana State Treasurer — is a partisan politician who doesn’t believe in compromise. He said that Mourdock told the News and Tribune during an interview that an employer should be able to deny providing insurance to cover cancer if they choose to do so.

Mourdock countered that the accusation was taken out of context. During a meeting with the News and Tribune editorial staff in June, Mourdock did infer that an employer has the right to not cover cancer if they chose to do so.

But he continued that would likely mean people wouldn’t want to work at such an establishment.

“If that employer wants to get the best employees coming in the door he’s going to offer the best insurance possible,” Mourdock said during the interview.

The race is for Sen. Richard Lugar’s seat, as the long-time congressman was bested by Mourdock during the May primary. The contest has garnered national spotlight as the seat could be one of few that determines which party has control of the Senate beginning next year.

During the debate — which was at Indiana University Southeast — Donnelly said Mourdock favors turning Medicare into a voucher system, and that while he may oppose Obama’s health care plan, he seeks to use some of the funds that would be spent on medical coverage for tax breaks for the wealthy.

“It puts you into [an] extraordinarily dangerous financial situation,” Donnelly said of what he defined as Mourdock’s plan for Medicare.

A bi-partisan approach will have to be formed after next month’s election to figure out a way for the country to sustain programs such as Medicare and Social Security, he continued.

Mourdock said he would not favor any changes in Medicare for people age 55 or older, but that new ways of funding the program would have to be implemented for younger residents who will eventually qualify.

The Indiana Debate Commission sponsored the forum, which also featured Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning. On multiple occasions, Horning spoke against a two-party system and said Republican and Democratic leadership has failed the country.

“You don’t have to choose this. You can do better than this,” Horning told the crowd in reference to America’s two major political parties.

A comment made by Mourdock in regards to abortion was a major talking point during the post debate press conference.

While all three candidates said they are anti-abortion, Donnelly said he was against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger.

Mourdock said only if a mother faced death through giving birth would he support abortion, as he added that “life is a gift from God.”

He continued that though rape is a difficult situation for a woman to deal with, that “God intended it to happen” in terms of a life spawning from the crime.

Donnelly was the first to address the media during the post debate press conference, and he mentioned Mourdock’s comments on abortion, as he said that rape is a horrible crime.

“It really surprised me,” Donnelly said of Mourdock’s statement, as he added that he doesn’t believe rape is part of God’s intentions.

In an attempt to clarify his comments, Mourdock said several times that “I believe God creates life.”

It would be “sick and twisted” for anyone to misconstrue his comments into a case that he believes God ordains rape, Mourdock said.

“I think that life is a gift from God,” he continued.

Mourdock also attacked Donnelly’s support of Obama’s health care plan because he said it forces religious institutions to offer contraceptive coverage to employees.

“That goes against their basic faith, and that is wrong,” Mourdock said.

Institutions such as the University of Notre Dame that have elected to sue over the health care plan have the right to do so, Donnelly responded. He said religious institutions should have the right to deny such coverage.

“We can’t ask them to do something they simply cannot do,” said Donnelly, who is Catholic.

He added that he didn’t support the Affordable Care Act until public funding for abortions was removed from the plan.

Horning said the federal health care plan is unconstitutional, but that legislators really can’t win on the issue of abortion.

Horning — who labeled himself as a contrarian even in his own party — said the political machines of the Republican and Democratic parties no longer are concerned about what’s best for Americans.

He vowed that if elected, he would be an avid supporter of the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.

Though several auto workers and union supporters attended the debate, Mourdock said he felt the crowd was respectful. There was a strong police presence at the debate after it was reported last week that auto workers had made a run on obtaining the majority of the tickets for the forum.

Mourdock was part of a 2009 lawsuit of the Indiana State Police Pension Trust versus Chrysler and the U.S. Department of Treasury over bankruptcy proceedings.

Among the arguments, Mourdock asserted the government overstepped its bounds by using Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, funds to bailout automakers when the money was intended to be used only for financial institutions.

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided not to hear the case, and the United Auto Workers Union ended up with a majority share of a newly formed Chrysler company.

Mourdock defended the action again Tuesday, as he said the bailout procedures by the federal government defied 150 years of bankruptcy regulations and “caused chaos in the market place.”