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Emerson backs more tax cuts for business, while Sowers calls for military withdrawal

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 12, 2010 - The first debate between U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, and Democrat Tommy Sowers saw both portray themselves as potential "checks" on the Democrats now running Congress and occupying the White House.

Emerson said that Republican control of the U.S. House would help bring "a balance" to the federal government, and pledged to support House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, as the next speaker.

Sowers blasted Boehner for supporting privatization of Social Security and called for "new blood" in the congressional leadership. Sowers pledged to support a Democratic replacement for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, and also pledged his support for congressional term limits.

The 90-minute faceoff at Southeast Missouri State University was the first of four such debates to be held over the next week throughout the Eighth Congressional District, which takes in southeast Missouri. Also participating was Libertarian Rick Vandeven and independent Larry Bill, who generally offered the most conservative financial views. (Vaneven called for an end to Social Security, while Bill said the retirement age needs to be raised.)

But most of the focus was on Emerson, in office since late 1996, and Sowers, a former Green Beret from Rolla. He is seen as Emerson's toughest opponent, in part because of his successful fundraising. But Republicans contend that the district remains safe GOP turf.

Social Security and health care are hot issues in the Eighth District, where about a quarter of the residents are 65 or over.

Sowers, who served two tours in Iraq, called for the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistran, saying the money could be better used at home. Sowers said that his cell-phone service was worse in southern Missouri than it was in Iraq, because the United States has spent more on infrastructure overseas than at home.

Emerson said that the U.S. needed to stay in Afghanistan to end its role as a "safe haven" for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. "There are people in this world who hate us," she said.

Emerson repeatedly emphasized her call for cutting taxes and regulations for businesses, saying companies sent jobs overseas where taxes and environmental oversight weren't as strict. "We don't have a tax system that rewards job creation" or innovation, she said.

Sowers, in turn, asserted that Emerson had failed during her 14 years in Congress to address the Eighth District's economic decline. He said that 150 companies and 16,000 jobs have left since Emerson went to Congress in 1996.

She contended that Sowers' figures were wrong and asked him to back them up. Sowers said that the loss of jobs and factories was obvious during his travels around the district.

Sowers repeatedly called for an end to federal "bailouts," a jab at Emerson's vote in late 2008 for the financial bailout.

Emerson countered that at the time no other options existed "when faced with the economic collapse of America."

But on three other key issues -- health care, cap and trade, and taxes -- Sowers and Emerson appeared to be on the same side.

Both called for repealing all or part of the health-care law.

Emerson emphasized her opposition to the federal health insurance changes, saying it "will destroy the ability of our employers to afford medical coverage for their employees."

Sowers said the new law was "too big, too expensive and too complex," although Emerson's campaign later cited several interviews where he had indicated support for the federal health-care law.

Emerson and Sowers both emphasized their opposition to the "cap and trade" energy proposal, with Emerson asking how Sowers' view sits with the environmental groups who back him.

Both promised to advocate lower taxes, with Emerson -- joined by the Libertarian and independent candidates -- specifically called for extending all the Bush tax cuts. Sowers said he agreed that it currently was a poor time to raise taxes, but he immediately raised his concerns about the rising federal debt.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.