ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Del. Kathy Szeliga marked out big differences over economic policies in a U.S. Senate debate on Friday that touched on the minimum wage and tax reform, as well as immigration and health care.
Van Hollen, a Democrat, said during the debate on WAMU-FM that he supports moving toward a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour.
“We can talk about how we get there and in what stages, but it is a scandal in this country that you can work full time, 40 hours a week, all year long and be below the federal poverty level for a family of two, and this is a big difference between the candidates,” Van Hollen said, noting that Szeliga voted against a minimum wage increase in Maryland that passed in 2014.
Szeliga, a Republican who said she lived on the minimum wage when she was 18, said she supports keeping the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour.
“I can tell you what people on minimum wage want: They want a career. They don’t want a minimum wage,” Szeliga said. “They’re tired of career politicians taking an issue like this and ginning people up with it, but let’s get jobs and opportunities to people on a minimum wage so that they’re not on a minimum wage, so they get on the career ladder and climb that,” Szeliga said.
Van Hollen has been congressman since 2003. Before that, he served in the Maryland General Assembly, both in the Senate and the House. Szeliga has been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 2011. She is the House minority whip. They are running for a Senate seat that will become vacant when Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat, retires next year after five terms.
Here is a look at other issues the candidates discussed:
Szeliga, a small business owner, said “nonstop taxes killed the middle class.” She pledged to vote against taxes, if elected. Van Hollen noted he has introduced legislation to close tax breaks for special interests, including one that rewards companies that move jobs overseas.
Van Hollen said federal health care reform has done a lot of good, because 20 million people have health care now who didn’t have it before. “I support creating a public option to create more competition and more options,” he said. Szeliga said the federal health care law needs to be changed. “Well, I can tell you that we need to reform it, and it’s collapsing in upon itself,” she said.
Szeliga said she doesn’t support building a wall on the country’s border with Mexico, but she said the border must be secured. “This is about national security,” she said. Van Hollen said Washington missed an opportunity several years ago when the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, but it never came up for a vote in the House.
Both candidates tried to link their opponent to the presidential candidate for their parties. Van Hollen said Szeliga was supporting Donald Trump, “who has been dividing the country, saying poisonous things.” Szeliga said she has called out Trump when she disagrees with him, though she said Van Hollen hasn’t been critical of missteps by Hillary Clinton, such as her reference that half of Trump’s supporters were in a “basket of deplorables.” Van Hollen said he did criticize the comment.
Szeliga said she would have opposed the deal in which Iran agreed to cap nuclear activities in return for a lifting of sanctions. Van Hollen said stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon was “a good thing, not a bad thing.”