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In final debate, Roskam and Casten haggle over whether tax cut helped or hurt

Illinois 6th Congressional District candidates Democrat Sean Casten, left, and Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam participated in a forum on WTTW Monday evening. | WTTW

Illinois 6th Congressional District candidates Democrat Sean Casten, left, and Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam participated in a forum on WTTW Monday evening. | WTTW

Republican Rep. Peter Roskam on Monday defended the soaring U.S. deficit that resulted from the federal tax cut as a net win for his constituents, while Democrat Sean Casten warned that post-election “sticker shock” awaits many of them when they file their taxes.

Roskam also tried to distance himself from comments by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell suggesting the GOP would look to cuts in “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit.

Roskam, a Wheaton resident who has represented the west suburban 6th Congressional District for six terms, and Casten, a businessman making his first run for public office, faced off on WTTW Channel 11 for what is scheduled to be their final debate before the Nov. 6 election.

The closely-contested race has drawn a lot of interest because it could have a bearing on which political party will control the House of Representatives for the last two years of President Donald Trump’s term.

Roskam said he understands the criticism of the ballooning deficit and had wrestled with his decision.

“The question is: do you take on debt in order to buy something that is increasing in value? And the answer is yes,” Roskam argued.

He said the U.S. is now the “most competitive tax jurisdiction in the world” with an updated tax code that brought a “billion dollars in tax relief” to his district.

“We’ve got economic growth the likes of which we were told was not possible, near 50-year unemployment lows,” Roskam said.

Casten countered that “Peter’s math is just wrong.”

“If you look at all the trends in the economy, from GDP growth to unemployment, we’re not seeing any material change in the directionality of those since the tax cuts passed,” said Casten, of Downers Grove, who describes himself as a scientist and “clean energy entrepreneur.”

“What we are seeing is widening wealth inequality,” Casten continued. “What we are seeing is massive dividends to the wealthiest one percent and corporations. What we are seeing is an 84 percent increase in our borrowing to fund those tax cuts.”

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Roskam complained that Casten’s campaign has “gone door-to-door to people in the western suburbs putting notices on people’s homes that their taxes are going to go up, and that’s not true.”

Casten defended his accusation on the basis that the new ceiling on the state and local tax deduction will hurt 6th District residents who itemize their federal income taxes.

“What accountants in the district are telling their clients is: You are under-withholding your taxes. You are going to have a huge sticker shock, which has been timed to come after the election, and it’s simply irresponsible,” Casten said.

Asked about McConnell’s statements about entitlement cuts, Roskam said: “I’ve not said that. That’s not a good idea.”

In the past, Roskam has said he favors changing Medicare to a “voucher like program” to keep it from becoming insolvent.