EAST WHITELAND - U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach and Democratic challenger Lois Murphy debated the issues in the race for the 6th Congressional District last Saturday at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Room.

The AARP forum, which attracted about 200 people and was moderated CBS 3 anchor Larry Mendte, focused on several issues, including social security, healthcare, the war in Iraq, national security and the recent ethics scandals in Washington.

The candidates agreed on some issues, including their opposition to privatizing Social Security.

"I do not believe the president's idea of personal accounts was the right idea," Gerlach said.

Murphy stated that Social Security is a crucial program that must be preserved.

"I believe Social Se-curity has been a fundamental success for our seniors," she said.

She added that she is in favor of greater fiscal discipline to preserve the program.

Murphy also said that she believes the privatization of Social Security will come up again if Republi-cans maintain the majority in Congress.

"If the Congress re-mains in Republican hands, President Bush has made it clear that he will reintroduce privatizing Social Security," she said.

The candidates also stressed that making healthcare more affordable and more accessible to Americans is an important issue.

Gerlach outlined some of his plans for greater healthcare coverage, and he said he is in favor of allowing small business owners to be able to purchase coverage through national organizations. He also said that medical liability reform is needed.

Murphy said that as she has been campaigning, healthcare has been on the minds of voters.

"There is no issue I hear more than the rising costs of healthcare," she said. "I think this needs to be put on the front-burner. We need all parties to come to the table."

Gerlach accused Murphy of not having a solid plan.

"I did not hear an answer from Murphy on what to do about healthcare," he said.

The candidates did differ on some issues.

Gerlach said that he is opposed to having Medi-care negotiate prices for the Medicare Part D Program.

"We need to look at ways to improve the program, but negotiating prices won't help," he said.

Murphy differed.

"I support empowering Medicare and all federal and state programs to use their purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices," she said.

The candidates, however, did agree that they oppose an annual limit on Medicare spending.

When asked about the Iraq war, neither candidate stated gave a timetable of when troops should come home.

Gerlach said that the Iraqi government must secure the country, and the United States must help the country's government do that. He added that he would like Congress to be more aggressive in setting benchmarks.

"We have to make sure that we achieve victory in Iraq," he said. "We need to have clear, defined bench marks. Once they are achieved, we can bring the troops home."

Murphy argued that the war in Iraq has made the country less safer.

"The war in Iraq has not made us safer," she said. "In the last month, violence has increased."

She also added that she believes Congress should be more aggressive when setting benchmarks.

The candidates did differ on taxes.

Gerlach praised the tax cuts that have been part of the president's agenda.

"The tax cuts have turned the economy around," he said. "We need to keep the tax policy in place as it is."

He added that there needs to be a firmer grasp on government spending.

Murphy said that she is in favor of adjusting the tax structure to benefit middle-class families, and she mentioned that she supports a college tuition tax deduction.

In terms of security, Gerlach said that he is in favor of the Patriot Act, surveillance and other national security legislation that has been passed.

He accused Democrats of not being tough enough on security.

"I don't understand how the Democrats support strengthening security when they don't vote for anything that will do so," he said.

Murphy said that she wants all of the recommendations that the 9/11 Commission made to be implimented. The commission was created after the terroristic attacks of Sept. 11. The commission studied how to strengthen the country's security and why the attacks happened.

"I support implementing all of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. That is real important," she said.

In terms of the recent ethic scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Congressional page scandal involving former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, Murphy and Gerlach agreed that an independent ethics office should be created for Congress.

Murphy said that gifts, trips and other things should be prohibited between politicians and lobbyists.

Gerlach closed by painting himself as an independent politician with solid years of experience under his belt.

"I have an independent voting record," he said. "I have a 16-year record of public service."

Murphy closed by saying that it is time for a change in Congress.

"We have so many great challenges we have not met," she said. "It is time we had a Congress that can face the challenges."

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