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Congressional Candidates Square Off at AACC in Final Debate

Each candidate was asked one of five questions, ranging from how to handle the federal deficit, to tax rates and federal loans for education.

Congressional candidates sparred over tax rates, the economy and federal involvement in education at a debate hosted by Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) on Tuesday evening.

District 3 candidates incumbent Democrat John Sarbanes, Republican Eric Knowles and Libertarian Paul Drgos Jr. squared off in a debate sponsored by the Center for the Study of Local Issues (CLSI) and AACC. A future article will cover the debate between District 4 candidates Faith Loudon and Donna Edwards.

Each candidate addressed five questions ranging from handling the federal deficit to tax rates and federal loans for education.

Knowles (R-Annapolis) said lowering taxes would provide a boost to the economy and the job market. However, he said a fundamental problem with the economy is that the Federal Reserve continues to print money which causes inflation and becomes a burden on taxpayers. This was a point he returned to later in the debate.

Sarbanes (D-Towson) said the country’s top earners could afford to be taxed more.

Drgos (L-Pasadena) took a hardline approach saying that the federal government can’t be in the business of creating jobs, and said the country’s tax code should be “thrown out” and re-examined.

The second question dealt with how the candidates envisioned a long-term plan for reducing the federal deficit.

Sarbanes said politicians shouldn’t be too hasty to slow spending, or it could have consequences.

“We need to be careful about contracting our spending in this recovering economy,” Sarbanes said.

Drgos used this opportunity to ask why Sarbanes was in favor of funding the F-35 fighter program, a costly tactical jet. The program has become a popular target for those seeking cuts to the Pentagon.

Sarbanes said it’s a topic still being debated in Washington, but agreed that “a more careful eye” should be kept  on expensive weapons projects.  

Knowles underscored the importance of reinvesting in private industry. By not doing so the country was setting itself up for “a recipe for disaster,” Knowles said.

All three candidates took a different approach on question three, which asked about their stances on federal loans for education. 

Dgros admitted that his perspective on the issue wasn’t popular, particularly while speaking at a community college.

“The federal government does not have a role in education,” he said. “All that they have done is raise college tuition.”

“When colleges have no reason to believe they won’t get paid in the end, they have no reason to lower their tuition,” he said. “If you don’t supply the excessive amounts of money out there for colleges to take in, they will have to reduce their tuition for students coming in.”

Sarbanes retorted that Drgos plan seemed, “interesting.”

“I’m not sure that economically makes a whole lot of sense,” he said.

Sarbanes reiterated a quote from the last debate, saying not giving students who have worked hard a chance for post-secondary education was a “cruel trick.”

Knowles reminded the audience that two years ago he was a student at AACC, and relied on its low-cost tuition for his education. He said the government shouldn't continue down what he called a cyclical path of federally backing loans, which in turn raised tuition costs.

Knowles also took a hardline stance in the fourth question, regarding the Affordable Care Act. Knowles called the act unconstitutional, saying states should have a way to opt out.

Drgos said a piece of legislation, however complex, couldn't solve the problem of healthcare in America. He said he had a fundamental problem with the government forcing taxpayers to purchase a service.

Sarbanes said the Affordable Care Act provides real solutions to real problems facing the country's healthcare system.

This was the final public debate between the candidates. Election Day is set for Nov. 6.

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