• Click here to watch a video replay of Monday night's debate.
Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing offered a lot of criticism Monday of his opponent's record.
He said during The World-Herald's 2nd Congressional District debate that his own experiences would make him a more effective congressman than U.S. Rep. Lee Terry.
But in the second part of a review of that debate, The World-Herald found some of Ewing's statements inaccurate. Terry, a Republican, and Ewing, a Democrat, are vying to represent the Omaha area.
Did Ewing pass laws?
The set-up: As an Omaha police lieutenant, Ewing found loopholes in how Nebraska law dealt with some child molesters. He also found problems with how the law dealt with some spousal abusers. State legislators eventually closed those loopholes and increased penalties.
Debate claims: Ewing said, “As the lieutenant of the Special Victims Unit, I was able to get more in legislation passed in 17 months than our current congressman (has) in 14 years.”
Terry: “I don't know where you come up with that you passed so many bills. You're a treasurer. You collect taxes from people, you don't pass legislation.”
The facts: As a police lieutenant, Ewing did play a role in spurring the legislation. But Ewing significantly overstates his own contribution by saying he got the bills passed.
By Ewing's own account, he brought the problems to the attention of other people in the community who eventually went to Lincoln with the idea. He also testified before the Legislature about the issues in question.
But he did not know how those issues made it to Lincoln, and he said he didn't work with any state senator sponsoring any of the bills.
“I don't know how they did that in terms of their process,” he said.
Ewing's campaign manager, Rebekah Caruthers, later acknowledged that he “could have been more artful” in how he described his role. He should have said, “I'm more effective through coalition building to help get bills passed,” she said.
Will the real fiscal conservative please stand up?
The set-up: Terry and Ewing also sparred Monday over whether the congressman deserves to call himself a fiscal conservative.
Debate claims: Terry focused on his many votes over the past few years to cut trillions in spending, while Ewing said voters should look at Terry's fuller record.
“What he talks about is his 157 votes over the last three years to cut the debt. What he doesn't talk about is his over 60 votes to add $10 trillion to our national debt with two unfunded wars, two unfunded tax cuts, Medicare Part D and the big bank bailout. Lee Terry has not been a fiscal conservative,” Ewing said.
The facts: It's true that Terry voted in favor of U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush tax cuts, Medicare Part D and the Wall Street bailout bill known as TARP. The total cost of those items does reach into the trillions. But pegging the total at $10 trillion is an exaggeration.
In response to a World-Herald request, Ewing's campaign provided a list of Terry's votes in those areas, and the associated costs they showed totaled $10.3 trillion, plus $1.1 trillion in interest payments.
But the list included significant errors, including the double counting of some spending and outdated or simply wrong cost estimates. For example, they listed the cost of TARP as $189 billion, when the Congressional Budget Office now estimates the cost at $24 billion.
After The World-Herald pointed this out, the campaign provided a new list totaling around $7.2 trillion plus that $1 trillion in interest.
But even those numbers warrant scrutiny. For the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Ewing uses a figure of $4 trillion. The direct cost of the wars is more like $1.5 trillion. Ewing's campaign sources its figure to the “Costs of War” study by Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies.
That study did estimate a range for the economic cost of the wars with a top end north of $4 trillion. But getting to that point required including war spending through 2020, the interest on war spending, international assistance money and increases in homeland security funding connected with the war on terror.
The study also threw in $1.3 trillion in social costs for veterans and their families, as well as medical and disability costs for them through 2051.
The bottom line is that Terry supported the various proposals Ewing listed in the debate and they cost trillions, but not as many trillions as Ewing said.
Ewing's campaign conceded that he should have used a lower number but said its point was that during Terry's time in office, the national debt has grown by more than $10 trillion.
Still, that growth in the debt also includes deficit spending such as President Barack Obama's stimulus to aid the economic recovery — which Terry strongly opposed.
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12 p.m. today: U.S. Rep. Lee Terry and Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing meet again in a debate sponsored by the Omaha Press Club and the League of Women Voters.
More coverage of the Terry-Ewing race