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Inflation, Social Security top 1st Pappas-Leavitt debate

U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, a Democrat seeking re-election to NH's 1st Congressional District, debated GOP nominee Karoline Leavitt yesterday for the first time.
Todd Bookman
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, a Democrat seeking re-election to NH's 1st Congressional District, debated GOP nominee Karoline Leavitt yesterday for the first time.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas of New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District and Republican Karoline Leavitt sparred over the problems of inflation, saving Social Security and reforming immigration during their wide-ranging first debate Thursday.

Pappas, who is seeking a third term, said the Inflation Reduction Act, which he supported and was signed into law in August, lowers the cost of prescription drugs and health care, and approves energy rebates and tax credits for homeowners.

"We did it in a way that was fully paid for, making sure that hundreds of big corporations that are paying no tax right now pay at least 15%." He said the bill would lower the federal deficit by $1.9 trillion over 20 years.

Leavitt argued that the measure actually raised inflation. She also blamed Pappas' support of new spending over the past two years that she said added to inflation. When asked how she would reduce deficit spending, Leavitt said she would work toward passing a balanced budget, cutting spending on foreign aid, for example.

Voter resources: How to vote in New Hampshire: What you need to know to cast your ballot in the 2022 elections

Regarding energy costs, Pappas said his push for the Biden administration to release millions of barrels of oil from the U.S. strategic reserves has lowered costs at the pump by about 30 cents a gallon on average.

"Instead of being in the pockets of big oil, I'll hold the industry to account and demand cheaper prices and push the administration to ensure that the supply and refining capacity is there to meet the need," Pappas said.

Leavitt responded, "Mr. Pappas just bragged about depleting our emergency reserves that are supposed to be there for wartime to lower prices before an election. That is shameful. I'm sorry, that's a short-term gimmick."

On the subject of protecting Social Security from insolvency, Pappas said he was in favor of forming a bipartisan commission to focus on "how we shore it up," and mentioned proposals that ensure people earning more than $1 million pay their fair share into the trust fund. He said he does not support raising taxes on people earning less than $400,000 a year.

Pappas said Leavitt would write a bill to privatize Social Security. Leavitt said she would vote to protect the benefits for anyone who has paid into the system, and that she is "open to alternative solutions that will ensure a better future for your children and grandchildren."

Regarding abortion, Pappas said he would support the Women's Health Protection Act, which would protect the right to access abortion care throughout the nation in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"I believe and trust that women know best for themselves when and how to start a family and how to make that very private personal decision, Pappas said.

Leavitt responded, "I am a woman and I do know what's best for myself, and that's electing legislatures closest to me, closest to we, the people, and that's at the Statehouse in Concord." She said she supported New Hampshire's law that took effect this year, prohibiting abortion after 24 weeks of gestation, with exceptions only for pregnancies that threaten the mother's life or health.

Leavitt said despite pro-Pappas campaign ads to the contrary, she will not support a federal ban on abortion.

Both candidates agreed there's a crisis at managing the southern border. Leavitt said, "we have to put our people first" and only allow people into the United States who are doing so legally. She noted that New Hampshire is still dealing with a fentanyl-trafficking crisis and that she has the backing of the New Hampshire Police Association.

Pappas said he has had legislation signed into law to classify fentanyl-related substances as a Schedule 1 drug so police can keep them off the streets. He's introduced a bill to increase penalties for drug dealers and strengthen the United States' efforts to stop the trafficking of illegal drugs through the dark web.

Leavitt worked in the White House press office under former President Donald Trump. George Epstein, who moderated the debate for the Mount Washington Economic Council, noted that she has asserted that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election. He asked her if she had "specific information that we don't have as far as that being the case, and where those millions of votes went?" adding, "Do you think that your comments undermine the democratic process in the country and the confidence that people have in the election results?"

Leavitt said she talks to voters every day and "the sad reality is they don't have confidence in our election results." She said she stands for states having their own power over election integrity and opposes a failed Democratic bill in Congress that would have affected virtually every aspect of the electoral process.

Pappas said Leavitt "continues to double-down on the big lie."

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