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MO-Sen: Claire McCaskill and Josh Hawley debate health care, taxes, and tariffs

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) (right) and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) (left) squared off in a debate Thursday night in St. Louis. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Incumbent Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill and her GOP challenger, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, debated in St. Louis Thursday night.

The two candidates argued health care, taxes, tariffs, and entitlements, and they worked in a few swipes at each another in the hourlong event.

What are the details?

Moderator Judy Woodruff of "PBS Newshour" kicked things off by asking Hawley about his views on the nation's rising deficit under President Donald Trump. She asked the Republican if he agreed with recent comments made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are the leading drivers of the deficit and should be reformed.

"I do not support cutting Social Security or Medicare, I don't support any changes to those programs for anyone who is currently receiving benefits or who is going to be receiving benefits any time in the near future," Hawley answered. "I think it is vital we protect these programs that Americans have paid into with their hard-earned cash."

The AG then took aim at McCaskill, saying that one of the things they disagree on is that "she voted to cut $716 billion from Medicare in order to pay for Obamacare."

"I think that was wrong, I think those cuts ought to be restored, and if we want to talk about the deficit and the drivers of deficit spending, I would start with Obamacare," Hawley continued. "It's going to cost over 2 trillion more over the next decade."

Hawley said health insurance premiums for Missourians are up 145 percent since 2013, calling the Affordable Care Act "outrageously expensive."

McCaskill immediately blamed Trump's tax cuts for being "part of the problem here," arguing that "revenues are down and wages are stagnant" in the wake of the cuts.

Where did these numbers come from?

Experts disagree on whether the recent tax cuts or souring debt are to blame for the increasing U.S. deficit, which was 17 percent higher for fiscal year 2018 than the year before. Former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has blamed the Trump tax cuts, while McConnell has blamed entitlements. Nonetheless, the president has vowed to cut spending and push through further measures to reduce taxes after the midterm elections.

McCaskill said the $716 billion that her opponent mentioned was actually redirected to cover prescriptions for seniors and said Hawley would be the one who would cut Medicare.

The Washington Post reported in August 2012 that it was true that Obamacare cut Medicare by $716 billion, and provided a breakdown of the cuts: 30 percent in cuts to Medicare Advantage payments, over 34 percent in hospital reimbursements, and another dozen cuts equaling the remaining 35 percent.

However, KCUR-FM reported that the claim was false, because the cuts were "mostly aimed at private insurance companies that ran Medicare plans, not the beneficiaries of those plans."

McCaskill also said the 145 percent statistic that Hawley cited was only for people on the exchanges who did not qualify for subsidies, and only constituted 5 percent of Missourians.

"Josh's campaign has a tortured relationship with the truth," she added.

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a report in May 2017, showing that since 2013, exchange premiums were 105 percent higher in 39 states. Missouri's average monthly premiums in the exchange were shown to have risen 145 percent, going from an average of $197 per month in 2013, to $483 per month in 2017.

In 2017, nearly 250,000 Missouri consumers picked a plan on the Obamacare exchange, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. With an estimated statewide population of over 6.1 million people, that equates to roughly 4 percent of the population participating in the exchanges.

Hawley said that while McCaskill is a "good person," she "does not represent this state anymore," adding that "she has become a party-line liberal."

What about trade?

Moving on to tariffs, McCaskill blamed President Trump's trade restrictions for dropping commodity prices, and said the farm aid subsidies which the administration offered as an offset are insulting, KSDK-TV reported.

"There's not a bean farmer in Missouri that's going to come out even this year," McCaskill said. "And the help that they're being given frankly in some situations is insulting. Corn, a penny a bushel? It's almost not worth the effort."

Hawley pointed to successes Trump has had in trade negotiations, and criticized McCaskill for not supporting the farm aid bills.

"When the president announced his aid package, she said that it was picking winners and losers and intervening in the market," Hawley said. "Well with all due respect, I want to pick winners and losers. I want to pick Missouri farmers as winners and China as a loser."

USDA officials told the Lincoln Star Journal in July that the retaliatory tariffs incurred during the trade war amounted to an estimated $11 billion in economic damage to farmers, and the Trump administration offered a $12 billion aid package to offset the blow.

Anything else?

On other issues, Hawley — who is endorsed by the NRA — expressed his support of fixing the national background check system by adding mental health information to it. He also wants to repeal and replace Obamacare (while assuring coverage of pre-existing conditions), supports building a wall along America's southern border, and opposes a minimum wage increase.

McCaskill said she supports the Second Amendment but wants to see the U.S. have universal background checks, ban bump stocks, and prohibit individuals on the no-fly list from buying firearms at gun shows.

She also wants to fix Obamacare rather than toss it out, and pressed for a move to alternative fuels.

"The climate change is real. It's time to trust our scientists," she said.

Hawley and McCaskill will debate again on Oct. 25 in Kansas City, as the two remain neck-and-neck in the race.

McCaskill has been cited as one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators in the country in a state President Trump won by 19 points.

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