By Rob Hotakainen
Democrat Ami Bera said he wants to build the high-speed rail line in California as a way to create jobs.
"Now's the time where we should be investing in 21st century transportation," Bera said. "Now's the time that we should be putting people back to work."
Republican Rep. Dan Lungren called Bera's response an example of "the silliness" of liberal policies in Washington.
"Have you noticed that we're in deficit, Dr. Bera?" Lungren said.
In often testy exchanges, the two candidates for California's 3rd Congressional District seat faced off Tuesday in their first and probably only debate, feuding over transportation, Social Security, tax cuts, health care and the war in Afghanistan.
In the half-hour debate on radio station KQED, Lungren said he favored the "double-nickel approach" to Social Security: assuring those who are 55 and older they have no reason to fear changes in the retirement program.
Lungren said those younger than 55 "should engage in a debate" with Congress and the president over how to keep the system solvent. He would favor a plan to allow workers to invest part of their Social Security earnings in private accounts.
Lungren said he does not favor the privatization of Social Security. Bera called that "an outright lie," adding, "Let's shore up the trust fund and keep it going."
Bera spent much of his time on the attack, accusing Lungren of representing big corporations and the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries in Washington.
Lungren countered that Bera would represent people outside the district who have contributed to his campaign.
On the war in Afghanistan, Bera called on President Barack Obama to tell Americans what he's trying to achieve. "Are we going to stay there forever?" he asked.
Lungren countered that the United States has "to ensure that there is a stable government in Afghanistan and that we do not leave before the job is done."
Lungren called for repeal of the health care bill passed by Congress in March, saying it has done nothing to control costs or improve access to health care.
Bera, in turn, said the new law doesn't take on the for-profit health care industry or control costs. "As a doctor, I'm tired of having to sit with my senior patients as they have to make decisions on which medications they can and can't afford," he said.
Lungren called for Congress to approve more tax cuts for small businesses as a way to create jobs. And he criticized the stimulus approved by Congress last year as the wrong approach.
Bera said Congress needs to close tax loopholes that encourage companies to move jobs overseas and to do more to promote clean energy.