Editor's note: Tune in to KSL-TV Thursday at 6:30 p.m. for a live television debate between Rep. Jim Matheson and challenger Mia Love.
SALT LAKE CITY — Republican congressional candidate Mia Love wants to cut the earned income tax credit for people who earn low to moderate wages. Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson doesn't, and quoted a GOP icon to back him up.
Asked at their first debate Wednesday whether that proposal equates to a tax increase for poor people, Love said no one should be exempt from paying taxes.
"You know what it says? It says that we're all Americans. I believe every American should pay something into this country we know and love," she said.
Love has proposed a 50 percent cut to the tax refund option that allows a credit of up to $5,650 to Utahns making less than $50,000 a year.
"I don't think my opponent has done her homework on what the earned income tax credit is. These are people who are working and who are paying taxes," Matheson said. Cutting it, he said, would increase the tax burden on 190,000 Utahns by $207 million.
Matheson said the program was created under President Ronald Reagan who called it "the most pro-family, best anti-poverty, best job creation measure to ever come out of Congress."
The 4th Congressional District candidates tangled over several issues at the Main Street Plaza in the 30-minute debate sponsored by KUTV and the Salt Lake Tribune. They took questions from an unemployed Provo resident, a University of Utah student, a Utah Taxpayers Association representative and reporters.
The race turned more testy this week after a Mother Jones magazine article questioned Love's immigrant parents' path to U.S. citizenship. Love blamed Matheson for the story. He said he had nothing to do with it and demanded an apology.
None of that came up during the debate, and the two shook hands before it started. But once the questions began, the candidates lit in to each other with contrasting styles: Love emphatic and demonstrative; Matheson calm and collected.
Their differences on issues such as job creation and health are as stark as their debate demeanors.
On improving the job market, Love said Matheson supports President Barack Obama, "which everything ends up with more spending, more borrowing more debt." She said she has the support of Mitt Romney who "knows I will do everything I can to create jobs."
Matheson said he doesn't think government should be running the economy. "I think our private sector should be based on something else. But I do support local public policy that encourages economic growth and opportunity," he said.
The candidates were asked if Americans have a right to health care.
"My father taught me that I was entitled to what I own, earned, worked for and paid for," Love said, adding the current health care system is "completely unsustainable."
Matheson called health care a deeply personal issue. "I think it's important in a country, the strongest country in the world, where we believe in the principles of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, that people have access to affordable health care."
Love and Matheson will meet in two more televised debates this week, including Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on KSL, Ch. 5. The two will also debate on KSL Newsradio next week.
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