Roe, Olsen clash in first, only 1st District congressional debate

Zach Vance • Oct 11, 2018 at 11:17 PM

Two different perspectives were pitched to voters in the 1st Congressional District Thursday night as two doctors, Democrat Marty Olsen and Republican incumbent Phil Roe, debated at Bristol Regional Medical Center.

Asked about conflict in Congress, Olsen said the divisiveness concerns him, while Roe said bipartisanship still exists, but it’s not covered by the media.

Roe portrayed a strong economy, aided by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and a reduction in regulations, but, Olsen made the case that Northeast Tennessee workers have been left behind.

“We’ve lowered taxes for every individual in this country. We also lowered taxes for every business in this country. We have more people working now than any time in the history of this country,” Roe said. “I’ve gone into business after business and the problem is they can’t find enough workers.”

Olsen made the case that unemployment in Northeast Tennessee is 40 percent higher than the national average Roe cited.

“This economic boom has not reached East Tennessee, and that’s a reason I think we can do better,” Olsen said. “We can’t just pretend that it’s all rosy out there when we have people trying to decide if they’re going to pay their rent this week or they’re going to pay their electric bill.”

Considering opioid addiction has ravaged Northeast Tennessee, one of the first questions posed to the candidates involved how they would approach solving it.

As a doctor who specializes in treating addicted pregnant mothers, Olsen said it’s not just harmful to those addicted and their families, it’s a drag on the economy. He also pointed out that Roe took $100,000 from the pharmaceutical industry, as well as money from Suboxone clinics.

Roe said Congress is already addressing the issue, with the allocation of resources through the 21st Century Cures Act and the recent omnibus bill.

“Resources are there. We need to use education, education of doctors and providers. We also have to educate our patients and population in general,” Roe said.

Each candidate was given six rebuttals, and Olsen responded that he didn’t believe enough is being done.

Asked about President Donald Trump’s tariffs, Olsen called them extremely harmful for our region, especially to farmers and automobile manufacturers.

Roe said he is a free trade guy, but quickly shifted the focus to the reworked North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, and how it will benefit local dairy farmers.

While there was not a direct question related to the Affordable Care Act, both candidates interjected it into their answers, with Olsen saying Roe’s vote to repeal it is what spurred him to run, and Roe saying it has driven the cost of premiums and copays up.

As chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Roe said he planned to really study veteran suicides and find a way to “move the needle,” when asked what could be done to help veterans.

Roe seemed to take offense when Olsen answered that he was concerned about the privatization of Veterans Affairs hospitals and services, citing a no-bid contract awarded to Cerner for electronic health record services.

“I’m concerned about the move I see for privatization. I believe Congressman Roe has already moved forward towards privatization, and I’d hold up the electronic health record as an example,” Olsen said.

“Look, when you mention priviaization of the VA, we’re doing a lousy job if we’re privatizing it. When I got to Congress in 2009, we spent $97 billion on all VA services. That’s health care, disability benefits and cemeteries. This budget this year, there’s $208 billion,” Roe said. “That’s absolute nonsense that we’re privatizing the VA.”

If offered a chance to propose one amendment to the Constitution, Roe said he’d push for a balanced budget amendment, which he said he’s voted for twice before.

Olsen said constitutional amendments should only be done with significant consideration, and he would not be excited about a balanced budget amendment because it wouldn’t be needed if Congress was doing its job.

“We can’t in an amendment make sure we take care of every possible variable that might occur in the future. What happens if we’re at war? What happens if we have another depression? So it worries me to have a balanced budget amendment,” Olsen said.

The last question, regarding transgender troops in the military, both Olsen and Roe said they would support them.

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