In 5th Congressional District, the debate is about jobs

With one of every 11 people in Connecticut unemployed, the candidates in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District spent their Thursday evening debating how to best boost job growth.

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Sam Caligiuri, left, and Christ Murphy at 5th Congressional District debate (Jacqueline Rabe)

State Sen. Sam Caligiuri, R-Waterbury, told a full auditorium at Wamogo High School in Litchfield that if Congress wants to help, it should be less involved.

“Regulation makes it more difficult to create jobs,” he said. “In my judgment, the way to really grow jobs again is to keep your taxes low and business taxes low … it’s the single most effective way of putting capital back into the market.”

But Democratic incumbent Chris Murphy said the key is legislation to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S. His plan, dubbed “Buy American” and backed by House Democrats, would require any company that is bidding on federal contracts to submit an outline of how it will impact jobs in the U.S. It also tackles Chinese currency manipulation.

“We are in a trade war with China. The problem is they are the only one fighting it,” he said. “When companies are applying for federal money they should be able to state how many jobs are created here in the United States and how many are created over seas. And then a federal agency should be able to award them based on how many jobs are created here. Frankly, my constituents think that’s already happening — thinking our U.S. government is making sure our dollars are spent here.”

Connecticut has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs in the past two decades — from almost 300,000 jobs in 1991 to 166,000 jobs in August, reports the Connecticut Department of Labor. The state lost 500 manufacturing jobs in July alone, CDOL reports.

And Murphy said there would be “a spillover of jobs created” if the manufacturing industry is revitalized.

But Caligiuri said Murphy’s “Buy American” plan wouldn’t stop corporations from relocating jobs, but would increase their taxes, driving more of them away.

“Your approach to the issue is wrong,” he said, adding it “would result in retaliatory trade practices” from other countries.

The 5th District is one of the state’s most contested Congressional races, with Republicans hoping to take back what was a long-time Republican held-district. In 2006, Murphy unseated 12-term Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson in an upset victory. In 2008, Murphy won once again, this time by a 20-point margin.

But with more unaffiliated voters in the district than either registered Republicans or Democrats, the National Republican Congressional Committee is focusing attention on the district, labeling Caligiuri a “young gun” and fundraising for him. In the last election, 44 percent of voters were unaffiliated compared to 33 Democrat and 23 Republican. A recent poll, conducted by Merriman River Group for CT Capitol Report, has Caligiuri beating  Murphy by 5.4 percent points.

The candidates also clashed on their view on the national health care bill that Congress passed in March.

Caligiuri criticized Murphy’s vote on final passage of the bill, and has said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, should have joined the multi-state lawsuit to challenge the law.

“The better way to [lower health care costs] is to use free market principals,” he said. “This system will result in the lowest quality of health care for everyone in America..”

Murphy said the law does lower costs.

“That is the meat of this,” he said. “This tackles the costs.”

Thursday’s debate, hosted by the League of Women voters, was the second of six scheduled debates between Murphy and Caligiuri.