'Bass, Kuster, war and peace'
Annie Kuster and U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass agree on very little, but at a debate in Derry last night both said U.S. military forces should come home before the deadline President Obama has set for them.
"My understanding is that al-Qaida is not in Afghanistan at this point," Kuster said. "We can't get bogged down in these very, very expensive conflicts."
Bass said he supports the president's plan to withdraw forces by 2014 but didn't approve of the decision to send an additional 33,000 to the country in December 2009. About 68,000 troops remain in Afghanistan.
"The president's surge in Afghanistan, I thought that was a mistake," Bass said. "The sooner we get out there, safely, securing American troops, the better."
But that's about where the agreements ended at last night's debate held at WBIN-TV and co-sponsored by AARP New Hampshire.
Bass, a Peterborough Republican, is in a close rematch of 2010 when he beat Kuster by about 3,500 votes.
It was the second of three televised debates for the candidates and the first in which they discussed their foreign policy positions in any detail.
Kuster said she'd do a better job advocating for veterans than Bass.
"Charlie Bass has repeatedly voted against supporting the veterans when they come home, and I think that's a tragedy, to vote for wars and not support the veterans when they come home," she said.
Bass, who mentioned in a recent interview with the Monitor that his older brother has a full disability pension because of service as a swift boat operator in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, called Kuster's accusation "absolutely false."
"I have supported veterans consistently. I have a full-time employee who does nothing but handle veterans affairs," Bass said, referring to a person in his Capitol Hill office.
"What really matters are the votes to protect veterans' health care," Bass said.
Kuster did not provide specifics during the debate.
Afterward her campaign cited votes Bass cast in 2003 and 2005 that they said prevented the government from extending TRICARE health insurance to reservists and National Guard members and from giving bonuses to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Bass campaign pointed out that, among other things, the congressman has sponsored bills that would allow members of the Guard and the Reserve to be granted full veteran status and for a full-service VA hospital to be built in the state.
The candidates spent the bulk of the debate, though, discussing domestic matters, primarily tax policy.
During the debate, Bass said Kuster had a "death bed conversion" on a New Hampshire income tax.
In the late 1990s, Kuster was on the board of a political action committee that advocated a state income tax in the late 1990s. Now she doesn't.
"I do not support an income tax for the state of New Hampshire. Period," Kuster said during the debate. "Despite anything my opponent may say, he has that wrong."
In a press availability after the debate, Kuster said she'd vote against a ballot initiative to amend the state Constitution to ban an income tax.
"I don't believe we should tie the hands of future generations," Kuster said.
During the debate Kuster again criticized Bass for voting in favor of the budget set forward by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is also Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate.
Democrats criticize the plan because they say it will force seniors to receive Medicare through a voucher program and cut other programs.
"The budget is your statement of principles, your statement of values," Kuster said. "I don't think we should cut education, and I don't think we should cut Pell grants."
Bass, in turn, said his support of the Ryan and a Simpson-Bowles budget plan, which would rely on both spending cuts and tax increases, is a step in the right direction to fiscal responsibility. He also said he has supported education spending.
"I've supported Stafford loans," he said.
In a separate exchange, Kuster said she opposed New Hampshire's new law requiring voters to show an ID or sign an affidavit before receiving a ballot.
"This is a solution looking for a problem," she said.
Bass said he supported the law.
At the end of the debate, both candidates thanked their families for their support.
"It's tough. The ads are terrible, they're misleading," Bass said. "It's hard on my family."
Kuster said she's been "offended" by the ads depicting her prancing around in a suit, heels clacking.
"I am offended by the ads," she said. "But it's only I dance much better than that."
A television reporter asked Kuster after the event to prove she could dance better than the actress portraying her in the ad.
(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or email@example.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors.)