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U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, stands at the podium at a forum for U.S. Senate candidates in June. U.S Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, left, and State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, R-Madisonville, await their turn seated at the table.

The three leading Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate agreed Wednesday on most issues but parted slightly on whether Congress should tax internet sales — though none supported the concept outright.

Congressmen Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, John Fleming, of Minden, and State Treasurer John Kennedy, of Madisonville, pretty much agreed that the Affordable Care Act, which they all called Obamacare, needs to be fully repealed or torn “out by the roots.” They would replace the six-year-old federal health care coverage with a market-based plan they said would provide more choice.

But on the issue of internet sales taxes, Boustany said he had troubles with the current legislation being considered in Congress. Fleming said allowing states the authority to charge sales taxes on internet transactions isn’t the best idea. Kennedy said he’s flat against it.

They addressed a Baton Rouge forum hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business, the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the Louisiana Retail Association. About 85 people lunched on beef brisket and mashed potatoes as the candidates told their life stories and addressed issues submitted by the trade associations.

Many stores are suffering from the growth of internet sales. But retailers have to charge sales taxes, which for much of Louisiana is about 10 percent.

Because internet sellers don’t often charge sales taxes, “that’s like a 10 percent discount” that retailers in stores can’t match, Jessica Elliott of the Louisiana Retailers Association said after the forum.

The Marketplace Fairness Act, would gave states the authority to compel online sellers to collect sales taxes at the time of transaction — like local retailers — regardless of where the seller is located. Congress is working through how to mesh the rules and procedures of thousands of different taxing jurisdictions. Many Republicans oppose the legislation on a philosophical level.

Boustany said he has some reservations, but didn’t rule out supporting some version of the bill in the future.

“I don’t think we should tinker on the margins,” Boustany said. “We need a full scale overhaul of the tax code at the federal level.”

Fleming also had troubles with the complexity of the current version of the Market Fairness Act.

“This thing is not ready for prime time. I do agree there are some challenges for business owners, but I would urge my fellow small business owners to create their own little economies,” Fleming said. “I do want to see a fair playing field, but I do not believe raising taxes in general is a good idea.”

“This is a gut check issue and you’re entitled to a straight answer. No, I’m not going to vote for it,” Kennedy said. “You’ve going to be subjected to about 10,000 taxing jurisdictions in America, which means you’re going to be subjected to about 10,000 different rules.”

Eleven candidates have filed the paperwork saying they plan to run in the Nov. 8 election for the seat being vacated by Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie.

Dawn Starns, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said invitations were issued to candidates who scored 5 percent or higher in a recent Southern Media & Opinion Research poll. The June 1 survey of 500 likely voters was chosen because it was paid for by an independent source, rather than one of the campaigns.

Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Bossier Parish Democrat who is backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, declined the invitation. He said later Wednesday that he had to attend campaign and PSC meetings in north Louisiana.

Democrat Caroline Fayard, whose campaign was endorsed Tuesday night by political pundit James Carville, scored 4 percent in that poll and was not invited. Similarly Republican Rob Maness, a tea party favorite from Madisonville whose campaign was backed by Sen. Chris McDaniel, from Mississippi, also wasn’t invited.

Fayard tweeted at the start of the forum: “Not a single woman or minority #lasen candidate will get to address @nfib_la’s members today. #TheFixIsIn”

Maness’ campaign did not respond for a request to comment.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter @MarkBallardCnb