LEXINGTON — Candidates for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District spoke about their ideas for the economy, health care and the cost of college during a forum Tuesday night, as early voting continues two weeks ahead of Election Day.
U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, and his Democratic challenger Jennifer Lewis, of Waynesboro, took turns addressing a crowd of more than 100 people at the Hampton Inn Downtown Lexington. They shared the stage with four candidates for the Lexington City Council.
On the economy, Cline said Democratic Party leaders in Washington, including the administration of President Joe Biden, are responsible for inflation. He listed statistics about increases in cost of living and stagnating wages.
“This administration and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and this House have done nothing to address inflation,” Cline said. “My opponent hasn’t put forward a solution; energy independence is the solution. We’re going to get back to energy independence if we take the majority.”
People are also reading…
Lewis said if she is elected, she will not let party politics get in the way of helping the economy grow. She mentioned trade jobs as well as agribusinesses like hemp and grape farming as locally growing sectors.
“We need Congress to regulate big corporations that have too much power and control over our economy,” Lewis said. “You can’t blame raising prices on inflation when the CEOs are seeing record-breaking profits while underpaying employees and overcharging customers.”
On a different question, Lewis, a mental health worker, said those services, from telehealth offerings to worker wages, need more investment. She said her opponent recently voted against the Mental Health Matters Act.
“Those who have already been marginalized continue to fall through the cracks,” Lewis said. “Even our veterans have to jump through hoops to get the funding for their mental health care, which can sometimes just seem like a pissing match between bureaucrats, and it drives me crazy.”
Cline, who previously served in the Virginia General Assembly, listed his past experience sponsoring mental health bills in state legislature, and in Congress. He said his opponent is in favor of defunding police programs.
“There’s a lot of talk about increasing funding, and we have to make sure that we can afford that funding for mental health,” Cline said. “Where I will never vote to take that money from is our police. I will never vote to defund our police.”
But Lewis, responding later to a question about rising costs of college education, said professions like policing could benefit from student loan forgiveness programs.
“I’m excited about these programs coming out through the Biden administration of canceling student debt,” Lewis said. “There’s different avenues that you can get your loans decreased — by being a mental health worker, being a teacher, being a police officer, all of those kinds of things, depending on your job — and if you’re going into an industry that is lacking in professionals, you can get your student loans decreased that way.”
Cline said college costs must be curtailed by getting the private sector more involved, especially in the lending process.
“Community colleges are a big part of that, because the workforce is critical and our future workforce, training that future workforce, is not just about colleges and four-year universities. It’s about those getting technical degrees as well.”
On a closing question about the future of Medicare, Cline said the entitlement program will not be the same for his young twin daughters by the time they retire, but it would be unfair to change the program for today’s senior citizens. He said government spending of the past two years has not helped.
“It is pushing more and more on our entitlement programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security — all of which are approaching insolvency, unless we take action,” Cline said.
On Medicare, he continued: “We have to make it sustainable beyond the date at which it is going to become insolvent, which is in the next decade.”
Lewis said she is excited that recently passed legislation will allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and she supports expanded and improved Medicare for all.
“We cannot have anybody in this country be without health care and access to health care, whether it’s preventative, ongoing, and again mental health,” Lewis said. “We are the richest country in this world, and for anybody to not have access to health care is completely inexcusable.”
The Tuesday night forum was hosted by the Lexington Chamber of Commerce.
Cline is running for a third term in Congress, while Lewis for a second time challenges him in the 6th District, which sprawls some 200 miles north from Roanoke into Winchester.