The incumbent and two challengers in the race for the 10th Congressional District squared off Tuesday night in Cornelia at a forum sponsored by AARP.
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, was elected just one year ago to fill the seat vacated by the death of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood in February 2007. Broun is being challenged in the July 15 Republican primary by state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem. The winner will face Democrat Bobby Saxon, a veteran who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The three men fielded a variety of questions in the 90-minute forum, ranging from the war to energy policy.
Both Broun and Fleming expressed support for the privatization of Social Security, while Saxon did not.
"Congress has spent all the money in the Social Security trust fund," Broun said. "It is our money and we need to get it back."
Fleming, who accused Broun of previously calling the Social Security system unconstitutional, got no response from the incumbent.
"Social Security is a promise made and it needs to be a promise kept," Fleming said. "There are major problems with the system."
Saxon said the recent drop in the stock market is one reason he opposes any efforts at privatization.
"The market has dropped 20 percent since last November," Saxon said.
On another issue close to senior citizens, the trio differed in their approach to Medicare reform.
"Medicare is a success," Saxon said. "Medicare has provided tens of millions of elderly Americans with access to affordable health care."
Broun, a physician, said that he would use his medical background to help formulate change to the Medicare system.
"Socialized medicine is not going to work, and it never has," Broun said. "It’s going to break the bank of the United States of America."
Fleming touted his work in the General Assembly on tort reform as a way that health care has improved in the state. He also spoke of a law that helps retired doctors.
"We now allow retired doctors to work in free clinics without fear of lawsuits," Fleming said. "Health care is a big priority for me."
The three agreed, for the most part, on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Saxon, who served in the National Guard and re-enlisted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and attained the rank of major.
"I spent a year there and it is a complicated mess right now, but that’s irrelevant," Saxon said. "We have to keep the Middle East from collapsing."
Broun said he wants the troops home as soon as possible, but that’s not easily accomplished.
"We have to make sure that when we bring our troops home, we leave a stable Iraq," Broun said, adding that Iran was funding much of the current insurgency.
"We’re dealing with Islamic fascists," he said. "They hate us. They hate our freedom. They hate the fact that we were founded on Judeo-Christian principles."
Fleming said an unstable Iraq would play havoc with the oil situation.
"We’re already paying $4 a gallon for gas," Fleming said, adding that if Iraq was "left in chaos, we’ll have it worse."
Both Fleming and Broun expressed support for the so-called "Fair Tax," a proposed consumption tax to replace the current income tax.
Saxon, saying tax reform was needed, does not support the idea of a sales tax.
Fleming raised more than $750,000 to challenge Broun, who still had debts from his 2007 campaign. Saxon, running in a heavily Republican district, had raised just $70,000 as of March 31.
The 10th District, which stretches from Athens to Augusta and north to the borders of North and South Carolina, includes Banks, Habersham and Jackson counties.