By ANDREW DeMILLO, Associated Press
CONWAY, Ark. (AP) — Republican Rep. French Hill and Democratic challenger Joyce Elliott clashed over President Donald’s Trump’s tax cuts and the federal health overhaul Monday as the two met up for their only debate in an Arkansas congressional race that’s turned unexpectedly tight.
Hill, who represents a district that includes Little Rock and seven central Arkansas counties, criticized Elliott over her opposition to the 2017 tax cuts. He said one of Elliott’s first votes in Washington would be to back former Vice President Joe Biden’s call to roll back some of the Trump tax cuts for those making more than $400,000.
“Her first vote when she gets to the House, if she got to the House, would be to vote for (Speaker) Nancy Pelosi. Her second vote, a $4 trillion increase in taxes,” Hill said at the debate televised by Arkansas PBS.
Elliott, a state senator from Little Rock, said the tax cut was skewed toward the highest earners, not middle class people.
“The 2017 tax cut was an absolute giveaway to the richest people in this country,” she said.
Elliott criticized Hill over his multiple votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes protections for people with preexisting conditions. She called Hill “gleeful” about doing so, citing a photo of him at a Rose Garden ceremony with Trump and other lawmakers after the House passed legislation repealing and replacing the health law.
“You have voted over a dozen times, over a dozen times, to take away their health care,” Elliott said. “Here we are in the midst of a pandemic and you are still holding that position of doing away with the ACA.”
Hill said the House GOP measure would have provided protections for preexisting conditions, though those safeguards have been criticized as providing less than what the current law provides.
“What we were trying to do is lower costs for health care, whether you’re a sole proprietor, whether you’re on the exchanges, or whether you’re in a small business,” Hill said.
Arkansas is a solidly red state that easily went for Trump four years ago, and Elliott lost her bid for the same 2nd District seat in 2010 by 20 percentage points. But she’s run a more competitive race this year against Hill, outraising him two quarters in a row. If elected, she would be the first black congressperson from Arkansas.
Hill scarcely invoked Trump during debate but regularly mentioned Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has appeared in a campaign ad for the congressman. Hill, however, criticized Elliott for supporting legislation Hutchinson signed into law increasing cell phone fees to pay for 911 improvements.
“Instead of doing another approach, proposing something different, she went along with the lobbyists in Little Rock and raised taxes on the poorest Arkansans,” Hill said.
Elliott cited the legislation, which passed the majority-Republican Legislature almost unanimously, as an example of working on a bipartisan basis.
“You deserve to have somebody at the other end of that line when you dial 9-1-1,” she said.
The debate was held with several precautions because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 1,586 people in the state. The debate was held at the Arkansas PBS studio instead of a University of Central Arkansas performance hall in front of an audience as in recent years, and the two rivals stood at lecterns 10 feet apart from one another.
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