EDMOND (AP) — Democrat Tom Guild accused Republican Rep. James Lankford of helping increase the national debt on Friday during a forum in which they and two other candidates vying to represent Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District outlined their views on the debt, the economy and health care.
Guild said the national debt has risen more than $2 trillion since Lankford was elected two years ago and now totals $16 trillion.
“Mr. Lankford is asking us to rehire him for another two-year term. And one of his major talking points is deficits and debt,” Guild told a group of about 50 people at the political forum at Oklahoma Christian University. “As to the national debt, he helped build that.”
Lankford said he is part of a GOP majority in the House that has struggled to cut the growth in government spending and help reduce the nation’s debt. He said government spending leveled off during his first term but that more needs to be done.
“This is a spending-driven problem,” Lankford said. “It’s a slow, tedious process.”
Lankford was a political newcomer when he emerged from a crowded Republican primary field in 2010 and won the GOP nomination in a runoff. Guild unsuccessfully sought the 5th District Democratic nomination for the seat in 2010.
They will face each other and independents Robert Murphy and Pat Martin in the Nov. 6 general election. The 5th District includes almost all of Oklahoma County, along with Pottawatomie and Seminole counties.
Guild, a retired college professor, said his top priorities are protecting public education and government programs like Social Security and Medicare. He said a well-educated workforce will help stimulate the economy.
Guild said he supports allowing tax cuts for people who make more than $250,000 a year expire on Jan. 1 but wants to extend tax cuts to those who make less than $250,000 a year.
Lankford, who serves on the Budget and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, said the House has proposed a plan to resolve the tax cut issue, but that leaders of the Democrat-controlled Senate have refused to negotiate a solution until after the election.
“It’s an incredibly frustrating scenario that all of us are stuck in,” Lankford said. “The entire nation is on pins and needles.”
Guild also said the new federal health care law may require adjustments as it is implemented over the next two years, but that the legislation will resolve many of the nation’s health insurance issues, including people with catastrophic illnesses having their health insurance rescinded and those with pre-existing conditions being denied coverage.
Lankford said the outcome of the hotly-contested race between Democratic President Barack Obama, who supports the new law, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who opposes key aspects of it, will determine what happens to the health care legislation.
“There’s a lot that has to be undone on this,” Lankford said.
Murphy described himself as a Libertarian who believes in free-market enterprise.
“The Libertarian position is that we have a free economy,” Murphy said. “Freedom is the genius of American civilization. Libertarians like freedom across the board. Freedom is a good thing.”
Murphy said his political philosophy also extends to health care, which he said is expensive because it is the most regulated industry in the U.S.
Martin said Congress needs an independent voice to overcome its two-party conflicts and “irritation between both sides of the aisle in Washington.” He said members of the two major parties are pursuing their political agenda and are unwilling to compromise, resulting in deadlock and an inability to get things done.
“They’ve forgotten it’s the American people they serve,” Martin said. “I’m running not as a politician but as a citizen representative. I believe it is time for regular, everyday Americans to step up.”
The forum was sponsored by the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce.