U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Republican candidate Ron Johnson squared off Friday night in Milwaukee for the first of three debates leading up to the Nov. 2 Senate election.
Opening questions required Feingold and Johnson to provide specific plans to improve the economy. Johnson advocated for the complete extension of the Bush tax cuts and was quick to point out what he saw as failures of the Obama administration.
""The stimulus didn't work,"" Johnson said. ""The objective fact is we are down 2.6 million jobs since that was enacted and Senator Feingold cast the deciding vote for the failing stimulus.""
Feingold said he believed the stimulus was a success.
""The stimulus bill provided tax cuts for 95 percent of all working families in America,"" he said.
Feingold insisted more needed to be done to help the economy and proposed a ""further jobs tax credit for every employer in the state.""
As for solutions to the federal deficit, Johnson said, ""we don't have a tax problem, we have a spending problem"" and advocated for a hard spending cap for the federal government.
Feingold said he would fight to eliminate earmarks and pointed out that he has worked with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an attempt to give the president the option of a line-item veto.
When the debate shifted to health-care reform, Johnson called the recent health-care bill an ""expensive overreach"" and said the United States already has ""the finest health-care system in the world.""
Feingold, who voted for the Affordable Care Act, defended his position on the bill.
""[Johnson has] called it one of the greatest invasions of his freedom he's ever known,"" Feingold said. ""Does it really invade his freedom to make sure over a million Wisconsinites don't get denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions?""
Throughout the night, the candidates also highlighted their differing opinions on issues such as energy policy, Social Security and the war in Afghanistan.
When asked what one promise they would make to constituents if elected, Johnson said, ""I will never vote with my re-election in mind.""
Feingold said he would remain an independent voice in the Senate and ""the number one enemy of Washington lobbyists.""