Reporting from San Francisco — On the eve of her first debate with Republican Carly Fiorina, Sen. Barbara Boxer outlined her rationale for reelection Tuesday, vowing to hold President Obama accountable for bringing troops home from Afghanistan, defending California's efforts to regulate emissions and reiterating her five-point plan to boost the nation's economic recovery.
Speaking in San Francisco, where 83% of the county's voters backed her last reelection bid, the three-term Democrat showed no hesitation reminding her audience at the Commonwealth Club of her antiwar activism and her liberal bent on environmental and fiscal issues.
Hours before Obama marked the formal end of the combat mission in Iraq with an Oval Office address, Boxer called the announcement an important milestone in ending the Iraq conflict. Pressed by an audience member to explain why "nothing" is being done by Congress to extract U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, Boxer said she had demanded that the administration map out a clear strategy for the withdrawal of troops, first from Iraq and now from Afghanistan, a process that is scheduled to begin next July.
"We are going to have to push hard — I think the president wants to do it and he said he is going to start bringing the troops home [from Afghanistan] next year. But we don't have yet the exit strategy we need," Boxer said.
She added that she believes in "nation-helping, not nation-building."
"We can't take over these countries and run them," she said to applause. "It just seems to me that we need that rebuilding going on right here in America today."
Moments earlier, when asked which government programs she would eliminate to reduce the national debt given her record "wasting taxpayer money" — it was the only hostile question submitted to her in writing during the hour-long session — Boxer said ending the wars was "the biggest one."
"It's costing us a fortune," she said as the audience applauded.
Boxer did not mention her rival by name Tuesday during her speech or later in answers to questions, in keeping with the nonpartisan tradition of the Commonwealth Club. But she lingered at length on the areas where they disagreed — including her opposition to additional oil drilling off California's coast, which Fiorina supports, and California's global-warming law, known as AB 32, which Boxer backs and Fiorina has called a "job killer."
Fiorina has not taken a position on Proposition 23, which would suspend that law until unemployment drops to 5.5% or lower for four consecutive quarters. Boxer encouraged the audience to campaign against the ballot measure.
"The one bright spot we've had here in this recession has been clean energy jobs: 10,000 new businesses, 125,000 new jobs. Why on earth would we turn our back on that and pass Prop 23?" Boxer said. "It is being funded by coal companies and oil companies from out of our state. We must take a stand and say no to them and yes to our own future."
Echoing arguments she makes routinely on the campaign trail, Boxer also outlined her plan to boost the economy: expanding clean energy jobs, offering assistance to small businesses, boosting spending on the state's aging roads and bridges, eliminating tax breaks to companies that send jobs overseas and preventing more coastal oil drilling.
She also vigorously defended the Obama administration's efforts to revive the nation's economy, bolstering her case with a flurry of statistics from recent economic reports. Previewing likely talking points in Wednesday's debate, she cited a July study by economists Alan S. Blinder and Mark Zandi that found that if the government had not acted in the wake of the financial crisis there would be 8.5 million fewer jobs.
Responding directly to Fiorina's criticism of the $814-billion federal stimulus program — which the Republican candidate deems a failure given the state's high unemployment rate — Boxer noted that the White House Council of Economic Advisors recently concluded that the stimulus created or saved 357,000 jobs in California.
"The steps we took kept our economy from going off a cliff," Boxer said.
Campaigning in Fresno with Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Fiorina called for greater fiscal restraint by the federal government and said she was backing a bill written by Thune that would cap non-defense discretionary spending.
" Washington has a spending problem fueled by career politicians like Barbara Boxer who consistently feed the greed of government," Fiorina said in a statement. "Americans simply cannot afford for Washington to continue on this path of tax, spend and borrow, which has caused sky-high debt and which is mortgaging our children's future."