PRESCOTT - The three Republican candidates for the 4th Congressional District made an effort to highlight their differences during a forum in Prescott Friday night, with Arizona Sen. Ron Gould and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu repeatedly attacking U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar for his vote to raise the federal debt ceiling and Gosar repeatedly defending it.
Gould started and ended his comments with criticism of Gosar's vote, calling himself "the number one conservative in the Arizona Legislature" and noting that the state got rid of its $3 billion deficit over the last three years.
Republicans in Congress gave up their leverage with the approval to raise the debt ceiling, Gould said.
"Shut down the government if you don't have a budget," he said.
"Fortunately, I understand my record," Gosar countered. "My opponents do not. They don't even understand their record."
Babeu noted that Gosar was the only Republican member of Arizona's congressional delegation to vote to raise the debt ceiling in August 2011.
"I still don't understand it," he said.
Gosar responded with an attack on Babeu's budget.
"I find it very interesting that we have a sheriff over here who can't balance a budget," said Gosar, adding that he didn't spend all the money allocated to run his own office.
"My budget is in balance," Babeu countered, later explaining his "deficit" was caused by increasing fuel costs and a pay raise the Pinal County Board of Supervisors gave employees. He has pledged in the past to offset part of the projected $3.2 million overage with cuts in his own budget, but wants the supervisors to cover the remaining $656,000 with general fund money.
Gosar defended his decision to approve the Budget Control Act and raise the debt ceiling as a solid first step in reducing the federal deficit. The act increased the debt ceiling by at least $2.1 trillion through 2012 but also cut federal spending by $2.4 trillion over the coming decade, set up a joint committee to try to recommend more cuts, and required a congressional vote on a balanced budget amendment by the end of the year.
Congress doesn't need a balanced budget amendment to balance the budget, Gould said.
"It takes a Congress with some guts," he said.
The U.S. government already has promised to pay back that debt, Gosar said, accusing his opponents of not understanding the federal budget. Critics have warned that a debt default would cause federal interest rates to skyrocket and a return to a recession.
The discussion became more heated after a break during the candidate forum, which took place on the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus and was sponsored by the ERAU Young Republican Club.
Gould Tweeted his support for the Republican Study Committee's proposed budget on March 27, then Gould said during the debate that he didn't support it, Gosar Tweeted shortly before the break. Gould immediately responded to Gosar's Tweet when the second half of the debate began.
"Essentially, he's calling me a liar," Gould said. He denied supporting the RSC budget. About that time, he sent out a Tweet calling Gosar the most liberal Republican in the Arizona GOP delegation.
Gould's March 27 Tweet said, "Today the RSC announces 'Cut, Cap and Balance: A Fiscal Year 2013 Budget.' It balances in just five years!"
The RSC is a conservative group of House Republicans that proposes deeper cuts than the plan by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan that Gosar has said he supports. The RSC plan cuts $7.5 trillion in 10 years, compared to Ryan's plan to cut $5.3 trillion.
After the debate, Gosar's camp pointed to an analysis of budget proposals by the Bipartisan Policy Center that concludes even the RSC plan would require raising the debt ceiling by $3 trillion through 2022.
Babeu also criticized Gosar for switching from the 1st Congressional District to the new 4th Congressional District to run in a strongly Republican-dominated district instead of one containing a Democratic majority. Gosar moved from Flagstaff to Prescott, while Flagstaff resident Ann Kirkpatrick says she'll try to reclaim the CD1 seat that Gosar took away two years ago.
"I wish he had stayed there to keep the fight real against Ann Kirkpatrick," Babeu said.