They jabbed and counterpunched for more than an hour as both U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., and former Congressman Max Burns squared off Thursday in Augusta as part of the rematch for the 12th Congressional District seat.
Both men drew cheers and the occasional hoot of derision from a packed Julian Smith Casino audience as part of a forum sponsored by AARP Georgia and the CSRA Coalition of Advocates for the Aging. Both sought to define themselves while peeling off the other's label.
Mr. Barrow sought to paint Mr. Burns as a willing tool of House Republican leaders while casting himself as someone who isn't afraid to buck his party.
"I think we need - this country wants - independence," Mr. Barrow said. "And I offer that."
But Mr. Burns said he is a "lifelong conservative" while Mr. Barrow has changed his tune in recent years to appear so.
"I'm not sure who he is," Mr. Burns said. "And I'm not sure you know, either."
Both agreed that Medicare Part D was providing a valuable drug benefit but it could be made less confusing. Mr. Barrow said the law creating it should be changed to allow the plans to negotiate volume discounts with the pharmaceutical companies to lower costs for seniors.
"Negotiated prices doesn't work," Mr. Burns said, "Competition does."
With an estimated 46 million uninsured, most of them working, the system needs to be changed to give smaller companies the breaks big companies get on price, Mr. Barrow said.
"These folks are priced out of the market," he said. Mr. Burns said he supported regional buying pools for smaller groups to come together for a better rate.
"There are way too many uninsured and underinsured Americans," he said.
But Mr. Barrow dismissed the policies that will be offered them as "junk insurance" that could lead to deregulation of the insurance market, with resulting higher prices.
Both men agreed that Social Security and Medicare needed to be funded adequately, with Mr. Burns blaming part of the current problem on people getting benefits they aren't entitled to, while Mr. Barrow pointed to Congress raiding funds to pay for deficit spending that he voted against.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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