Attorney General Jon Bruning plans to make “deficit reduction” the battle cry of his bid for U.S. Senate.
Bruning, 41, hammered away at that point in an interview on the eve of the formal start to his campaign for the Republican nomination. He also said Tuesday that he believes it's time the nation had an honest discussion about Social Security and Medicare, saying he could support benefit reductions for younger workers.
Bruning, re-elected Nebraska's attorney general in November, is officially set to open his U.S. Senate campaign with a speech today at the State Capitol, followed by a 12-city tour.
He is the second GOP heavyweight to enter the 2012 race for a seat currently held by Sen. Ben Nelson, the state's most powerful Democrat.
State Treasurer Don Stenberg jumped into the race last month, following his own November election. In addition, Schuyler, Neb., businessman Pat Flynn has entered the fray.
The three could soon have company. Among those flirting with runs: State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine. She has said she will make a decision about her political future later this year.
A key question is whether Nelson ultimately will seek re-election. Republicans believe him ripe for ouster after casting a crucial vote for President Barack Obama's health care law, but Nelson maintains that he is leaning toward a run, hiring campaign staff.
Nelson said he would make his decision later this year. He has defended his vote on the health care law as much-needed reform, though he says he would consider improvements, including revisiting the controversial coverage mandate.
Bruning could be the GOP frontrunner. He has won three statewide bids for attorney general and has a proven ability to raise money. In addition, he previously represented the Gretna area for six years in the Nebraska Legislature.
It also is his second bid for U.S. Senate. He briefly mounted a campaign in 2007, seeking to challenge GOP incumbent Sen. Chuck Hagel for the nomination. Bruning was angered at Hagel's criticism of then-President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War.
However, Hagel decided against seeking re-election. Bruning later dropped out of the race when Republican Mike Johanns decided to run. Johanns had twice been elected Nebraska's governor and was coming off a stint as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Bruning said he believes he is the best Republican to challenge Nelson, in part, because he was one of the first attorneys general to challenge the new health care law. Attorneys general from 27 states have filed suit against the law.
In addition to fighting the health care law, including its coverage mandate, Bruning said his top priority would be to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.
He called for an honest discussion about entitlement reform, saying he could support changes in Social Security and Medicare benefits for people who, like himself, are under 55 and have time to adjust to reductions.
For starters, Bruning said it's time to raise the nation's retirement age for younger workers, which would help secure the longtime financial stability of Social Security.
He has not yet settled on the new retirement age but said it should reflect the idea that Americans are living longer.
“When it comes to Social Security, everyone knows life expectancy is going up and people are retiring later,” said Bruning.
He also applauded a GOP plan by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that calls for changes in Medicare benefits for future workers. He said he could support a plan where all retired workers are guaranteed basic medical care — and are given the option to buy additional private coverage.
“We have to recognize that the federal government can't pay for all of our health care, especially for those who can afford to pay for their own,” said Bruning.
Contact the writer: