Roskam, Casten accuse each other of obscuring facts in 6th District debate
The two suburban candidates squaring off in a battle called “one of the most-watched congressional contests in America” debated Thursday before a live audience and a TV replay, each trying to point out ways the other is obscuring the truth of his views on hot-button issues.
Incumbent 6th District Republican Peter Roskam of Wheaton and Democratic challenger Sean Casten of Downers Grove spent an hour at the Union League Club of Chicago taking questions from Fox 32 Political Editor Mike Flannery as well as suburban audience members and social media users.
Roskam, who has held the seat since 2007, said words and actions matter as he accused Casten of misrepresenting his positions on topics such as the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Violence Against Women Act.
“It's very important that we get the facts right,” Roskam said.
Casten, who said the campaign comes down to “facts and character,” said the district needs to elect a representative who acknowledges the truth of climate change and will work to fix it.
He said Roskam is not in step with the district's values on gun control or health insurance, especially the Affordable Care Act. “Peter voted to repeal the ACA, which would eliminate coverage for people with pre-existing conditions,” Casten said, referring to a vote Roskam took in May 2017 to, as Roskam's office put it in a news release, “responsibly repeal, replace Obamacare.”
Much of the health care discussion Thursday centered on a bill Roskam supports to expand access to health savings accounts. The measure passed the House Wednesday.
Roskam said the addition of pretax health savings accounts will help counter one of the main problems of the health care law: high premiums and deductibles.
Casten said the savings accounts will do little good for those who need help paying for coverage the most.
“HSAs are wonderful if you have the disposable income to set aside,” Casten said. “They're not helpful for folks who don't have that income.”
Another key issue early in Thursday's broad-reaching debate was whether the candidates align with or distance themselves from President Donald Trump, who lost in the district by 7 percentage points in 2016 to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Roskam said Trump is “middling; good on the economy and jumbling on other issues.”
Casten said the only thing on which he agrees with Trump is increased weapons support for Ukraine.
“I think President Trump is the worst president of our generation,” he said. “The problem though is not Trump; the problem is a Congress that is not fulfilling its obligation to act as a check and balance on the president.”
Another recent Roskam action, helping create the tax cuts approved last year, also drew conflict. Roskam says the tax changes benefited the average family in the district. He previously has said a husband and wife with two children and a median income of $135,000 a year received an estimated $4,000 tax cut.
Casten said the tax cuts are “not growing the economy.”
“This was a gift to Peter's donors,” he said.
Roskam said the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has led to an 18-year low in unemployment and a 20-year high in manufacturing confidence.
Outside before the forum began, dueling groups of protesters promoted their views on the same divisive issues candidates later took up inside.
About 150 people affiliated with the Coalition for a Better Illinois 6th, including Flo Appel of Lombard, shouted support for the Affordable Care Act with cries of, “What do we want? Health care! When do we want it? Now!” Steps away on the sidewalk, where all protesters were monitored by a small police presence, about 75 Roskam supporters including Mary Ann Cronauer of Naperville hoisted his patriotic-colored campaign signs and chanted “Who's gonna pay?”
Roskam and Casten are vying in the Nov. 6 election for a chance to represent the sprawling 6th District, which stretches from Naperville to Tower Lakes and includes parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.
Flannery described the race as a “really decisive moment” that could help shape the national balance of power between Republicans and Democrats. He said pollsters so far rate it a “tossup.”