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In first debate, congressional rivals Walsh and Duckworth tangle over Medicare

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh announces re-election campaign plans at a Chicago Tea Party meeting Thursday evening at the Cubby Bear Sports Bar. December 8, 2011. | Scott Stewart~Chicago Sun-Times.

In the first debate of what could be one of the hottest congressional races in the country, Republican Rep. Joe Walsh and Iraqi War veteran Tammy Duckworth, accused each other of wanting to end Medicare.

Walsh voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget which Walsh said is the only plan on the table to save Medicare. Duckworth said the Wisconsin Republican’s budget “guts” the troubled program.

Walsh and Duckworth also clashed on gay marriage and contraception.

“If you pass the Ryan budget, it would end Medicare as we know it tomorrow – not in 10 years – it would gut it as we know it tomorrow,” Duckworth said as they talked over each other.

“It would save Medicare,” Walsh said, telling his Democratic rival to drop her argument: “Get rid of that.”

“Congressman,” Duckworth continued, “In order to give a tax cut to millionaires and billionaires, you would completely gut Medicare. You’re right: The seniors in my district are scared that they are going to lose their Social Security…”

Walsh interjected: “Cause you continue to scare them.”

Duckworth continued: “You are on the front lines, giving money to people who don’t need it. Why are you so obsessed with ending Medicare? You call it a ‘Ponzi scheme.’”

“Tammy, I want to save it!” Walsh interjected. “Every Republican and Democrat in D.C. knows it’s gone in 10 years. What do you propose to do?”

“I propose to end the tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires to pay for it,” Duckworth said.

“Oh, Holy Cow, I would much rather be standing with a plan than with a president who has ignored Medicare,” Walsh told Duckworth. “If you’re going to continue down this road as the president is and say, ‘I’m just going to ignore Medicare,’ you, my dear, are ending it as we know it. And that is so wrong.”

This was actually the first time Duckworth and Walsh have met, though they have campaigned against each other for months.

Walsh is a nationally beloved darling of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. He has a sometimes chilly relationship with the establishment wing of his party.

Duckworth is a candidate who national Democratic officials hope will become a face of the party on military issues. She lost both her legs in Iraq when her helicopter was shot down.

Walsh reiterated his opposition to gay marriage: “It’s important for this society to define marriage as between a man and a woman.”

Duckworth welcomed President Obama’s declaration of support: “I’m glad the president has come around to this. Two other people in a living relationship doesn’t threaten my marriage one bit.”

Duckworth would not answer Walsh’s question about whether she would have voted for the bailout of big banks.

Walsh did not answer a question about whether he or his family benefitted from federal subsidized loans for college students that Walsh voted last week not to fund.

Duckworth said Walsh has nothing to show for his two years in Congress other than criticizing Obama.

Walsh said he was sent to Washington to be a voice against Obama’s policies such as his health care plan.

“I don’t know who you’re talking to in the 8th District,” Walsh told Duckworth. “But if you and I held hands and we walked around this district for an afternoon and talked to 30 small businessmen, Obamacare will come up.”