On a recent morning at First Edition Printing in Omaha’s Benson neighborhood, Terry teased owner John Pinkerton to get a press conference started. “Hey John, we’re ready to go. Rock and roll,” he said.
Pinkerton praised the National Federation of Independent Business which was endorsing Terry. The congressman, in turn, lavished praise on small business. “Historically, anytime you’ve had an economic downturn, it’s the small businesses when they start hiring a new employee – hiring one person or two people – and then that occurs all across the nation, when you see the real economic growth begin,” Terry said. “That’s what we’re lacking today is that type of job growth. That type of stimulus in our economy by small businesses.”
To Terry, a city councilman before being elected to Congress, turning the economy around requires actions including cutting spending, keeping taxes low, and repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” -- something he’s voted to do more than 30 times.
While those repeal attempts pass in the Republican House, they go nowhere in the Senate. Ewing, a former police officer and now Douglas County treasurer, said Congress has been ineffective, and votes like those to repeal health care reform are just symbolic gestures.
“We don’t have time for symbolism,” Ewing declared. “We need to be getting things done for the American people. We have 24 million Americans unemployed, underemployed or who have quit looking for jobs. That should be the number one priority and Congress has not passed a jobs bill.”
Ewing said President Obama’s latest jobs proposal, sometimes called a second stimulus, should be given a vote. Terry said the first stimulus bill, passed in 2009, didn’t work. “There is absolutely no evidence that that stimulus did anything for the economy. The economy got worse. And it got worse because the stimulus was all about giving government agencies money. Not private sector. Not for roads, jobs, barely any construction projects out of that,” he said.
Ewing disagreed.“Lee Terry is either lying or not listening to the economists,” he said. “Any economist that you listen to will tell you that that jobs bill, or that stimulus bill, either created or saved approximately four million jobs. It also kept us from going into depression when we faced the most severe contraction of our economy since the Great Depression.”
Actually, economists have a range of opinions. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that at its peak, the stimulus resulted in between 1 million and 5.1 million more jobs than would have existed without it. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business surveyed 41 economists, of whom 80 percent said unemployment was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been without the stimulus. But the panel split almost evenly over whether the benefits would ultimately outweigh the costs.
Terry and Ewing split over other spending issues as well. When Terry ran a television commercial calling for an end to overspending, Ewing blasted him for supporting the troubled asset relief program, or TARP, which Ewing called a “bank bailout.”
Terry hit back. “The TARP part of that has been paid back so that hasn’t been part of the deficit. It was used for other things like the GM bailout that I voted against. And that was one of the reasons that I voted to repeal the rest of TARP because it was starting to be used as a slush fund,” Terry said. “But my opponent says it was a good thing that it was used for GM. So he seems to be a little hypocritical on that issue.”
Ewing says he agreed with bailing out GM. But he stuck to his criticism of Terry. “There is nothing hypocritical about anything I’ve stated about Lee Terry’s record. The reality is, Lee Terry voted for over $10 trillion worth of debt, when you look at voting for the unfunded war in Iraq, the unfunded war in Afghanistan, the unfunded Medicare Part D program, the bank bailout,” he said.
Medicare provides another contrast between the candidates. Ewing has proposed keeping the existing program while allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices and cracking down on waste and fraud. Terry supported the Ryan budget plan that would offer future seniors vouchers instead of traditional Medicare, saying the current program is going broke and big changes are needed.
The candidates also divide over taxes. Ewing favors keeping the Bush tax cuts in place except for the top income bracket; Terry wants to keep them all in place for now, and eventually reform the system by eliminating deductions and lowering rates.
The Second District, which includes Douglas County and western Sarpy County, is closely divided. About 40 percent of voters are Republican, 37 percent Democratic, and 23 percent independent. A poll last month showed Terry ahead 46 to 40 percent. Ewing says he can win. “The first thing is we will never be outworked. I’m working hard every day. My campaign staff is working hard every day. Our volunteers are working hard every day. We will not be outworked,” he vowed.
For his part, Terry said he thinks the poll is about right, and he is taking nothing for granted. “We’re running like it’s 2008 where I ended up 51-49,” he said, referring to his narrow victory that year over Democratic candidate Jim Esch. “So six (points) almost makes me feel comfortable.
“But you know what? This is a presidential election year and there is absolutely no comfort,” Terry declared.