BOISE, Idaho — Republican Congressman Mike Simpson and his Democratic challenger Aaron Swisher squared off Wednesday night in a lively virtual debate hosted by KTVB.
Simpson is seeking his 12th term representing Idaho's Second Congressional District. He currently sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and is the chairman of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. Simpson has also voted multiple times in opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
Swisher is an economist from Boise and was also Simpson's Democratic opponent in the 2018 midterm elections.
In 2018, Rep. Simpson beat Swisher 61% to 39%, with over 280,000 ballots cast.
Wednesday night's debate was moderated by KTVB's Kim Fields, Mark Johnson, Doug Petcash, and Joe Parris. You can watch the full debate in the YouTube player below.
During the debate, Simpson and Swisher spiritedly went back and forth over a variety of subjects, including election security, raising the minimum wage and the Black Lives Matter movement.
One of the first topics both candidates talked about was the COVID-19 pandemic and how the federal government responded to it.
Swisher was critical of President Donald Trump's response to it when it first broke out in the spring.
"What we should have done is taken the situation seriously and admonished the American people to take it seriously until we figured out exactly what we were dealing with," he said. "The president didn't do that."
However, Simpson looks at the situation differently and thinks the federal government didn't handle the situation poorly.
"I actually think the federal government did a pretty decent job when we started with this," he said. "If you look Congress passed like three bills almost unanimously to address the needs the American people were going to have."
Another topic discussed was the economy and how to get it back up and recovering from the damage done by the pandemic. Swisher's idea is to raise wages.
"An economy that is more fair to working people so they can meet general needs," he said. "Add some spending, some discretionary spending to drive the economy and also save for rainy days. "
Simpson disagreed with that idea though and instead wants to continue on the course the Trump administration was on before the pandemic hit and keep unemployment rates low which would drive competition.
"The competition for those employees increases and employers have to pay more in wages to maintain those employees," he said. "That is what you saw happening, that is how you increase wages, not the government coming in and mandating what you have to pay."
One part of the debate that brought up some lively discussion was a question about Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare.
Swisher is against repealing it unless there is something better to take its place.
He said that Simpson has voted to repeal ObamaCare 60 times, adding that if it were to be repealed, then people like his wife who is battling breast cancer would have a hard time finding a different insurance plan.
"If her cancer crops back up, that could be considered a pre-existing condition and that is a serious problem," he said. "A lot of Americans face that and the Affordable Care Act fixed that and the Republicans want to get rid of that."
Simpson said there are provisions of the ACA that Republicans support. Those provisions include keeping health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, allowing young adults to stay on their parent's insurance plan until they turn 26 and more.
However, he does want a healthcare plan that brings in more competition.
"That's what keeps prices down," he said. "Right now, over half of the counties in America have one option, that is not competition."
The debate wrapped up by both candidates responding to a question about the current political climate.
Swisher said there are too many politicians in the nation's capital that have been there for too long and are too invested in the two-party system since the party supports them with money.
Instead, he wants to get fresh faces in Washington who aren't invested and haven't been supported by one of the parties for several years.
"When I talk with somebody, I don’t care if they’re a Democrat or Republican, I care about whether they’re just or unjust or rational or irrational," he said. "What are the quality of their thoughts and can they think critically. That’s what is important to me."
Simpson pointed to his history of working across the aisle to get things done for the people of Idaho.
"I have a history of working across the aisle, if you look at some of the legislation that I’ve done, its taken bipartisan support to get it done," he said. I really don’t care where that support comes from when I've got something that I want to do, I will work whoever it takes to get it done and that’s the way I’ve operated the last 20 years and that’s the way I will continue to operate."
The debate will re-air this Friday at 7 p.m. on Idaho NewsChannel 7.