The College Democrats and College Republicans sparred during the annual debate sponsored by the Political Science League. The four-member panels offered a number of differing – but also some similar – positions on issues ranging from the economy and environment to the Iraq war and illegal immigration.
The College Democrat panel consisted of Christopher Berry, Brittany Neiles, Ryan Cwach and Emily VanGerpen. The College Republican panel included Drew Peterson, Matt Hittle, Morgan Peck and Tim Carr.
On the economy, Republican Hittle pointed to the bipartisan work in Congress on a stimulus package that he believes will boost the economy. He said the government has some role to play in the economy, but he reinforced the GOP belief in the free market as the cornerstone "for the economy to flourish."
Republican Peterson stressed the stimulus package targets not only individuals but also businesses.
"Private investment should be the basis (for economic growth)," he said. "Government is only there to encourage things along."
Democrat Cwach also commended the bipartisan work on the stimulus package, which he said would deliver $600 rebates to the middle and lower classes.
While the Republicans called for greater reliance on the free market, Cwach said the private sector has been suffering in the current economic downturn. "That's why we're in a recession," he said.
Cwach called for greater investment in education and health care, which he said have been the strongest parts of the economy. In turn, that investment will build greater long-term national progress, he said.
"We would have a healthier, smarter population," he said.
In response to the current sub-prime mortgage crisis, Cwach recommended following a Depression-era program for home loans as a way to prevent further home foreclosures today.
Cwach called for a slowdown in government spending. President Bush has turned in a $3.1 trillion budget, the largest in U.S. history, he said.
"We need to rein in unnecessary spending," Cwach said.
The two sides clashed on the question of dealing with foreign economic competition.
Democrat Berry expressed concern about the negative impact of "free trade," which he saw as leading to the out-sourcing of American jobs to China and India.
Berry noted some foreign nations, particularly China, pursue questionable labor and environmental practices. "That's why you see the lead paint on the toys and the sweat shops," he said.
However, Republican Hittle said free trade would benefit American consumers while creating jobs in foreign nations. He said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has proven successful.
Democrat Cwach countered that the current economic and trade practices are resulting in a widening gap between rich and poor. "The wealth from free trade is going to the top 1 percent income," he said.
On the issue of foreign affairs, Republican Carr said the Democratic presidential candidates have avoided saying if they would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
As for the Iraq war, Carr said the immediate withdrawal of American troops would be seen as "losing" and admitting defeat. The College Democrats' panel was painting Iraq as an unjust cause, and "we (College Republicans) don't share that opinion," he said.
"We are making progress (in Iraq). We will never back down, and we will never surrender," Carr added.
If U.S. troops withdraw, terrorists "will follow us home," Carr said, adding, "We won't leave (Iraq) until the job is done."
For the Democrats, Cwach called Iran a threat "that needs to be watched with a careful eye."
However, Cwach said intelligence reports indicate that Iran does not have nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration had raised similar fears about Iraq to justify going to war, Cwach said.
The two sides also debated whether current U.S. military interrogation practices constitute torture.
Turning to domestic issues, the panelists addressed health care, including its availability – or lack of it.
Republican Hittle said the health care industry has been hampered by "government bureaucracy." He called for tort reform and free-market incentives.
"Instead of blanket universal coverage, we should have health savings accounts," he said.
Republican Peck added that the United States has "the best system in the world." She called for "improving it" with incentives but not overhauling it.
"Bigger isn't always better," she said.
In response, Democrat VanGerpen said her panel "didn't contest the quality (of U.S. health care), but people don't have access."
Democrat Berry noted that 47 million Americans, including children and veterans, are not covered by health insurance. "Even with insurance, people struggle to get health care," he added.
Studies show 8.5 million children do not have access to health care because their parents don't have adequate insurance, Berry said.
Republican Hittle questioned Berry's figures. Hittle cited a New York Times editorial noting the 47-million figure includes 10 million illegal aliens, Medicaid patients and 18 million residents who can afford private pay.
Democrat Berry responded that, even if the 47-million figure was reduced, it still leaves millions of uninsured people.
On the issue of energy, Democrat Neiles cited her party's support for ethanol and other renewable energy. "We need to move away from (importing oil from) the Middle East," she said.
South Dakota can become a major player in wind energy, Neiles said. The state can also further lead in renewable fuels by adding soybeans and switchgrass in addition to corn for ethanol.
Republican Peterson said he agreed with those aims but saw them as long-term goals. In the meantime, he called on working with the private sector to develop current energy sources such as coal and nuclear power.
Another hot topic during the USD debate was immigration, which brought differing views from the two panels.
Republican Carr called for secure borders to stop illegal immigration. "We are opposed to amnesty. Those who come legally, we welcome," he said, adding that a crackdown is needed on employers who hire illegal workers.
For the Democrats, VanGerpen said securing the borders does not address the 12 million illegal aliens in the country. She called for making citizenship easier for those seeking legal entry, along with forcing illegal aliens to pursue legal immigration in order to remain in the country.