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12th District rivals Critz, Rothfus spar on health care

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 7:11 a.m.
Mark Critz, left, and Keith Rothfus debate at Penn State Beaver campus Wednesday, October 10, 2012. Heidi Murrin Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Neither candidate running in a tight race for Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District seat held out much hope for resolving the strident partisanship that has crippled Congress during a debate Wednesday night.

“We have folks in Congress that are more driven by ideology than by what is good for this country,” said Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown. “The problems this country faces are not going to be solved by a Republican solution or a Democrat solution.”

Critz, 50, and Republican challenger Keith Rothfus, 50, of Sewickley, debated about 20 minutes on the campus of Penn State Beaver in front of an audience of voters and campaign volunteers.

Many arrived toting political campaign signs but were told to leave them outside the auditorium. Critz and Rothfus were among 10 candidates debating during a two-hour program organized by the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce.

Rothfus bristled at Critz's contention that he works well with Republicans and can find bipartisan solutions, saying he voted with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 95 percent of the time.

“That's an interesting moderate record,” Rothfus said, gesturing to Critz.

Critz criticized Rothfus for supporting U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's budget and desire to repeal Obamacare, a combination Critz believes would increase the cost of medications for senior citizens and run afoul of America's “moral obligation” to help people obtain health insurance.

Rothfus questioned why Critz opposed the Red Tape Reduction Act, a Republican-led measure that he said seeks to improve government efficiency.

“There's a split between those who believe in Washington-centered policies” and those who don't, Rothfus said.

In perhaps the testiest exchange of the debate, Rothfus, a survivor of appendix cancer, was asked about his opposition to Obamacare and what advice he would give to a minimum-wage worker facing cancer who doesn't have health insurance.

Rothfus didn't address the question directly but called Obamacare “a string of empty, broken promises” that will cost $1.7 trillion over 10 years and won't solve the nation's problem of over 20 million uninsured patients. He argued that Obamacare will drain Medicare of $700 billion.

“It's not lowering premiums, it's increasing premiums,” he said.

Rothfus said the market for insurance should be “opened up” and allow Americans to buy insurance across state lines and use tax credits to purchase coverage.

“I think what you heard in my opponent's response was no response about as to what happens to that $8-an-hour person who doesn't have health insurance,” Critz said.

Critz said he does not support cuts to Medicare and Social Security, as Rothfus suggested.

“We're a wealthy country. We should be making sure it's a moral obligation that we help people get health insurance,” Critz said.

The candidates are set to debate again at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. The election is Nov. 6.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

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