LINCOLN, NEB. - Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey came together for their 3rd and final debate under the studio lights at NET in Lincoln on Monday night. The candidates covered some familiar territory on budget cuts and health care reform as they continued to challenge each other’s claim to have the right stuff to change Washington.
It didn’t take long for Kerrey, the former U.S. Senator and Nebraska governor, to challenge Fischer on her support of a balanced budget amendment. Fischer, a state senator from Valentine, Neb., said she supports changing the Constitution to limit government spending and reduce the national debt.
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“Today, it’s $16 trillion,” she said. “And Ronald Reagan said we can’t do it with a carrot anymore. It’s going to take a stick, and that stick is a balanced budget amendment. And I can tell you at $16 trillion, we need a big stick.”
Kerrey suggested that when it comes to the budget, Fischer’s more interested in making cuts than considering the consequences. He said her budget trims would be paid for by cutting everything from Medicare to national security.
“The balanced budget proposal that she has is a trillion dollars’ worth of cuts,” he said. “It will increase unemployment in Nebraska (by) 50 percent. It will break our commitments to seniors. It will break the obligation that we have to veterans. It will weaken our military.”
Fischer stood by the idea of spending limits, saying other regulatory and tax reforms - like lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 24 percent - would spur economic growth and create enough revenue to cushion the blow of government cuts.
“It’s an important part to cut the spending, but you have to grow an economy if you’re going to create jobs, if you’re going to create those opportunities,” she said. “And I believe it can be done. I think my view of the future is more positive than yours because you look at cutting spending, but then you look at raising taxes."
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION
Online commentary about the debate ranged from brutal to glowing; check out our collection of people's tweets and posts on four main topics, including opinions on Kerrey and Fischer's presentation styles and issues that were left out of the debate.
“I’m very optimistic about our future. I have no reason to be anything but optimistic and confident about our future,” he said. “But when you cut a trillion dollars because you don’t want to raise taxes on people (with) over a million (dollars per year in income), because you don’t want tax simplification to produce some additional revenue - when you do it with cuts along it will increase unemployment in Nebraska and make it impossible to keep our commitments to seniors and veterans.”
Fischer and Kerrey also returned to their different views on health care reform; Fischer said she wants to see the Affordable Care Act repealed and replaced.
“Preexisting conditions, you know, visiting with Nebraskans, that is very important that we are able to address that. And I believe the U.S. Senate will come together and address it,” she said. “But what I will tell you is that we won’t address it by stealing over $700 billion from Medicare.”
Fischer was referring to savings that will come from reduced payments to hospitals and insurance companies under the health care law. The same proposal is part of the House budget written by Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Kerrey, on the other hand, said he supports the health care law and the payment reductions. He said they make Medicare last a little longer.
“The problem is, under her proposal, Medicare will be insolvent in 2016,” he said, referring to Fischer. “Under current law it won’t be insolvent until 2024. Still a big enough problem. Congress didn’t steal money - it cut spending.”
On foreign policy, both Fischer and Kerrey said President Obama should have gone to Congress before taking military actions such as enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya during that nation’s revolution.
Fischer also said that the Obama administration has lacked a clear policy when it comes to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
“There’s a lack of leadership. There’s a lack of clarity,” she said. “I want America to remain a stabilizing force in the world. We need to have that. But with a lack of leadership, a lack of clarification, when our allies don’t know what we’re doing, when our foes challenge us, we’ve lost that.”
Kerrey warned that military action could turn popular support within Iran against the United States.
“There are 80 million people in Iran. And the day after we were attacked on 9/11, there were two countries where on the street there wasn’t a celebration,” he said. “One was Israel and the other was Iran. The people like us. The mullahs don’t, but the people do. And if we’re not careful, with military action, we’ll turn the people against us, as well.”
A recent Omaha World-Herald poll continues to give Fischer the edge over Kerrey in the Senate race. It shows her lead has narrowed, but she’s still ahead by 16 points among likely voters with five weeks of campaigning left. If Fischer holds on and wins the seat, held by retiring Democrat Ben Nelson, it would be an important victory for Republicans.