Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama battled over economic recovery policies during the second presidential debate ahead of the November election. VOA's Brian Wagner reports from Nashville, Tennessee, where the candidates faced direct questions from voters.
For 90 minutes, Senator McCain and Senator Obama responded to questions from a group of undecided voters at Belmont University in Nashville. The so called "town hall" forum gave voters a chance to voice their concerns and ask the U.S. presidential candidates about the specific policies and positions they would bring to the White House, if elected in November.
The debate was moderated by journalist Tom Brokaw, who helped select the questions from voters in the audience and voters on the Internet.
Many of the questions focused on how the candidates would respond to the current economic crisis and combat rising unemployment and falling home prices.
Senator Obama said one of his first priorities would be to address financial problems in key banks and insurance companies, as well as problems facing average Americans.
"The middle class need a rescue package. That means tax cuts for the middle class. That means help for home owners, so they can stay in their homes," he said.
Senator McCain said falling real estate prices are affecting many Americans, and he proposed a government program to buy up bad home loans to boost the market.
"We all know, friends, until we stabilize home values in America, we are never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy. We have to give some trust and confidence back to America," McCain said.
Both candidates cited the toll that rising energy prices have had on the economy, and stressed the need for alternatives to foreign oil.
McCain said a crucial part of stimulating the economy is reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil supplies. "Drilling offshore and [building] nuclear power [plants] are two vital elements of that. I have been supporting those, and I know how to fix this economy and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and stop sending $700 billion a year overseas," he said.
Senator Obama said he would try to stimulate new technologies and energy solutions in the United States to eliminate the need for foreign oil. "That is why I have called for an investment of $15 billion a year over 10 years. Our goal should be in 10 years we are free of Middle Eastern oil. And we can do it," he said.
Obama defended against claims by McCain that he would raise taxes in order to pay for new government programs. He stressed that most Americans will see taxes go down if he is elected president.
"I want to provide a tax cut for 95 percent of Americans. If you make less than a quarter million dollars a year, you will not see a single dime of your taxes go up," Obama said.
Obama criticized McCain for a proposal to freeze government spending, saying it would hurt many social programs. But McCain said a tough spending limit is needed to get the economy back under control. "We will have to have an across the board freeze. Some of those programs may not grow as much as we would like them to. But we can establish priorities with full transparency," McCain said.
Both candidates agreed that fixing the current economic crisis is vital to addressing other concerns about the future of social security and other government programs in the future.
The latest opinion polls show Senator Obama is leading Senator McCain as the candidates enter the final month of campaigning before the vote on November 4.