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Republican congressional candidate Chris Stewart told a crowd at a debate Tuesday that he wasn't a tea party candidate and said he refused to sign a high-profile pledge to not raise taxes if he won Utah's 2nd Congressional District seat on Election Day.
The remarks were made at the Rotary Club of Salt Lake City's weekly meeting featuring Stewart and his Democratic opponent Jay Seegmiller as they debated for about a half-hour before a crowd of around 120.
If Stewart were to win the seat, he'd be the only Utah Republican holding federal office who wasn't a signatory to Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge.
"We didn't want to go back to [Washington,] D.C. and have our hands tied," Stewart said. "We wanted to go back and work with people."
But Seegmiller challenged the claim, following a recent line of assertive attacks against Stewart, who has run a campaign centered around fiscal discipline and deficit reduction.
Seegmiller recently called Stewart hypocritical for railing against federal spending while his Farmington-based consulting firm raked in more than $6.5 million in federal contracts, and he ripped his opponent's desire to gut the Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama without regard for provisions that required insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
But he said Stewart, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, was unwilling to cut any military spending.
"Chris' plan to cut even deeper to 18 percent of [Gross Domestic Product] was going to have even deeper cuts than [across-the-board] sequestration, and his not wanting to cut the military budget is a problem," Seegmiller said. "I think we have to take a balanced approach."
Stewart argued he was, in fact, willing to cut defense spending but emphasized the focal point of deficit reduction needed to be on entitlement reforms including privatizing portions of Social Security accounts of younger workers.
"If you're not willing to look at entitlements if you're pretending you can fix this thing without looking at entitlements, you're not being truthful," Stewart said.
He also said Seegmiller offered few specifics on how to deal with the federal deficit and sought to tie the former Utah state lawmaker to Obama.
"We all say we want to be balanced about it and be logical about it for heaven's sake everyone agrees with that," Stewart said. "The problem is that few people have had the courage to put a plan forward and say this is what we can do. This administration certainly hasn't done it. The Democrats in the Senate certainly haven't done it."
Seegmiller told the crowd he wanted to create more jobs by lowering the tax rate on companies that bring money from overseas and invest it in the United States by hiring more workers. He said that plan would generate revenue and help reduce the federal deficit.
Both candidates agreed, however, that the mandatory cuts to the budget that would take place next year under the so-called sequestration would be bad for the economy.
Stewart and Seegmiller have one more debate scheduled for Halloween in St. George at noon. That debate is sponsored by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce.