Health Care, Taxes Dominate Kentucky Congressional Debate Between Barr, McGrath

Oct 30, 2018

Amy McGrath (left) and Andy Barr (middle) met for a live debate moderated by Frank Harris.
Credit Stu Johnson

Candidates in Kentucky's competitive 6th Congressional district argued over health care, taxes and the national debt in their only joint appearance before the Nov. 6th midterm election.

Republican Andy Barr, Democrat Amy McGrath and Libertarian Frank Harris debated for an hour on Kentucky Educational Television on Monday for a seat that covers 19 counties in central Kentucky, a district Republican President Donald Trump won by double digits in 2016. Barr has held the seat since 2012. But McGrath, a retired Marine fighter pilot, has raised more money than him. Democrats view the race as critical to their efforts to win a majority in Congress for the final two years of Trump's term.

Barr has labeled McGrath as "too liberal for Kentucky," relying on a surreptitiously recorded comment McGrath uttered during one of her fundraisers where she says "I am further left, I am more progressive than anyone in the state of Kentucky." Monday, McGrath said Barr took her words out of context, but said she did not know what the context was. She called on him to release the full recording of her speech, confident it would reveal the type of sensible solutions she seeks to define her candidacy.

"On many issues I am very conservative and then on some issues I'm very liberal. And that's just who we are as Americans," she said.

Republicans dominate Kentucky's Congressional delegation, holding every seat except the Democratic stronghold of Louisville, the state's largest city. But the 6th Congressional district, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, the state capital, has switched parties five times since 1978. Moderator Renee Shaw pushed Barr on his voting record, noting political analysis website FiveThirtyEight showed he voted 97 percent of the time with the Trump administration. Barr pushed back, noting he has worked on bipartisan pieces of legislation that spent billions of dollars on combating the opioid epidemic and investing in medical research.

Asked if those bipartisan victories are worth overlooking the Trump administration's "indictments and misconduct many think the president often exhibits."

"Nobody tolerates any misconduct. The point is we are getting results for the people of this district," Barr said, adding: "The reality is that I routinely work across the aisle to get things done for the people of this district."

With no other debates between the two candidates, many voters only glimpse of the campaign has come with back-to-back TV commercials that have dominated the airwaves since May. Barr has run traditional attack ads, focusing on the volatile issues of abortion and immigration. The candidates did not discuss those issues on Monday, instead focusing on more dense topics of health care, taxes and the national debt. Barr again accused McGrath of endorsing a single-payer health care system that would eliminate private insurance companies in favor of a $32 trillion taxpayer-funded system.

"There are a lot of lies there," McGrath said.

"This is a positive campaign? Calling me a liar," Barr shot back.

"Are you done?" McGrath answered in one of several heated exchanges between the candidates.

McGrath said she does not support a single-payer health plan, but wants to let people buy in to Medicare at age 55 and for the government to offer health insurance plans not compete with the private sector. She criticized Barr for supporting a Republican tax plan that she said would add $2 trillion to the national debt.

"The debt and the deficit is absolutely doing to hurt us," McGrath said, calling for "a new generation of leaders who can stand up and lead this country and not be flat out puppets of their political party and their big corporate donors."

Barr quickly interjected, saying the idea McGrath would not be serious about reducing the deficit. He said her plan to let people buy-in to Medicare early would add trillions of dollars in debt to the already struggling program.

Harris, the Libertarian Party's nominee for the seat, struggled to get screen time in the debate. He said he left the Republican Party six years ago.

"They talk about balancing budgets, but when they have control of the White House, Senate and the House they don't balance the budget," he said. "These are things ordinary people believe in that they are not seeing from the two major parties."