LINCOLN — Bob Kerrey is a decorated veteran, but Republican U.S. Senate candidate Deb Fischer introduced a panel of high-ranking veterans Tuesday to show that she'll have her own support from those who served.
Fischer, a state senator from Valentine, Neb., unveiled a seven-member “Veterans for Fischer” coalition of military supporters at a press conference here.
She also unveiled a list of “priorities for veterans” that she'll work toward if elected. The list includes reducing the backlog of claims to the Veterans Administration, streamlining the process for building new VA medical facilities and auditing the VA and Department of Defense to reduce wasteful spending.
She made clear that while federal spending needs to be reduced, defense spending and taking care of veterans are top priorities and the Senate should look elsewhere for cuts.
“National security is the first priority of the federal government,” Fischer said. She said she opposes the $1 trillion in automatic cuts to defense spending triggered by the failure last year of a congressional supercommittee to reach a bipartisan package of federal budget cuts.
Those cuts, Fischer said, would shrink the Army to the staffing levels of the 1950s, and trim the Navy to the staffing of 1915.
“We need to look at efficiencies elsewhere. Of course that means entitlements,” she said.
In recent weeks, Kerrey, a former U.S. senator and Nebraska governor, has criticized Fischer for her lack of comments about veterans' issues and for being unrealistic about cutting the nation's debt while maintaining spending for her priorities.
At a press conference later Tuesday, Kerrey said Fischer's support for limiting spending at 18 percent of GDP would not leave any money for the things she says she wants for veterans.
Limiting spending to that level would result in a 30 percent cut in services for veterans, Kerrey's staff said.
“The more things you leave off the table, the bigger the cuts for everything that is left,” Kerrey said.
Kerrey, a former Navy SEAL, lost the lower part of a leg during combat in Vietnam and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during battle.
Fischer, whose father served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II in the Aleutian Islands and Okinawa, said she grew up hearing stories from her father about building runways and dodging enemy fire.
As a state senator, she said, she set priorities for spending in the Legislature. She said she would do the same in the Senate.
“I will be committed to making sure Washington does all it can to ensure the brave men and women who served our country have access to good jobs and good health care,” Fischer said.
The seven-member “Veterans for Fischer” panel includes four retired generals, including Lt. Gen. Roger Lempke, the former head of the Nebraska National Guard and now director of military affairs for U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. One of Fischer's legislative colleagues,
State Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue, a retired Air Force master sergeant, also is in the coalition.
A group of 16 veterans stood behind Fischer as she announced her priorities. One, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jerry Anderson of Papillion, said that while there was no question Kerrey was a hero in Vietnam, he stands “against anything that the Founding Fathers have done to build the greatest country on earth.”
“It's all spend, spend, spend. Tax, tax, tax,” Anderson said.
Fischer said cuts to veterans benefits would not be “off the table,” but that she would look elsewhere first. Money could be saved by reducing the VA's error rate in processing claims and by reducing spending on VA conventions. Two recent VA conventions, she said, cost $5 million.
“That's money that should be there to serve our veterans.”
World-Herald staff writer Maggie O’Brien contributed to this report.
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