By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. – Shane Osborn stressed the fact that he’s a veteran who cut his budget as state treasurer, Bart McLeay stressed the fact that he’s an attorney who would fight for freedom, Sid Dinsdale pounded away against government overreach and Ben Sasse hammered away on Obamacare during a U.S. Senate debate Wednesday night in Gering.
Only the top-tier Republicans in the race attended the debate, which didn’t feature any debating but was more of a candidate forum. There were no gaffes and it was difficult to see many differences between the candidates, with all of them agreeing the farm bill should be separate from the food stamp program, the borders should be sealed, Obamacare should be repealed, the tax code should be simpler and the government should stop overreaching.
Sasse beat up on President Obama more than anyone, saying at one point, “We have a crisis of trust with this administration.”
“President ‘You Can Keep Your Doctor’ Obama dissembles and deceives us to get his way,” he said.
Osborn said he’s created businesses and understands what it’s like to have regulatory agencies interfere with them.
Only Sasse brought up the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying President Obama’s administration should approve the controversial pipeline that would bisect Nebraska on its way from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.
Asked whether they’d support a flat income tax and abolishment of the IRS, McLeay said he supports a 25 percent tax rate for corporations.
“I want a simple code, reduced taxes, I pledge I will not increase taxes,” he said.
Sasse said the cumbersome 74,000-page tax code is one of the biggest drags on the economy and that Ronald Reagan was right when he advocated a flatter tax code with fewer “carve-outs and deductions.” Other than deductions for charitable and religious organizations, everything else should be on the table, he said.
Osborn said the tax code needs to be simplified, vowed not to increase taxes and said he supports a flat tax code.
Asked how they’d reach across the aisle to address the national deficit, Sasse said the nation actually has about $72 trillion in unfunded obligations if you include entitlement programs.
“We’re guilty of generational theft,” he said, suggesting entitlement reform.
Osborn touted Nebraska’s budget-balancing prowess, and suggested a balanced budget amendment, reforming entitlements and growing the economy.
Dinsdale said while a “few key departments,” such as the Defense Department, are essential, he questions the need for others.
“Do we really need a Department of Education, for example?” he said.
McLeay said he supports Rep. Paul Ryan’s $4.6 trillion proposal to cut the deficit but wouldn’t cut entitlements for seniors.
On the issue of amnesty for illegal immigrants, Osborn said the borders need to be secured first and he wouldn’t support a pathway to citizenship for people who violate the law, but would support a pathway to residency.
Dinsdale said he supports “some kind of worker status” for illegal immigrants without criminal records.
“Israel can seal their borders,” he said, “we can seal our borders.”
McLeay said sealing the borders must be done first and he wouldn’t support a pathway to citizenship.
Sasse said until the border is secure, “every other conversation is premature” and suggested the immigration issue is “about Democrats wanting to create new constituencies” and a way to turn Texas purple or blue.
When asked how they would fix Obamacare, rather than repeal it, Osborn had the misfortune of answering first and said he’d get rid of the individual mandate, not bail out insurance companies and make members of Congress live by it.
But Sasse evaded the question, saying, “You can’t fix this. It’s broken beyond repair.”
“Obamacare was and is a country-wrecking, freedom-destroying, budget-busting, very bad idea,” he said.
McLeay suggested refundable tax credits, health savings accounts, the ability to sell insurance across state lines, coverage for pre-existing conditions and portability.
Dinsdale said America needs a free market solution.
“It was never about access, Americans always had access,” he said. “It’s about cost.”
Asked whether they’d be beholden to special interests or the Republican Party, McLeay said he’s not looking for a 25 to 30-year career in the Senate.
“I’m not going to be beholden to anybody,” he said. “Nobody in Washington is going to own me.”
Dinsdale noted 86 percent of his donors are from Nebraska and vowed to only serve two terms.
“I’m not looking for those Washington, D.C. supporters because I don’t want to owe them anything,” he said.
Osborn said politicians often change when they get to Washington, but said he can handle pressure. Osborn was thrust into the international spotlight in 2001 after his U.S. Navy plane collided with a Chinese fighter plane and he landed the plane on a Chinese island, where he and his crew were held captive for nearly two weeks.
“If I can stand up to 12 days of Communist Chinese interrogations, I can handle Harry Reid,” he said.
Sasse said he believes in term limits, but also thinks there’s a crisis in the conservative movement.
“Democrats are giving away free doughnuts and we’re trying to sell Stairmasters,” he said.
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