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Murray, Rossi

Dino Rossi
Dino Rossi
Patty Murray
Patty Murray

Neither Republican Dino Rossi nor Democrat Patty Murray, the candidates for the Senate, looked especially comfortable or happy at the Seattle Times endorsement interview – they were getting through it. (Both have been endorsed in various past races.) Neither gaffed terribly or scored a knockout.

A lot of it had to do, as most candidate debates do, with the issues of the moment – the economy and federal spending. Neither said anything terribly new or out of character, but in that same way the session would be a useful voter primer.

There weren’t a lot of direct attacks either, though Rossi let fly some points doubtless honed on the trail. He said that all congressional earmarks should be banned (hitting directly Murray’s bacon-bringing, probably a wise tactical move but risky anyway). He said on the tax cut extensions – on the split between taxes for those over or under $250,000 a year – “Senator Murray is going to play the class warfare game” – although, in this matchup anyway, she didn’t … And there was a point, unspoken by Murray, that the federal tax burden has been steadily moving away from the wealthy and on to the middle class and below for a generation now, and the cut expiration for the upper income levels would be at most a minor corrective. But that went unsaid.

And there was Rossi’s reference to the “death tax” – which doesn’t exist: It’s an estate tax – and the often-debunked argument that great masses of small business people would be heavily impacted by it. (That was an argument that will, though, no doubt hit directly with the Times, whose owners would love to see it abolished.)

Murray also didn’t address directly Rossi’s argument that families would face an effective $1,800 energy tax if a cap and trade bill is enacted. Murray didn’t note that there are varied bills in the wings and none has been brought out for a vote, and she hasn’t voted for any. A casual listener would get the sense that she supports an $1,800 tax increase.

She made the argument – but indirectly and in circular fashion – that if Rossi is going to tag her with the current deficits, that she ought to get some credit for the federal budget balancing in the 90s. Rossi, of course, is always quick to point out his own role as a state senator in developing a balanced state budget seven years ago.

Rossi was generally best on the economic and financial side, though. His best and strongest single point may have been about the ongoing changes in the tax and other laws. Business people do need reliability to be able to plan ahead, and planning in the face of moving targets is difficult.

And he was definitive enough to maybe block one argument: “I have not said that I would privatize Social Security.” (Murray didn’t counter directly.)

He was vague on Afghanistan and seemed not to know what net neutrality was; Murray discussed both with more detail. On financial reform (“there were some good elements in it”) and health care (he liked the exchanges and some other aspects), Rossi seemed to acknowledge that something needed to be done, and had some specific criticisms, but had little to say about what concretely he would do. Murray was more specific in those areas.

Who gets the endorsement? A close call.

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