ROCHESTER — With six days left before the election, Republican Luke Puckett took the offensive against incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly during the final debate in the 2nd Congressional District.

From his opening remarks, Puckett attacked Donnelly’s voting record in the U.S. House and attempted to paint him with a liberal label.

Donnelly countered the attacks.

He stressed his ranking as an Independent in the House and defended his voting record.

The debate Wednesday at Rochester High School had three students asking questions along with Bill White of the Rochester Sentinel. For much of the debate, Puckett walked around the stage.

When Puckett was asked for his definition of a liberal, he said what Donnelly says 600 miles away from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is different from what he says when 6 feet away.

Puckett said Donnelly has voted 85 percent of the time with Pelosi and that he is not an Independent but a liberal on issues such as abortion and gay rights.

Donnelly said he has never voted on an abortion bill in Congress.

“Donnelly claims to be pro-life but has never voted on any abortion bill,” Puckett countered. “He voted for human cloning.”

Donnelly said he voted against stem cell research funding and has a 100 percent rating with the National Right to Life.

“You can march around the stage all night and say things, but that is not my record,” Donnelly told Puckett.

Puckett said the Social Security system will run a deficit in eight years.

“People who are retired or about to retire won’t lose any benefits,” he said of a proposed plan to make the system financially solvent. “Those 55 and younger can take the first $10,000 and put it in a private retirement account.”

Puckett said Social Security is earning only 1.5 percent while the stock market earnings have increased traditionally by a modest 4 percent to 6 percent.

“My opponent will tell you the market is bad,” he said. “If the markets are so bad, why bail them out.”

Donnelly said the $700 billion rescue plan of the nation’s financial market was done to save the savings accounts and retirements for every American.

“It is an obligation,” he said. “We have to put the money taken out of the Social Security Trust Fund back. When that is done, it will be solvent until 2040.”

Donnelly said he supports creating a separate commission to make necessary changes in the system to ensure it will continue in the future.

When asked about earmark spending for special projects as a way to reduce spending, Donnelly said he was supportive of a moratorium but added that until that took place he would work for projects in the district that made sense.

“The money is in the budget,” he said.

Puckett said there is too much excess government spending and would support a two-year moratorium. He said a system should be put in place to review the requests and fund those projects that were necessary.

Concerning job creation, Donnelly said the rescue package would keep credit flowing, which would lead to the retention of jobs in Kokomo and Elkhart.

“If people aren’t able to buy cars and RVs, there will be no jobs,” he said.

“We had to stabilize the economy and make credit available.

Donnelly said to attract investment the district needs a trained and skilled work force and that there are opportunities available to create jobs.

Puckett said he was opposed to government intervention and called for a five-year moratorium on the capital gains tax to put money into the system for investment, make the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent and reduce the corporate tax rate by 50 percent.

Donnelly said he doesn’t agree with presidential candidate Barack Obama’s health-care plan, but favored a proposed plan that would be revenue neutral, extend coverage and expand insurance pools through the private sector.

Puckett said change should come through the private sector by expanding the insurance pools and making coverage more accessible. He also wants to eliminate frivolous lawsuits.

Ken de la Bastide can be reached at (765) 454-8580 or via e-mail at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com

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