Burns, Kuster battle over inflation, abortion, drug war

Oct. 28—CONCORD — U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster and 2nd Congressional District Republican nominee Bob Burns of Pembroke traded shots over fighting inflation and drug addiction, aid to Ukraine and abortion during a lively debate Friday.

The two had only met once before at a Nashua business event and spent much of this hour-long exchange talking over one another in the studios of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Kuster, a five-term Democrat, claimed former President Donald Trump was to blame for setting in motion the current rise in inflation.

"You have to go back to the Trump administration and the $2 trillion added to the deficit for a tax cut that went to millionaires and billionaires," Kuster said.

"We were responding to a worldwide pandemic and a potential economic collapse."

Burns, a former Hillsborough County treasurer and pharmaceutical sales agent, said the $5.2 trillion in spending Kuster voted for caused the latest spike.

"There was this rush to just throw out money for the sake of doing something," Burns said. "I built my business without the federal government."

Kuster fired back, "That's not true. What about the $250,000 payroll protection program grant you got?"

Burns answered, "That was 10 years later after I started the business. I built my business, built it without government assistance."

The two got most heated over the expanded use of suboxone widely given to addicts who suffer from opioid addiction.

"It's a powerful opioid, it is essentially trying to fight fire with fire, it's like giving people beer to get off alcohol," Burns said.

"Ever since that drug has hit the market, the drug epidemic has exploded in this country."

Kuster said medication-assisted treatment has enabled many addicts to reach full recovery.

"Mr. Burns you have lived your entire life in the pharmaceutical industry and apparently have some medical credentials here," Kuster began.

"I just trust the physicians."

Both claim they've stood up to their parties

On abortion, Burns said if elected he would vote for federal legislation to ban abortions nationwide after 12 weeks, noting moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, has said he's open to it.

"You have to be willing to compromise," Burns said, admitting he has supported even greater restrictions in the past.

Kuster then asked why Burns, on his campaign website, would have support for the so-called fetal heartbeat bill that she claimed could outlaw abortions even before women know they are pregnant.

"No it's not," Burns said.

After the debate, the New Hampshire Democratic Party confirmed it was there.

Kuster defended her votes on federal aid to Ukraine adding she would oppose American "boots on the ground" there.

"I believe in supporting the people of Ukraine who are fighting for democracy," Kuster said.

Burns said there has been a lack of oversight on the aid sent to Ukraine.

"I don't think we need to be sending them unfettered weapons and cash and not knowing where it is going," Burns said.

Later he added, "China and the narco-terrorists (at the southern border) should be the priority of the U.S. right now."

Burns said he stood up to his own party by endorsing what he called a slow transition to a government-run health care system known as Medicare for All.

Asked to cite her own example of independence, Kuster said she pushed back at the Biden administration during the pandemic to reopen the Canadian border.

The New Hampshire Bulletin and New Hampshire PBS co-sponsored Friday's debate.

Sponsors decided to relax a facemask mandate for the studio audience and media that was in place a day earlier when Sen. Maggie Hassan had debated GOP nominee Don Bolduc in the same venue.

Burns and Kuster face off in their last debate Friday on WMUR-TV at 8 p.m.

klandrigan@unionleader.com