The two major party candidates for the U.S. Senate had an hour-long debate tonight that focused on jobs and the economy as well as the taxing and spending policies of the federal government. 

At the close of the event, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley pledged to focus on the government’s finances if he’s elected to another term. “Getting this debt under control, a climate for creating jobs — getting the unemployment (rate) down — and to keep taxes low because lower taxes is a better environment for entrepreneurship and creating jobs,” Grassley said.

Democratic challenger Roxanne Conlin accused Grassley of failing to offer new solutions. “Thirty-five years in Washington has changed him,” Conln said. “He went to Washington as a deficit hawk, but has turned into a kind of professional politician who supports tax cuts we can’t afford and ‘Bridges to Nowhere’ that we don’t need and privatizing Social Security and everything else in sight.” 

The issue on which the two repeatedly quarreled centered around the prescription drug benefit extended to senior citizens through Medicare. Grassley boasted of his “bipartisan” work on the legislation as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“After 10 years, both political parties promising the senior citizens of America that they could have prescription drugs and modernized Medicare, bring it into the 21st century,” Grassley said. “…When I got to be chairman of the committee again I was intending to deliver on the promise that both political parties had delivered to the senior citizens of America because you shouldn’t promise something if you don’t deliver.”

Conlin blasted Grassley for agreeing to a restriction that forbids the government from negotiating with drug companies to lower the cost of the prescription medications seniors buy.  

“Let me give you just one example. Zocor, 20 milligrams, at the (Veterans Administration) it’s $127 a year. You get it through Medicare, it’s $1485, so for him to say that it won’t save money — the estimate is it would save about 80 percent,” Conlin said. “And in fact it’ll save $480 million a year for Iowans.”

Grassley questioned her figures and complained about the way Conlin had raised the issue. “I get tired of my opponent saying that I’m a tool of the pharmaceutical companies,” Grassley said. 

Conlin replied: “I really don’t think I’ve every used those words, Senator.” 

“I would like to quote from,” Grassley continued, reading a story which quoted a lobbyist who said Grassley was “no friend” of drug companies.

Earlier in the debate, Grassley had vowed to refrain from responding directly to Conlin’s charges. “Maybe if something comes up that’s just terribly wrong, I’m going to respond to that, but otherwise I want to keep this as a positive agenda,” Grassley said.

A few minutes later Conlin replied: “I’m not attacking him personally. I’m asking him to defend his record and I think that the people of Iowa have a right to hear his defense of his record.”

As the moderator gave Grassley a turn to speak, Grassley said: “I’m going to take her up on that.”

The debate also covered the topics of taxes and trade as well as term limits. Grassley said he supports the concept of term limits, but will not have Iowa move unilaterally to limit its senators to two terms until senators from every state are limited to two terms. Conlin said she “could not imagine” serving more than two terms in the senate.

Tonight’s debate was sponsored by WHO Radio and the event was broadcast live on 1040 AM and on the station’s website. A recording of the event was played an hour later on Iowa Public Television.