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A seven-term congressman and a 30-year public servant sparred Monday night over whose experience makes him better qualified to represent the Omaha area in Congress.
Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing aggressively questioned Rep. Lee Terry's record.
And Terry, who at one point apologized for a rambling answer, tried to move beyond recent controversy over two television ads The World-Herald found misleading or inaccurate.
The two met in an hourlong 2nd Congressional District debate sponsored by The World-Herald and University of Nebraska at Omaha Television.
Terry, a Republican, has been nursing a sizable lead over Ewing in both polling and fundraising. He has said he is in a better position to advocate for constituents as a senior member of the majority party.
Ewing, a Democrat, pointed to his time as a police lieutenant, when he pushed for changes to state law that made it easier to prosecute child molesters and spousal abusers.
"I was able to get more legislation passed in 17 months than the current congressman in 14 years," Ewing said.
Said Terry: "If the standard for taking credit for something is speaking at a public hearing, then I've passed maybe a thousand bills."
Terry did apologize for running an ad that misquoted a group of scientists.
"I'm the captain of the ship," he said. "I didn't fact check my fact checkers."
Terry also tempered his criticism of Ewing from an ad that accused Ewing of overspending while leading the county treasurer's office.
"We did all of the fact-checking and research to find out later that perhaps the County Board took some additional votes on pay raises that perhaps John did not request," Terry said.
But Terry still accused Ewing of spending too much — he claimed the treasurer spent more than the previous year in every year but one.
Ewing's office did ask for more money than his office received the previous year in every year but one. However, the County Board did not grant those increases.
When the final numbers came in, the treasurer's office spent less money than the previous year in all but one.
As the subject moved to policy questions, the discussion grew more civil.
The candidates were asked what specific areas they would cut from the federal budget, even if it might upset some constituents.
Terry mentioned welfare as an area to consider, and added, "There probably isn't a part of the budget I wouldn't touch." He said even the military could find efficiencies.
Ewing said he'd cut military spending by reducing the United States' commitments to other countries. He said he didn't want Americans to be the world's police force.
"That's where we need to make some tough cuts," he said.
One thing both candidates agreed upon Monday is that, if needed, they would support the use of American ground forces to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Ewing took President Barack Obama to task, saying he hadn't done enough to make it clear to Iran that the U.S. will do what it takes to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear nation.
"I believe the president has to communicate very clearly to Iran that Israel is one of our top allies in the world, and we're going to stand with Israel," said Ewing.
Terry also took a hawkish stance, saying he supported the use of ground forces to keep Iran from obtaining the bomb.
"I really fear Iran is the country that's going to start World War III if we don't stop them from having nuclear weapons," said Terry.
The race's second and final debate is set for noon Thursday at the Omaha Press Club.
World-Herald staff writer Robynn Tysver contributed to this report.
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HEALTH CARE AS A RIGHT
Terry: “That's a real difficult question because I want everyone to have health care. It's not in the Constitution, so I have to say no unless you can find it in Article 1 Section 8 that lists those out. But I want everyone to have access to health care. And one of the barriers to health care has been cost ... so we need a system that will lower costs, focus (on) costs, and I believe that if we really talked to each other across the aisle instead of having the pre-written bill rammed down our throats we could find a lot of ways to save and make health care even higher quality.”
Ewing: “I would say yes. I believe that in the greatest country in the history of the world and the wealthiest country in the history of the world we have to make sure that we're providing for our citizens. I think that's just fundamental. Do I support the Affordable Health Care Act? Yes. Are there are changes that need to be made? Absolutely. ... I believe the better approach is to look at how we can make the bill better and make it work for businesses and for the citizens rather than having an either/or. I've heard replace and repeal, but I've never heard a specific program that says here's what the replacement would be.”
HOUSE'S ROLE IN JOB CREATION
Ewing: “The No. 1 thing that the House should be doing is passing a comprehensive jobs bill. We've got 23 million Americans who are unemployed, under-employed, or who have quit looking for work. So we've got to look at how we are going to work with business, how we are going to work with our citizens, how we are going to work with our educational systems to be able to create an environment of certainty ... . And I, like many Americans, do not believe that this Congress has the courage, I do not believe that Mr. Terry has the courage, to address all of those issues and create that certainty for business to be successful.”
Terry: “Well, there are too many people out of work, and the right policies haven't been implemented. Mr. Ewing supports the failed stimulus program and even wants another one on top of that. Well if it's already failed once why would it work a second time? He wants to raise taxes ... . That could cost 700,000 jobs and decrease the size of our economy by 1.3 percent. And the fact of the matter is ... that the House of Representatives and I have voted on a variety of jobs package bills. We passed a bill to keep the current tax code in place ... . We have voted on ... resolving the sequestration issue. Unfortunately, those have been sent to the Senate and Harry Reid ... has blocked it from coming to a vote in the Senate.”
TAX RATE FOR MILLIONAIRES
Terry: “Millionaires should pay their fair share. But what's their fair share? Now, even in the plan that we adopted in the House for tax reform is a flatter individual code, and I'm talking about the corporate code now. For the first $100,000 it would be 10 percent. Above $100,000 it would be 25 percent. If we want to throw on another one for ‘bazillionaires,' then fine, let's talk about that. But what we have to do is really talk about all of the tax deductions that are available to the more wealthy and talk about that, so everyone's paying the amount that's stated for their tax rate.”
Ewing: “I would agree with Lee that what we need to do is have a comprehensive approach to tax reform. That has not been done since 1986. I believe it's a failure of leadership not to look at how we're going to straighten out the mess we're in today. I believe also if you look at capital gains, if you look at the presidential candidate from his party, he is actually paying less than the average citizen ... . And if you look at what has been proposed, by the Paul Ryan plan, which Lee Terry supports, you would see capital gains tax go to zero ... . We've got to fix this system so it is fairer to the working people.”
— Compiled by World-Herald staff writer Roseann Moring