Congressman Kevin McCarthy and challenger Terry Phillips went head-to-head over ag policy, abortion, job creation and experience versus independence Thursday while seeking the endorsement of The Californian editorial board.
Phillips, who is running as a no party preference candidate in the 23rd District contest, painted McCarthy as a Republican partisan who has failed to create much of anything in the House other than a stalemate with the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama.
"This is the least-productive Congress in the history of the United States ... because Democrats and Republicans refuse to collaborate in advance," Phillips said. "We need people in Congress who understand how to work well with others, how to cooperate with others, regardless of their philosophies."
He said McCarthy wrote a single bill that became law.
"I'm all about naming a post office after Buck Owens, but I think I can do better than that," Phillips said.
McCarthy said Phillips' information on his voting record was inaccurate.
He painted Phillips as a naive idealist, planning to maintain independence in Congress by refusing to caucus with either major party.
"The most important thing is are you going to be effective? If he's not going to caucus with anybody, I don't even know what committees he's going to get on," McCarthy said.
As an example, McCarthy highlighted California Sen. Barbara Boxer's threat earlier this year to seize more than $300 million of the transportation money secured for Kern County by his predecessor, Bill Thomas.
"You've got to be at the table, otherwise you're not going to get a decision or you're not going to hear about things," McCarthy said. "He would have never even seen the bill or heard about it. Not only did I find it, I went toe-to-toe with Boxer and I corrected (it) before it ever made it to the floor."
The pair also sparred over tax policy, abortion, the nation's energy future and the farm bill.
McCarthy argued that tax increases would do little to lift the federal budget out of crisis but echoed presidential candidate Mitt Romney's call for tax reform.
Phillips said the focus has to be on creating jobs and tax cuts and reforms won't guarantee small businesses see the increase in demand needed to spark growth.
McCarthy said he opposes abortion except in the case of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.
Phillips said he wishes abortions "were never necessary," but women will seek them out regardless of their legality and the country can't go back to the time when women had to risk their lives and break the law to undergo the procedures
Phillips criticized McCarthy for failing to approve a farm bill.
McCarthy said the bill is designed for midwest farmers and isn't fair to Kern County agriculture.
Both men supported the development of multiple kinds of energy -- from oil to wind to solar -- but disagreed on off-shore drilling in California, which McCarthy supported and Phillips opposed.
But on most points, their discussions came back to their central themes.
"I've learned a lot from you. I've watched you work over the years. You are very effective at much of what you do," Phillips told McCarthy. "Where we disagree is on the overall effectiveness of Congress. When I level criticism at Mr. McCarthy, it is mostly about his leadership of Congress."
McCarthy said he's fought to make the House of Representatives work well.
"Yeah, I wish Washington would all get along. But you know what? That's not always going to happen. I have my principles and I'm not going to change them. But I'm going to fight for them," McCarthy said. "I'm sorry the Senate doesn't do anything. But judge me on the work we've done in Congress."