- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

CONWAY, Ark. (AP) - The Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Rick Crawford said Friday that the congressman should not have voted against a bill that would have directed billions of dollars to help improve veterans care and cut down on long wait times, saying the money addressed shortcomings at Veterans Administration hospitals.

Democrat Jackie McPherson levied the accusations during a debate that also featured Libertarian candidate Brian Willhite in the race for eastern Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District. Crawford, one of five U.S. House members who opposed the bill in July, said the legislation didn’t do enough and added to the national debt.

“This vote was about a lack of accountability in the Veterans Administration,” the congressman said.

The $16.3 billion measure, which was signed into law, was intended to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat them, and make firing senior executives at the VA easier. The measure includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.3 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country.

McPherson, the mayor of Heber Springs, said he believed the bill would have provided a way to get rid of bad administrators. He also noted that Crawford was in a small minority of opposition.

“When Congress cannot agree on anything, they all agreed on this bill,” he said.

Willhite, a teacher, said problems within the VA was another example of big government getting things wrong, and that he would like to find a more-efficient way to serve veterans.

All three said they favored balancing the nation’s budget, but they differed on how to accomplish it. Crawford said Congress would be forced to “behave” if a balanced-budget constitutional amendment passed, while McPherson said programs that have a good return on investment should be retained. Willhite said he would support such an amendment, but with limitations.

“I’m OK with a balanced budget amendment, but only if it means cutting spending and not raising taxes,” Willhite said.

McPherson, also a restaurateur, said he favored efforts to raise the minimum wage. Willhite opposed them, and Crawford said it is a matter for states to decide with wages based on the economy of each state.

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