OGDEN — The economy was top of mind for Republican Rep. Blake Moore and his Democratic challenger, Rick Jones, during their debate on Monday.
Although both candidates for Utah's 1st Congressional District agreed that the economy is one of the foremost issues on voters' minds, they disagreed on what is causing economic instability and what to do about it.
Moore said the blame lies with the "enormous amount" of spending by the federal government in recent months and that he plans to cut back on the deficit and mandatory spending in Congress. Jones, on the other hand, points to the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and the lack of enforcement of antitrust laws in the U.S. as the primary drivers of inflation.
The economy, inflation and gas prices
Economic concerns dominated more than half of the hour-long debate, which was held at Weber State University. Moore seemed eager to talk about the economy and inflation, and used the issue to attack Democratic leaders in Washington.
"I would love to talk about it continually," he said.
Moore said there's "absolutely a reason to be upset" about the current state of the economy in the U.S., adding that government spending — the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act in particular – is to blame.
"This is a tax on every single American," he said, speaking of the high levels of inflation. "I don't care how much you make, whatever your income status is — this is an enormous tax. And so yes, people are frustrated. They're seeing it play out in their daily lives, and we have to be willing to come in and address this."
As for addressing inflation, Moore said Congress needs to rein in the national debt, which surpassed $31 trillion last week.
Jones disagreed and argued that nearly all presidents in the past 40 years — both Republican and Democrat — have overseen "astronomical deficits," without facing the same levels of inflation.
"The truth is a lot of the inflation is due to COVID," Jones said. "It killed a million people and then slowed down another 4 or 5 million with long-haul COVID. There's the Ukrainian war, and it's been years since the United States has aggressively enforced antitrust. This has tended to create more companies with monopoly power that exercise that power to the disadvantage of so many people."
When asked about gas prices, in particular, Moore stressed the importance of American energy independence to insulate the nation from decisions made by OPEC+, the group of major oil-producing countries led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. He criticized the Biden administration for halting the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline last year.
"Regarding gas prices, we can't forget that a little over a decade ago, a barrel of oil was in the vicinity of $150," Jones said in response. "And more recently, it's been in the vicinity of $100."
Health care costs
There was some agreement between the candidates on how to address rising health care costs. Moore said he wants more competition in health care, and to allow patients to compare prices and services — just like they would when grocery shopping or selecting car insurance.
"Have you ever done that with your X-rays?" he asked. "No, you've never done that because we don't allow — we don't encourage — transparency and competition enough in our health care markets."
"I would completely agree with that," Jones said, "and I can't applaud the Biden administration strong enough for reducing drug prices, and I think it should be that way for everyone."
Still, they weren't in complete lockstep when it comes to other ways to lower health care costs. When asked how he plans to reduce costs for college students, Jones said he supports expanding Medicaid to help more low-income Americans qualify for insurance.
"Our health care costs really are completely out of line relative to the rest of the world," he said.
Moore, on the other hand, said he is optimistic that telehealth and other remote health options can prove less costly and more accessible for younger Americans. He also believes more investment in telehealth research will let more people access preventative care and prevent costly and debilitating long-term health problems.
The future of abortion
Aside from economic concerns, the candidates addressed the future of abortion following the Supreme Court’s June decision that overturned the constitutionally protected right to abortion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they each generally stuck to the party line in their responses.
"My focus on this from the very start has been ... to promote two really important things to me," Moore said. "One is protecting life, and I won't apologize for it. And the other case is making sure that women have the resources they need when they're in a difficult situation."
Those situations, Moore said, include providing resources for adoption as well as expanding the child tax credit to include fetuses, because "if we believe that's life, then why wouldn't it apply to a baby in the womb?"
Jones said he considers abortion in certain circumstances to be health care and said women should have the choice within the first trimester of pregnancy.
"I'm, to be honest, appalled at the idea that a 10-year-old, or young children, would have to carry babies to term," he said. "I just think that goes against so much of what we believe in. ... I also think it's foolish to try to criminalize abortion when about two-thirds of the country do want at least what was available with Roe v. Wade — which permitted women to make the call in the first trimester."
Moore said he agreed with exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is at risk. He said we should "rely on the medical community to help us understand what those cases are."
Climate change and drought
Both candidates spoke of the importance of taking steps to mitigate climate change and drought and said the federal government has a role to play in doing so. Moore touted his support of Utah Rep. John Curtis' Conservative Climate Caucus and highlighted the potentially devastating impacts of the shrinking Great Salt Lake.
"We have to take a comprehensive approach to this," Moore said. "We have to deal with things acutely in the near term. We have to be willing to look at greenhouse gas emissions over time. What can the U.S. be doing to lead in this effort?"
Jones stressed the need for reducing the amount of carbon emissions, but neither candidate provided specifics on how to do that.
"Probably at some point, we'll have to do some steps to really discourage carbon consumption," Jones said. "But for now, we need to keep the full array of options open and make sure that the transition (away from carbon) is well thought out."
To watch Monday's debate between Utah's 1st Congressional District Rep. Blake Moore and his Democratic challenger, Rick Jones, click on the video player below.