Taxes, spending and our trillion dollar federal budget deficit; how government collects and spends money has been on the minds of Nebraskans recording videos at libraries, roundtable discussions and special events across the state for the NET News “Voter Voices” project. We’re using these comments to start discussions on the issue with U.S. Senate candidates Deb Fischer and Bob Kerrey. Fischer, the Republican candidate, is a state senator. Kerrey, a Democrat, is a former Nebraska governor and former U.S. senator.
“Every day we talk and we hear about the soaring deficits, not only with our U.S. government but with a lot of states, a lot of cities, and so that’s going to be a huge challenge. How to pay for that, how to figure all that out.” Linda Duckworth of Omaha, president of the Nebraska League of Women Voters (watch Duckworth's full "Voter Voices" video)
“National budget, we have a different situation there completely. We’re not in as good a shape because we have less responsibility to people and less responsibility with the government.” Clark Beyer, a retiree from Hastings (watch Beyer's full "Voter Voices" video)
Watch more of what U.S Senate candidates Deb Fischer and Bob Kerrey have to say about the issues during a NET News television special, “Campaign Connection 2012: Voter Voices,” which premieres this Friday at 7 p.m. central on NET-1 and NET HD.
Visit the “Voter Voices” web site to watch the full segment of our budget discussion with Fischer and Kerrey. You will also find information and videos from the project, and learn how you can still record your thoughts on election issues that matter to you.
(Deb Fischer, U.S. Senate candidate) We need to cut back. We need to cut spending. If we repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, that saves $500 billion. If we cut back the federal workforce by 15 percent, that’s going to save $230 billion. If you just look at Medicare fraud for a year, you can save $60 billion. Senator Tom Colburn, he comes out with what he calls the “Wastebook” every year and he pinpoints programs. One that I usually mention is the $30 million a year that goes to mango growers in Pakistan. You know, there are a lot of ways to find efficiencies in government. There’s a lot of ways to take care of waste. It will involve cutting programs.
(Mike Tobias, NET News) When you talk about cutting federal jobs, what specific areas?
(Fischer) That’s a case where I think the committees in Congress would be a great way to look at this. In Nebraska a year ago we looked at a billion dollar shortfall, and our committees were charged with finding savings with the agencies under our jurisdiction. As a committee chair I was especially charged with finding that, and we did. We balanced our budget here in the state of Nebraska. I think that’s another good model we could use at the federal level as well. Use the committee system.
(Tobias) In order to balance the budget, would you support any income tax increase on any bracket at all?
(Fischer) I have to tell you a story about Ronald Reagan. He made a deal in the early 1980s. He said he would agree to a one dollar tax increase for every three dollars that were in spending cuts. And just the opposite happened. There was a three dollar increase in taxes, and only one dollar in spending cuts. And he thought it was the worst decision he had ever made. Any time you put taxes on the table, politicians will tax you. Any time you put taxes on the table, government will spend that money. That’s why I say, ‘No. No tax increases.’
(Bob Kerrey, U.S. Senate candidate) Given both the size of the current deficit, but given the fact that we have a $60 trillion unfunded liability for Medicare and Social Security, if we’re not willing to pay more and take less, this country’s going to become Greece. That’s where leadership comes in. The whole idea of a Republican form of government is we’re supposed to figure out, look at the facts, understand the problem, describe the problem to our people, and say, ‘This is the problem. This is what I think we have to do.’
(Tobias) So where do you start?
(Kerrey) It’s got to be bipartisan. As a Democrat, my promise is I’ll cross party lines. I’ll work with John McCain, Rob Portman, others who I know are patriotic. They know this is a problem. They know what the facts are, and they know the most difficult part of this is Medicare and Social Security, particularly Medicare.
(Tobias) When you talk about Medicare, is this an area where you’re looking at some major cuts. Medicare and Social Security?
(Kerrey) It’s the second biggest domestic program that we’ve got. Social Security is our biggest domestic program. We don’t have to savage it. We don’t have to ruin it by any stretch of the imagination. But we have to face the true costs. We have to understand what the budget implications are, and we have to understand that we are basically taxing, in many cases we are taxing people that don’t have insurance.
(Tobias) What about tax increases? Any certain area that you see that you would support?
(Kerrey) Well, first of all, I’ve voted for tax increases in the past, and I listened to people say, ‘Oh God the economy is going into the toilet. It didn’t. I voted for a tax increase in 1990, I voted for one in 1993. I voted for spending restraint in 1990, 1993 and 1997, and the people who voted ‘no’ in 1990 and 1993, you should read what they said. ‘Oh, the economy is going to spiral out of control. The incentive is going to be taken away.’ We balanced the budget. The economy grew. Poverty went down. Median family income went up. What’s the problem here? There wasn’t a problem. I think you’ve got right now, on the other hand, as I’ve indicated with an earlier question, an opportunity to simplify our tax code and perhaps even end up with lower rates.