SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow and Republican challenger John Stone squared off in their battle for the 12th Congressional District seat during a Tuesday night forum one week before the Nov. 4 general election. The forum, which was the last in a scheduled series of candidate appearances, was sponsored by the Savannah Morning News and WSAV-TV.
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What is your position regarding the recent $700 billion federal bailout?
Barrow: I voted against the bailout twice because it ended up substantially as it began. There is too much downside for the taxpayer and not nearly enough upside for the economy. There was a handful of areas of waste, fraud and abuse in the financial services sector that we tried to address, but that was watered down. I would like for us to reprogram and rescind the money left over to do that.
Stone: One of the first things I'd like to do is repeal that awful bailout. It was one that was awarded to the very people that brought the disaster to us to start with by writing a blank check to Wall Street. We need to come back and recover as much of the money as possible. We need a plan that protects the taxpayer and homeowners and creates a structure where we could recover any money we put into it. Those funds would be reserved for a new Social Security lock-box.
What would you do in regard to the housing crisis affecting our nation right now?
Stone: Immediately cut off the pipeline of new foreclosures coming on the market and then move as rapidly as possible to get the existing foreclosures off the market. We need to look at the interest rate people are paying. If they can pay a reasonable market rate and afford to stay in the homes, let's leave them in the homes. Of the foreclosures that are there, let's get them into a resolution trust corporation arrangement in which we don't blow them out on pennies on the dollar and we take the time necessary to move them back on the market.
Barrow: The most important thing to do is to rework these bad debts - these bad mortgages at the homeowner level - so we can turn bad loans that can't be paid off into good loans that will be paid off. We need to recognize that this is not just a problem in the home-mortgage market. This is also throughout the financial, commercial and industrial sector.
Explain your positions regarding the troop "surge" in Iraq.
Barrow: The troops should not be tasked with minding someone else's civil war. That is what this has become. I voted against the surge not in opposition to the troops; it was an expression of disapproval of the president's management and administration of the war until that time.
Stone: I criticized Congressman Barrow because he voted against the troop surge. That's the wrong message we need to send to the enemies of America.
What is your position regarding current troop deployments?
Stone: We need to get back to the family-impact policy of having a military of an adequate size, in which we can hopefully not deploy married family members with kids for more than six months within a reasonable time frame. The military is too small. We currently don't have an adequate number of people to meet that requirement.
Barrow: The part-time members of the backup army have essentially been drafted into full-time duty. This is a tremendous strain on the reserve families. They are the ones that have a foot in our economies. They are the ones that have breadwinners or who own a business or doing something else before they got drafted. I think the Iraqis need to start taking responsibility for their own affairs.
Explain your position regarding the proposed "Fair Tax plan" that substitutes a national sales tax for most other forms of federal taxes and essentially wipes out the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Barrow: You can't raise the same amount of money from two very different tax bases - on one hand, what we raise on the income tax, on what the folks earn; on the other, the sales tax, what people spend - without shifting the tax burden from folks who don't spend everything they make to folks who do spend everything they make.
Stone: I would not vote for the plan in its present form. I think we need to kill the IRS and eliminate income tax altogether. I support an equalizing import tariff in which we stop cheap imports from coming into this country that are not in substantial compliance with U.S. law, along with a national sales retail tax.