The nation's economy was the central focus of the debate Friday morning between U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and his Republican challenger, former coal company owner Tom Smith from the very first question. Smith, who has invested at least $16.5 million of his own money into the campaign, said ending deficit spending in the federal budget and paying down the national debt will spur economic growth.
"I'm a businessman who wants to go to Washington and change things," Smith declared.
Casey cast himself as a defender of the middle-class, noting that Smith has spoken favorably about proposed Republican budgets in the U.S. House that would offer privatized Social Security and vouchers for Medicare for people too young to use those programs now. He also criticized Smith for calling the temporary payroll tax cut a "gimmick."
"So if you want a middle-class tax increase, I think Tom Smith is your candidate," Casey said.
Smith denounced as a "power grab" the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare and vowed to repeal it if elected. "The Affordable Care Act is one of the reasons businesses are so afraid to expand and hire," Smith said.
Casey said he was open to making changes to the law but repealing it, along with the protracted partisan battle that would spark, would be bad for the country. "We should bring people together and get this right," Casey said in one of several appeals he made for bi-partisan efforts.
Smith knocked Casey for voting seven times to increase the nation's debt ceiling, which keeps the country paying its debt obligations. Casey used that to highlight what he called a Tea Party ideological problem.
"If we default on our obligations, as he has proposed on this issue, it would ruin the economy, it would lead to job losses in the millions, and it would be terrible for the future economic prospects of the country," Casey said.