GERING, Neb. — The four Republican candidates for Nebraska's U.S. Senate seat gave a glimpse Wednesday during the first debate of the campaign of their plans to get the federal budget under control.
Ben Sasse says entitlement reform is the only way to achieve fiscal stability.
Shane Osborn says the nation can grow its way out of its fiscal woes by expanding the economy.
Sid Dinsdale says he will look for places to cut in the federal budget, such as eliminating the U.S. Department of Education.
And Bart McLeay says he could back the Simpson-Bowles budget changes as long as they did not include tax hikes.
All four met for the first time on the same stage — in a debate format — at the Gering Civic Center.
Voters will go to the polls May 13 and choose a GOP nominee. The winner will advance to the November general election against Democrat David Domina, who is running unopposed.
The four also touched on the budget deficit during the 60-minute debate.
Kevin Mooney of KNEB Radio in Scottsbluff asked the four how they would work with Democrats to reduce the deficit.
Sasse, a former top health and human services aide under President George W. Bush, said both Democrats and Republicans in Washington have to understand that much of the nation's debt is the result of the growth in entitlements.
However, Sasse did not say what entitlements he would cut or how he would go about changing Social Security and Medicare.
“We're guilty of generational theft,” said Sasse, president of Midland University in Fremont.
Osborn also indicated that he would support entitlement changes, but he did not give any specifics.
“We have to grow the economy. It's the only true way out of it,” said Osborn, a former Navy pilot and former state treasurer.
Dinsdale, president of Pinnacle Bank, said there are some agencies he would protect — such as the Defense Department — but others could be trimmed or eliminated.
He questioned whether the nation needed a federal Education Department, where “thousands of bureaucrats in Washington, making over $100,000 a year, are telling us how to educate our kids.”
McLeay, considered a long shot in the race, gave probably the most detailed answer.
He said he could support a version of Rep. Paul Ryan's plan as well as a budget plan put forth by the so-called Simpson-Bowles commission.
The commission's report called for reducing entitlement spending by, among other things, increasing the retirement age for Social Security and increasing the cost-sharing requirements under Medicare.
However, McLeay said he could not support the tax-hike proposals in Simpson-Bowles.
“I wouldn't accept it,” he said.
The candidates will meet March 11 in another Republican Party-sponsored debate at the Thompson Alumni Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.