Lincoln, Boozman clash over earmarks

FILE — U.S. Rep. John Boozman, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, left, and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., shake hands after a debate in Hot Springs on Friday, Aug. 13, 2010.
FILE — U.S. Rep. John Boozman, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, left, and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., shake hands after a debate in Hot Springs on Friday, Aug. 13, 2010.

— Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln accused Republican Congressman John Boozman of withholding money for Arkansas projects in order to boost his Senate bid, while Boozman said the health care overhaul backed by Lincoln would hurt small businesses.

Lincoln and Boozman shared the stage Friday for a forum held by the Association of Arkansas Counties. Though it was not billed as a debate by organizers, the two squared off on issues ranging from health care to earmarks.

Lincoln criticized Boozman’s decision to support House Republicans’ moratorium on earmarks, saying that cutting off local money would hurt small, rural states like Arkansas.

“I won’t sacrifice my state to score political points for my party,” Lincoln said.

Boozman said he supported the moratorium because he believes that federal spending had gotten out of control and unnecessary projects were being funded.

“We’re going to decide what an earmark is,” Boozman said.

Lincoln, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, is seeking a third term and is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election in Washington. She won her party’s nomination after a bruising primary and runoff battle with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Boozman, who represents northwest Arkansas, won his party’s nomination in May in an eight-man primary. Most polls have shown Boozman leading Lincoln, though she has more cash in the bank for her re-election bid.

The hourlong forum focused on primarily local questions such as flood maps and sales taxes, but the two also sparred on national issues.

Boozman repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for mandates that he said hurt businesses and rural communities in Arkansas. He focused on the federal health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law.

Lincoln voted for the health overhaul, though she voted against a companion measure that was also signed into law.

Boozman noted that Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has raised concerns that the overhaul would eventually add up to $200 million to the state’s budget.

“Where is that going to come from? The reality is it’s gong to be less money for roads and schools and county and civic government,” Boozman said.

Lincoln defended her vote on the health care bill and said that the legislation would help rural hospitals and add to the solvency of Medicare. Lincoln said that there are areas she wants to improve in the law and noted that she signed onto an amendment to repeal a provision that requires businesses to file tax forms for every vendor that sells them more than $600 in goods.

“It is not perfect, but it is getting us down the road to where we need to be,” Lincoln said.

Lincoln also accused Boozman of supporting the privatization of health care, noting his past support of a plan championed by former President George W. Bush that would have allowed people to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in private accounts.

Boozman has said he believes there should be discussion about ways to keep Social Security viable for workers now in their 20s and 30s, and said that investing in private accounts is one option that should be considered.

“What we’re hearing is the same old tired stuff,” Boozman said.

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