The three candidates vying to represent Virginia’s first congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives debated Wednesday night on issues like the economy, healthcare and education.
Republican incumbent Rob Wittman squared off against Democrat Bill Day and Libertarian Nathan Larson in the Williamsburg Regional Library auditorium. Despite high turnout from community members, few students from the College of William and Mary attended.
The Williamsburg League of Women Voters sponsored the debate.
Beginning with questions on the economy, Wittman, who took office in December of last year after the death of Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, criticized the recent $700 billion government bailout of failing national banks, though he criticized other aspects of the bill. Wittman argued that the government should focus on bolstering small businesses.
Day said he would seek to improve the economy by repealing tax cuts for the wealthy and ending the Iraq war as quickly and safely as possible, which he noted currently costs the nation $10 billion per month.
“I don’t think we can afford that debt,” he said.
Larson argued for privatizing transportation and other areas of government.
“There’s no service the government provides that couldn’t do better privately,” he said.
Larson said that education should be privatized and, in a move that drew laughs from the audience, made optional. Larson argued for the abolition of almost all government services and taxes, although he was unable to say how he would convince Congress to do so.
Moving to health care, Wittman argued that changes must be made in the reimbursement system because Medicare favors surgical reimbursement over physician compensation.
“We need to make sure we restructure the base of [Medicare],” he said.
Day, a mental health counselor and two-time cancer survivor, argued that Medicare should be expanded.
“I support Medicare,” he said. “It’s proven, it works.”
Day, however, argued that health care costs could be significantly reduced by streamlining the system’s efficiency and promoting preventative care, which he said would reduce long-term costs.
Larson, again shocking the audience, advocated the abolition of Medicare.
After touching on federal recognition of Indian tribes — which Wittman and Day supported and Larson did not — all three candidates affirmed their support of nationwide congressional redistricting by an independent, non-partisan body.
Wittman and Day supported cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, which runs along the eastern shore of the district.
“We need to make sure the money is going to things that are working,” Wittman said. “The bay is at a tipping point right now. It needs to be cleaned up, period.”
Day said he would seek to invest in more alternative energy sources including geothermal, wave and wind energy.
“I support drilling offshore,” Day said. “Drilling for windmills.”
Larson argued for the privatization of the bay, which he said would promote responsible use of its resources and discourage pollution.
Finally, the candidates addressed how they would counsel the next president on bipartisan issues.
Larson said he would give the next president some economics books to read, bringing a laugh from the audience.
Wittman argued that the next president must reach across the aisle to enact change.
Day was more specific, saying that the next president must focus on the national debt, balancing the budget and securing energy independence, issues he said cross party lines.
“These are American issues,” Day said.