Politicos from both sides of aisle jab and jostle

The Colorado Statesman

The Libertarian-leaning Independence Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation held a spirited debate in advance of the first presidential debate in Denver on Wednesday morning, bringing together a motley crew of politicos and pundits from both the liberal and conservative sides of the aisle.

Sitting at a long table at the Independence Institute’s office space in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood — just hours before the debate — the panel was appropriately seated with liberals on the left side of the table and conservatives on the right.

The participants on the right included Amy Oliver Cooke, executive vice president and director of energy policy for the Independence Institute, Mike Franc, vice president of government studies for the Heritage Foundation, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., and Bill Beach, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.

At the other end of the table were Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, Carol Hedges, director of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, Angie Layton, a well-known local liberal political activist, and Mike Littwin, former columnist for both the now defunct Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post.

These wonks duked it out over a period of an hour, covering such topics as the economy and taxes, health care and immigration, to name a few.

Littwin, whose popular columns appeared in the Post before a restructuring of the newspaper a few months ago pretty much left him out in the cold, offered some of the more adversarial comments of the discussion. “When you’re talking about taxes… Republicans want to lower taxes in good times, they want to lower taxes in bad times. It’s a religion. People sign pledges as if they’re signing up for a cult.”

Cooke, however, said it’s simply about limiting government’s burden on the people, including taxation.

“I never said no government. But when you ask me for more, that’s the way I view it… we accept a reasonable level of taxation,” she said. “But what is reasonable for me as a working mom, and taking more money out of my pocket versus government, those are two different levels, and you’ve got to look at it not just in the macro sense, but in the micro sense. How does it affect the kitchen table?”

Like Littwin, Beauprez was also aggressive, especially when it came to President Obama’s health care law, or Obamacare, arguing that liberals have no regard for the constitution.

“The progressive mindset, the pro-gressive argument, is that the end always justifies the means, even if that requires trampling on our constitutional rights and freedoms,” said Beauprez.

Littwin fought back: “Mr. Beauprez thinks it’s about the government taking something over, and that’s the reason we have this… He has somehow inferred that this must be what people like us are thinking. I’m somehow part of the takeover of the medical industry.”

Layton said Obamacare is about providing the most health care services possible. She spoke of an experience visiting a sick child in the hospital who was suffering from cancer.

“He is still alive, and I want to tell you that I would pay anything to keep that little boy alive,” Layton said. “I don’t care how much it costs me, or my family, or my extended family, because that little boy deserves to live.”

“And yes,” continued Layton, “he’s a free rider, because I’m sure that his insurance plan has paid millions of dollars to keep him on this planet. But you know what, if you had met that little boy, you would know it’s worth it.”

Beach countered that he had a bout with cancer, but came out of it feeling like the health industry is so expensive because there isn’t enough private market competition.

“I paid enormous amounts of money out of pocket, and then my insurance company did for that therapy… I was in the same therapeutic radiation unit with lots of children…” Beach recounted. “But one of the reasons we have high costs for treatment is we don’t have a lot of competition in health care.”

The issue of immigration also ruffled a few feathers, as Beauprez spoke of a need for government to secure the borders. But Layton took a jab at Republicans for criticizing the need for government. She pointed out that building a secured border fence would be a major government undertaking.

“It looks to me like that might be government bureaucracy you’re suggesting,” she said to Beauprez. “God forbid we might have government do something important and useful in our society.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com