A national audience and a spirited debate as Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey confronted each other for the first time in their United States Senate race at the State Fair in Grand Island.
The debate was broadcast to a national audience by RFD-TV, which sponsored it along with the Omaha World-Herald and the Grand Island Independent. A good-sized crowd often interrupted with applause as partisans displayed their enthusiasm for their candidate.
Fischer and Kerrey clashed on a wide range of issues, but the issue of Medicare sparked an exchange about how President Obama’s administration plans to fund the new healthcare law.
“I don’t support cutting benefits and that $700 billion that Obamacare steals from Medicare, I don’t support that either,” Fischer proclaimed to applause from the crowd.
Kerrey turned to those who applauded as much as he did to Fischer in response.
“Applaud that at your risk, it’s in (House Budget Committee Chairman and GOP Vice Presidential candidate) Paul Ryan’s budget as well,” Kerrey said to applause from his supporters. “It’s not a cut to Medicare. It is an example as to why we’re having a difficult time solving this problem.”
Both agree Medicare needs reform. Fischer says the commitments to those over 40 must be kept with means-testing and increasing the retirement age possible for those younger. Kerrey insists Medicare cannot be returned to financial stability without a combination of cuts and higher taxes.
Fischer said she supports the Keystone XL pipeline now that the legislature, during a special sesson, forced TransCanada to find a new route away from the Sand Hills.
“I support the pipeline. I support building the pipeline. And I believe we need to do this,” Fischer stated. “But we have to make sure that those environmental concerns are met and that’s the process we’re going through now.”
Kerrey, though, said the legislature shouldn’t take too much credit.
“The people of Nebraska objected to that route and it wasn’t until the people of Nebraska rose up and objected to the route that the legislature acted,” Kerrey responded.
Kerrey criticized Fischer for being inflexible on the federal deficit, claiming that Fischer’s contention that the federal budget must be shrunk to 18% of the Gross Domestic Product would cause severe hardship on the country, including Nebraska. The budget now hovers around 25% of GDP.
“And this 18% that seems so outlandish that Mr. Kerrey keeps talking about, we were there, we were there not that long ago and we can be there again,” Fischer insisted.
Kerrey didn’t wait for a moderator to ask for his response, immediately challenging Fischer.
“I remember 2001 very well. That’s the year I left the Senate. We were paying off debt, Sen. Fischer,” Kerrey stated. “We were paying off debt. I know you objected to the tax increases I voted for, but other than they got the job done.”
Illegal immigration became a hot-button issue.
Fischer called it a national security issue and said, first, the borders must be secured.
“I don’t support a path to citizenship for anyone who’s entered this country illegally,” Fischer stated. “I don’t support incentives for illegal aliens who are in this country.”
Kerrey countered that only compromise can resolve the issue.
“You’re not going to solve this problem unless you get to the middle and Sen. Fischer can’t get in the middle of her own party,” Kerrey stated, adding that he has been criticized by some Democrats for supporting a proposal made by Republican presidential candidate Matt Romney.
It was the first debate between the two. Whether it will be the only debate remains to be seen. The Fischer campaign has said it will agree to two more debates, but Kerrey campaign said no specifics have been offered.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:55]
AUDIO: Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey debate at the State Fair in Grand Island. [1 hr, 30 min.]