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Senate candidates debate war, immigration, minimum wage

By   /   March 11, 2014  /   No Comments

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – Try as they may, moderators were unable to extract many differences between Nebraska’s four Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate during a debate in Omaha on Tuesday night.

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DEBATABLE: The four top Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate from Nebraska squared off in Omaha Tuesday night.

The four top-tier GOP candidates were questioned by Nebraska Watchdog’s Joe Jordan and KFAB Radio’s Jim Rose, but direct answers weren’t easy to come by.

When Jordan asked the candidates to define a secure border and delineate the number of border crossings they could stomach, the candidates all gave some variation of “until the border is sealed, there’s nothing to talk about.”

Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale recounted how he went to the border in Arizona and saw an 18-foot-high fence but then saw a 300-mile gap, where he stuck his toe into Mexico.

“We can’t even put a number on it,” he said. “Until you get the borders sealed, there’s nothing to talk about.”

Former State Treasurer Shane Osborn said governors and lawmakers in border states should decide on technology to secure the border.

“It’s a national defense issue,” he said. “Navy seals tell me it’s quite possibly the hottest most dangerous place on Earth.”

Midland University President Ben Sasse heaped blame on the Obama administration for paying lip service to illegal immigration when its real goal is to turn Texas into a “blue or purple state.” He opposes amnesty and a pathway to citizenship.

Omaha attorney Bart McLeay said sensor technology and unmanned aircraft could be used to secure the border, and said he doesn’t support citizenship for those who violated the law.

“We have to take control of the border,” he said.

Pressed by Jordan for a number of acceptable border crossings, Osborn said, “One’s too much if they have a weapon of mass destruction” and likened the situation to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, when he says the U.S. “got lazy and sloppy.”

Asked how they would ensure the solvency of entitlement programs, Sasse said he’d look at discretionary non-defense programs. Dinsdale said the nation needs to keep its promise to people older than 50 but may have to look at means testing for others. He said he’d cut fat in agencies like the U.S. Education Department.

McLeay argued for a flat tax and deficit reduction plan, like Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposal, to stimulate the economy and bring in more revenue.

Osborn reminded people that as treasurer he shrunk his office, and would support a flat tax to stimulate the economy.

Since all four candidates oppose increasing the minimum wage, Jordan asked whether they’d support eliminating it and all four indicated support for the concept.

“The minimum wage hurts poor people,” McLeay said.

Sasse said he’d want to get more data on the prospect, but said it’s “probably the right choice.” He said only about 11 percent of people earning the minimum wage are the primary wage-earner in their home and 89 percent use it as a ladder to a better job, but increasing the wage would deter that.

“I think we should eliminate it and let the free market do what it does,” Osborn said.

Dinsdale said centralized planning has never worked and the minimum wage doesn’t work, but hurts poor people.

Rose asked which departments should be downsized to balance the budget, noting that the most common GOP targets – Commerce, Energy and HUD – only account for $108 billion out of a $3.7 trillion budget.

But the candidates largely explained why they oppose new taxes.

“We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” Sasse said, later adding that he would adjust entitlements for people his age and younger. He noted President Obama recently said it’s time to end the “era of austerity.”

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” he said before delivering the one-liner of the night: “Barack Obama is the Kim Kardashian of government excess.”

Dinsdale talked about cuts to the EPA and OSHA and said the federal government needs to get out of the way. Osborn said the U.S. “can’t move the goal posts on seniors” and should crack down on the rampant fraud in entitlement programs. McLeay said means testing might be needed.

All four said they’d be opposed to a war tax to pay for future wars.

Asked what they’d say to people with pre-existing conditions who couldn’t get health insurance before Obamacare, Sasse said Republicans can’t pretend the health care system was working well before the Affordable Care Act was passed, but not because of too little government, but too much. He advocated local, not federal, solutions.

Dinsdale said the program is “another government overreach” and must be repealed because the cost is going to break America. McLeay said he’d repeal Obamacare and give refundable tax credits to the poor, allow individuals and small businesses to form health care associations and allow insurers to sell across state lines.

Osborn said Obamacare took a bad health care system and made it worse, and he’d support high-risk pools and major tort reform.

Jordan asked the candidates who they’d vote for if they weren’t in the race, but was unable to get an answer from anyone except Sasse, who said he’d only half duck the question by saying his 10-year-old daughter told him she wasn’t sure who she’d vote for, saying, “I like Sid a lot.”

“The only thing that proves is your daughter knows how to read financial statements,” McLeay deadpanned, referring to Dinsdale’s wealth, which is in the hundreds of millions.

None of the candidates said they would authorize NATO action to deal with Russia’s Crimean takeover, but all of them bashed Obama for being weak on foreign policy.

McLeay said he’d impose economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation and set up missile defense in Poland. Sasse said he’d put antiballistic systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Osborn said the military is too stretched to intervene, and Dinsdale said America needs to lead with strength, as President Ronald Reagan did.

Asked which one federal agency they’d eliminate, McLeay and Dinsdale said education, Osborn said the IRS and Sasse said rather than working down from what exists, he’d work up from what the U.S. Constitution authorized: Defense, State, Treasury and Justice. Every other agency would require a compelling reason to keep, he said.

The candidates derided the War on Poverty, with Sasse calling it an abject failure that subsidizes the breakdown of the nuclear family, noting that when it began 93 percent of the poor had a father at home, and now that’s below 60 percent.

“These programs aren’t just economically unsustainable, they’re hateful,” he said.

Dinsdale said local programs would be better, and McLeay said the war on poverty has failed but Republicans shouldn’t call people on food stamps or subsidized housing a “drag on society” but rather explain how they’re “under the thumb of government” and give up their freedom.

Osborn said he was raised by a single mom and then became a single father before remarrying, so “I know that two parents are better.”

“If you incentivize people not to work, why should we be shocked when they don’t work?” he said.

During his closing, Sasse recounted how his 2-year-old son vomited on him right before a campaign appearance, and it dawned on him that he’s not a candidate sometimes and a Dad sometimes.

“I’m running for office because I am a dad,” he said.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org.

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Deena Winter has been a journalist for over 20 years, writing stories for the Northwood Gleaner, Bismarck Tribune, Associated Press, Denver Post and Lincoln Journal Star before joining Watchdog.