The back-and-forth of the general election campaign season seems to have started Monday for Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican challenger Geoff Diehl.
Warren, seeking election to a second term on Nov. 6, appeared on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio” where co-host Jim Braude picked up a question tweeted at the show by Diehl’s campaign regarding specifics on how much Warren wants to see tax rates increase.
The show often takes constituent questions when elected officials appear on air, and, as Braude noted, Diehl is indeed one of them for Warren.
Diehl, a Whitman state representative who won the Republican primary last week, is one of two vocal critics vying to unseat Warren this fall. Shiva Ayyadurai, a Belmont scientist and entrepreneur, is on the ballot as an independent candidate.
“Voters want to know how much do you want to raise taxes?” Diehl’s campaign tweeted Monday, along with a link to a campaign video referencing Warren’s July interview with CNBC’s John Harwood. “Is it 50%? 60%? 70%? 80%? 90%?”
In July, Harwood asked Warren what she thought was too high for the top individual income tax rate, if that number was 50 percent or 90 percent, but she didn’t go into specifics.
“It’s not about a number,” she told Harwood. “That’s what negotiations are all about.”
Faced with Diehl’s question Monday, Warren — who said tax rates for corporations and the country’s wealthiest citizens should be higher — gave a similar answer when Braude pressed her on what she thinks those rates should be.
“Is there anybody who starts a negotiation out in public by saying, ‘Here’s my line?'” Warren said.
While Warren did not discuss specifics, part of her response to Diehl’s question centered around the Republican-sponsored tax reform law passed late last year.
The law, which was the country’s most extensive federal tax reform measure in decades, permanently cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent and temporarily lowered the individual tax rate from 39.6 to 37 percent for top rate payers.
Critical Democrats at the time were quick to point out the reform law would add over $1 trillion to the national debt — a point Warren highlighted Monday.
Speaking to the “consequences” of the tax cuts, she pointed to the country’s opioid epidemic.
Warren said if lawmakers were to put $10 billion a year toward paying for ground-level addiction resources over the next 10 years, they could turn the crisis around, based off of what she said she’s been told by doctors, scientists, and others who deal with the crisis on the front lines.
(Warren and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, filed a bill in April to funnel money to do just that.)
She noted Democrats and Republicans worked together to provide money needed to fight the AIDS crisis decades ago in a similar way — efforts she credited with saving lives and creating access to treatment that’s still used.
“So I say to my Republican colleagues let’s do this: Reach across the aisle,” Warren said. “Opioid addiction should not be a partisan issue. People I love die from this, people you love die from this, let’s do this together. We could make a real difference in the lives of people all across this country.
“You know what they say to me? ‘We don’t have the money.’ I get it, they’re right … and I say, ‘Why don’t we have the money?’ And their answer is, ‘Well the national debt’s going up.’ Oh because we just gave away — the Republicans just gave away — a trillion-and-a-half dollars in tax cuts so there’s no money for your sister who has a drug problem.”
The lower corporate tax rate mean working families and individuals have to shoulder the difference, she said.
“The important thing is to recognize every time people say, ‘Oh Washington is broken. There’s gridlock,’ keep in mind, there’s no gridlock in Washington,” Warren said. “When the Republicans decided they wanted to give away a trillion-and-a-half dollars in tax breaks, man, they went behind closed doors, they had no Democrats in the room, but they invited the lobbyists in and they invited the donors in and they wrote a tax bill that allows the richest and the most powerful in this country to keep even more money and that means short change everybody else.”
As soon as Warren’s segment on WGBH ended, the Diehl campaign Twitter account fired off a serious of questions and criticisms.
“If Elizabeth Warren was so worried about the opioid crisis, she should not have voted against the 21st Century Cures Act which contained $12 million for Massachusetts,” one tweet said.
The bill gave money to different health initiatives, including opioid addiction treatment. Despite helping to craft the bill, Warren ultimately voted against it after it was “hijacked” by added giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry, she said in 2016.
Diehl, who has campaigned on a lower tax platform and has said he thinks Warren made “a big mistake” voting against the tax reform law, told The Enterprise in June he would have voted in favor of the federal tax bill.
“I asked (Senator Warren) by how much does she want to raise taxes on MA? 50% or 90%?” another tweet on Monday said. “Warren again refused to answer how much. For someone who recently stated, ‘I want to be transparent,’ she’s hiding her views from the public.”
The debates ahead of the general election have only just begun. Both Warren and Diehl have agreed to participate in three televised debates before election day in November.