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Originally published September 10, 2010 at 7:44 PM | Page modified September 10, 2010 at 8:57 PM

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Face-to-face, Senate candidates clash over the economy

In their first face-to-face meeting of the campaign season, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and challenger Dino Rossi staked out broad differences on the economy, global warming and taxes during a joint interview Friday with The Seattle Times editorial board.

Seattle Times political reporter

In their first face-to-face meeting of the campaign season, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and challenger Dino Rossi staked out broad differences on federal spending, global warming and taxes during a joint interview Friday with The Seattle Times editorial board.

The hourlong session was dominated by debate over the cause of the poor economy — and who can best fix it.

Rossi, the former state senator and two-time Republican gubernatorial candidate, stuck to his theme that Murray has supported policies that "will kill more jobs," such as the recently enacted health-care and financial-reform laws he wants to repeal.

Murray, the three-term Democratic incumbent, countered that "we have to remember how we got here," arguing Democrats are trying to rescue the country from a Bush administration hangover of irresponsible spending, wars and tax cuts.

Both said they were worried about ongoing federal budget deficits, with Rossi painting a more dire picture.

"When our own bankers, the Chinese government — and the last time I checked they were communists — when they're telling us we're spending too much money, it's very clear we're on a fiscal edge," Rossi said.

Murray agreed that the federal deficit and national debt are a huge problem and said she has worked to cut spending in her role as chairwoman of a Senate transportation budget-writing subcommittee.

She said she voted this year to cut $14 billion from the budget President Obama had requested and further reduced her own committee's allocation by $850 million.

She said she opposed the Iraq war and the Bush-era tax cuts in part because they were funded with deficit spending.

"I voted against all of those because I was worried about putting all of that money off-budget and bringing us to a place we are today," Murray said.

But Rossi said Murray has voted against fiscal restraint, citing 2009's $800 billion stimulus package and even going back to her 1995 vote against a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

Neither offered a clear road map to end deficit spending during the interview with the editorial board, which produces the Times' opinion section and is separate from the news department.

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Rossi said Congress should stop earmarks, claiming the money directed to local projects is "bankrupting America." However, such earmarks — which Murray supports — are estimated to account for just 1or 2 percent of the federal budget.

Rossi also suggested a freeze on federal worker pay and taking back $275 billion in unspent stimulus money.

Murray didn't target any specific federal programs, but said "we have to look at every aspect of our budget," including military spending. She said Congress should avoid budget cuts that would harm the public, citing a recent instance of salmonella-contaminated eggs to argue that cuts to food-safety inspectors would be foolish.

On the war in Afghanistan, Murray said she plans to hold Obama to his statements that he'll bring U.S. troops home by next summer.

Rossi said he'd defer to the judgment of military leaders like Gen. David Petraeus, and called it a bad idea to telegraph to terrorists when America will withdraw.

When asked whether the federal government should take any action to combat global warming, Rossi was reluctant, framing the climate issue as still being hashed out in arguments between "scientists and pseudoscientists."

Rossi said he opposes so-called cap-and-trade legislation to limit carbon emissions, calling it a national energy tax. Such actions, he said, would only drive manufacturing jobs to India and China.

Murray called the effects of climate change very real for Washington state, suggesting that pollution and global warming are responsible for an array of ills, from asthma in children to poor oyster harvests.

"We have to have an energy policy that moves us to a place that is not dependent on oil," Murray said, adding that she has not signed on to any specific bill yet on the carbon-regulation issue.

Neither candidate dared to endorse changes to Social Security, such as raising the retirement age or cutting benefits to control costs.

Rossi said he has never agreed with previous Republican efforts to privatize Social Security. "Seniors need to get everything they were promised," he said.

Murray said she didn't want to support any changes before seeing the recommendations of a bipartisan debt and deficit commission appointed by Obama. That group is said to be considering a wide range of spending cuts and tax increases, with its recommendations due by the end of the year.

The joint appearance was a rarity for the two candidates, who until Friday had campaigned exclusively at separate events.

It's not clear how many times they will meet again before the Nov. 2 election. Rossi has proposed six debates; Murray countered with an offer of two.

They have yet to agree on any particular debate.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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