‘Meet the Press’ airs debate interruptus

By Leslie Jorgensen

It’s “one of the hottest U.S. Senate races” in the nation, according to Meet the Press, and U.S. Rep. Mark Udall and former U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer didn’t disappoint any viewers who were looking for fireworks.

From the second host Tom Brokaw eloquently welcomed the duo and called Schaffer, “Congressman” because it is “appropriate protocol,” the gloves were off — and so were any rules of engagement.

Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

U.S. Senate candidates Bob Schaffer and Mark Udall spar on screen.

Republican Schaffer and Democrat Udall dove right into the debate, blaming each other for the faltering economy.

In Greenwood Village, Republicans cheered Schaffer’s boldness as they watched while eating breakfast at the Schaffer for Senate campaign headquarters.

Across town, Democrats booed Schaffer’s lack of manners at a brunch sponsored by the Udall for Senate campaign at the Tavern Uptown, on East 17th Avenue and Pearl Street.

The exchange was so disruptive and divisive that Udall’s positions were drowned out by Schaffer’s interruptions, which averaged once every 45 seconds during the debate.

“Let me finish,” Udall implored more than a dozen times in the first 10 minutes.

“Tell us what you’ve done. Tell us what you’ve done. Finish. Tell us what you’ve done!” demanded Schaffer as Udall attempted to explain his view that today’s economic problems stem from the “Reaganomics” of the 1980s and deregulation under both Bush administrations.

In another shot, Udall ridiculed Schaffer.

“For you to sit here and suggest that you’re immune from any of the criticism or any blame for the straits we find ourselves in today is laughable,” said Udall.

The debate launched with a question to Schaffer about the bailout package to prevent the collapse of financial institutions.

“There’s nothing to like about the notion that there’s a $700 billion fix needed with respect to a collapse on Wall Street,” said Schaffer. Because the U.S. doesn’t have the bailout money, he said, the “Federal Reserve has to turn on the printing press in order to create the money.”

Schaffer conceded that the “fix” is necessary, but it puts an $11,000 burden onto each American household and that “is essentially a tax.”

Brokaw noted that second quarterly reports this year indicate that one in 95 households in metro Denver are in foreclosure and Colorado ranks fifth among states in foreclosures.

Brokaw asked Udall how taxpayers might feel about funding these problems, many of which, he said, had been created by bad investments.

“People are mad. People are upset,” replied Udall. “My calls are mixed between people who say ‘No!’ and people who say ‘Hell no!’”

No tax breaks for CEOs

Udall said a rescue plan should be developed “not for Wall Street — this shouldn’t be welfare for CEOs — but for Main Street.”

The Democrat said he wanted the plan to require oversight and protection for taxpayer investment, and that it must not offer a blank check to the financial industry or golden parachutes for its executives.

Udall zinged Schaffer for having supported tax breaks and deregulation during his tenure in Congress from 1996 to 2002.

“We can’t return to the policies that Congressman Schaffer supported — and supports today — which are tax breaks for CEOs, tax breaks for companies with offshore jobs, tax breaks for the wealthiest among us like the oil companies and large corporate interests.”

“That’s not true, Mark!” snapped Schaffer.

Udall continued, “That’s not going to get us to health in our financial system… we do need more regulation but (Schaffer) supported the lessening of that regulation…”

“That’s not true either, Mark! Sorry,” interrupted Schaffer.

“…and I think that’s where we need to travel,” said Udall. “Those are the kind of policies we need to put in place…”

Shaking his head from side to side, Schaffer reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket to retrieve folded papers.

“You want … you want … Mark, you voted against several amendments,” Schaffer interjected more and more loudly as Udall was speaking. Realizing that viewers couldn’t decipher what was being said if both of them talked at once, Udall yielded to Schaffer.

“You voted against the Leach amendment in 2005, which would have established minimum capital levels. You voted ‘no.’ You were in the minority,” Schaffer said emphatically.

“You voted against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being required to sell or acquire assets or liabilities if an asset or liability is deemed to be a systemic risk to the housing market,” read Schaffer from his debate notes and concluded that Udall and the Democrats had caused the mortgage crisis and its impact on the economy.

Schaffer said that the “vast majority in Congress, including Udall, opposed these restrictions and these accountability provisions. And that probably more than anything else led to these excesses over the last three years.”

In fact, Udall supported the bill to create the Federal Housing Finance Agency, but opposed the Leach amendment to establish a minimum capital level for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and any Federal Home Loan Bank if needed for long-term viability of the institution. The amendment was defeated 378 to 36 at a time when Republicans constituted the majority in the House.

The Democratic congressman voted in favor of the bill to create the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which would have provided independent oversight and regulation of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Bank System — and prohibited the use of funds for lobbying and other political activities. President George W. Bush opposed the bill. It passed the House, however, on a 313-104 vote. The companion bill failed in the Senate.

“Bob, let me finish”

The economic crisis, Udall said, “is the result of years and years of Republican leadership — or lack thereof. Tax cuts for those who don’t need them, tax cuts for the oil companies…”

Schaffer interrupted, “Mark, I’ve been out of Congress for six years… You’ve been there for 10 years. Tell us what you’ve done.”

“The Bush economic plan … Bob, let me finish. Let me finish,” said Udall, adding that he had allowed Schaffer to make his statements without interruptions. “This has been 10 years of the Bush administration and the Reagan revolution coming to its logical conclusion, which is an implosion of our fundamental…”

“Tell me what you’ve done,” demanded Schaffer.

“Let me finish,” said Udall.

“Those of us who have been back home working hard in the private sector for the past six years are sick and tired of the kinds of votes that make of rest of us pay,” snarled Schaffer. “It’s a national tragedy…”

Brokaw intervened, but his question repelled some Republicans at the “debate watch” breakfast in Arapahoe County.

“Congressman, it is your party in all fairness that’s been in charge for the last eight years, and it has run up record deficits to now $500 billion,” said Brokaw.

Schaffer responded, “You’re correct in that under Republican leadership, deficits grew. I think itç has to do with mainly a function of war.”

He touted balancing the budget, giving tax cuts, growing the economy and having surplus funds in Social Security and Medicare during his tenure in Congress.

Some Democrats steamedhotter than their coffee, recalling that those goals were reached under President Bill Clinton’s leadership — and had begun to erode after Bush was elected in 2000.

“Go back to 2002,” Udall told Schaffer. “You cast votes for the war, you cast votes for tax cuts for the wealthy, you cast votes against an energy policy — a set of proposals that would have us much closer to being energy independent today.”

The volume of Schaffer’s voice again continued to rise as he spoke over Udall.

“You know, Mark. I propose … I propose … I propose we debate. I propose back home that we debate these topics.”

Udall stopped talking and turned to look Schaffer squarely in the eye.

“We have been debating these topics all over the state of Colorado,” replied Udall with a sigh. “This is our ninth debate, Bob.”

“Raving” reviews

Schaffer declared himself the winner of the debate moments after it ended. In a conference call to supporters back at his Colorado campaign headquarters, the candidate said that even the cameraman at the NBC studio was impressed.

“He thought I won hands down,” Schaffer said.

As for his own self-assessment, Schaffer said, “Any time I can get Udall to defend his votes to (increase the price of energy) I am winning.”

And his impression of Udall?

“Pablum!” Schaffer snorted via long distance.

Udall has been “a good cheerleader” for renewable energy, Schaffer acknowledged, “but not a leader. He doesn’t understand the business side.”

“Udall looked like somebody forgot to tell him there’s a debate this morning. Seriously, he looked like his alarm went off and he’d just crawled out of bed,” said Colorado GOP chair and Schaffer campaign manager Dick Wadhams. Asked if Schaffer came off as too aggressive, Wadhams responded, “No. I guess he’s whining, ‘Bob was mean to me.’ That’s kind of sad.”

“Coloradans watching Meet the Press saw clear differences between the U.S. Senate candidates,” said Udall campaign spokesperson Tara Trujillo. “Congressman Udall was calm, confident and measured. Schaffer looked like he’d had way too much coffee. He was loud, shrill and hyper. Udall came off very senatorial, and Schaffer did not.”

“Bob Schaffer did extremely well in the debate, constantly putting Mark Udall back on his heels in having to face his own voting record,” said Nathan Fisk, El Paso County GOP executive director. “Schaffer did a stellar job in correctly depicting Udall as a tax-and-spend Boulder liberal.”

“An overcaffeinated and angry Bob Schaffer defended oil company profits,” said Matthew Miller, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director. He added that Schaffer endorsed the “Bush economic policies that have created record deficits and led to today’s economic crisis.”