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McCain, Obama offer contrast in second of three debates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama expressed strong disagreements Tuesday on a host of issues in a town hall debate that was dominated by questions about the ailing economy.

It was the second of three presidential debates between the two men, who will face off one last time at Hofstra University Oct. 15 in a domestic-focused debate. Tuesday’s town hall debate — which took place at Belmont University — included questions from an audience of undecided voters as well from online submissions and moderator Tom Brokaw.

“I think everybody knows now we are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” Obama said in response to a question about the fastest solution to help retired and older workers. “And a lot of you I think are worried about your jobs, your pensions, your retirement accounts, your ability to send your child or your grandchild to college….

“And so now we’ve got to take some decisive action. Step one was a rescue package that was passed last week. We’ve got to make sure that works properly. And that means strong oversight, making sure that investors, taxpayers are getting their money back and treated as investors…. The middle class need a rescue package. And that means tax cuts for the middle-class. It means help for homeowners so that they can stay in their homes. It means that we are helping state and local governments set up road projects and bridge projects that keep people in their jobs.”

Said McCain, “Americans are angry, they’re upset, and they’re a little fearful. It’s our job to fix the problem. Now, I have a plan to fix this problem and it has got to do with energy independence. We’ve got to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much. We have to keep Americans’ taxes low — all Americans’ taxes low. Let’s not raise taxes on anybody today.

“… I think that this problem has become so severe, as you know, that we’re going to have to do something about home values. Home values of retirees continue to decline and people are no longer able to afford their mortgage payments. As president of the United States … I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes — at the diminished value of those homes and let people … be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.”

The two men strongly differed on the main cause behind the economic crisis, with Obama saying it was deregulation and McCain blaming companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac making risky loans.

“The biggest problem in this whole process was the deregulation of the financial system,” Obama said. “Sen. McCain, as recently as March, bragged about the fact that he is a deregulator. On the other hand, two years ago, I said that we’ve got a sub-prime lending crisis that has to be dealt with. I wrote to [Treasury] Secretary [Henry] Paulson, I wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman [Ben] Bernanke, and told them this is something we have to deal with, and nobody did anything about it. A year ago, I went to Wall Street and said we’ve got to reregulate, and nothing happened. And Sen. McCain during that period said that we should keep on deregulating because that’s how the free enterprise system works.”

McCain called Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the “real catalysts.”

“They’re the ones that, with the encouragement of Sen. Obama and his cronies and his friends in Washington, that went out and made all these risky loans, gave them to people that could never afford to pay back,” McCain said. “And you know, there were some of us that stood up two years ago and said we’ve got to enact legislation to fix this. We’ve got to stop this greed and excess. Meanwhile, the Democrats in the Senate and some — and some members of Congress defended what Fannie and Freddie were doing. They resisted any change. Meanwhile, they were getting all kinds of money in campaign contributions. Sen. Obama was the second highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history.”

Obama and McCain also were asked what each of them would do within their first two years as president to make sure Congress moves fast on environmental issues.

“What’s the best way of fixing [climate change]? Nuclear power,” McCain answered. “Sen. Obama says that it has to be safe or disposable or something like that. Look, I was on Navy ships that had nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is safe, and it’s clean, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. And, and I know that we can reprocess the spent nuclear fuel. The Japanese, the British, the French do it. And we can do it, too. Sen. Obama has opposed that. We can move forward, and clean up our climate, and develop green technologies, and alternative energies for hybrid, for hydrogen, for battery-powered cars, so that we can clean up our environment and at the same time get our economy going by creating millions of jobs.”

Said Obama, “It is absolutely critical that we understand this is not just a challenge, it’s an opportunity, because if we create a new energy economy, we can create 5 million new jobs, easily, here in the United States. It can be an engine that drives us into the future the same way the computer was the engine for economic growth over the last couple of decades… The same way the computer was originally invented by a bunch of government scientists who were trying to figure out, for defense purposes, how to communicate, we’ve got to understand that this is a national security issue, as well. And that’s why we’ve got to make some investments and I’ve called for investments in solar, wind, geothermal. Contrary to what Sen. McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix.”

At one point during the debate Brokaw asked the two men if they thought health care was a privilege, a right or a responsibility. McCain called it a responsibility, Obama a right.

“I think it’s a responsibility, in this respect, in that we should have available and affordable health care to every American citizen, to every family member,” McCain said. “And with the plan that — that I have, that will do that. But government mandates I’m always a little nervous about. But it is certainly my responsibility. It is certainly small-business people and others, and they understand that responsibility. American citizens understand that. Employers understand that. But they certainly are a little nervous when Sen. Obama says, if you don’t get the health care policy that I think you should have, then you’re going to get fined.”

Said Obama, “I think it should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills — for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that…. Small businesses are not going to have a mandate [under Obama’s plan]. What we’re going to give you is a 50 percent tax credit to help provide health care for those that you need.”

The two men took several questions on foreign policy, one of which asked them to define their doctrine for the use of U.S. forces in situations where there is a humanitarian crisis that does not affect national security.

“We may not always have national security issues at stake, but we have moral issues at stake,” Obama said. “If we could have intervened effectively in the Holocaust, who among us would say that we had a moral obligation not to go in? … So when genocide is happening, when ethnic cleansing is happening somewhere around the world and we stand idly by, that diminishes us. And so I do believe that we have to consider it as part of our interests, our national interests, in intervening where possible. But understand that there’s a lot of cruelty around the world. We’re not going to be able to be everywhere all the time. That’s why it’s so important for us to be able to work in concert with our allies.”

Said McCain, “The United States of America, Tom, is the greatest force for good. And we must do whatever we can to prevent genocide, whatever we can to prevent these terrible calamities that we have said never again. But it also has to be tempered with our ability to beneficially affect the situation. That requires a cool hand at the tiller. This requires a person who understands what the limits of our capability are. We went in to Somalia … as a peacekeeping organization, we ended up trying to be peacemakers and we ended up having to withdraw in humiliation. So you have to temper your decisions with the ability to beneficially affect the situation and realize you’re sending America’s most precious asset, American blood, into harm’s way. And, again, I know those situations. I’ve been in them all my life.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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