Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Bob Kerrey clashed with Republican Deb Fischer Monday over a conservative pledge not to support tax increases, with Fischer arguing that she "signed the pledge for Nebraskans" and Kerrey saying it would hurt services for veterans, seniors and the military.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Kerrey went on the offensive numerous times during their third and final debate before the election, repeatedly pivoting to Fischer's support of the so-called Norquist Pledge to oppose federal tax increases, the brainchild of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
Fischer said she "signed the pledge for Nebraskans" who want to see taxes and spending reduced.
"I've never had a Nebraskan come to me and say, 'Deb, go to Lincoln and raise my taxes,"' Fischer said, an outgoing state senator. "I've never had a Nebraskan say to me, 'Go to Washington and increase spending.' That's not how we do it."
Norquist "didn't sign a pledge for Nebraska," Kerrey said. "He signed Grover Norquist's pledge, and he has a very particular vision for our state. I just happen to disagree with that vision and believe that signing that pledge is going to make it difficult to take care of our kids and give them the quality of education I need."
Kerrey repeatedly criticized Fisher for her support of the pledge. He said the plan would increase unemployment in Nebraska, a state that enjoys the nation's second-lowest rate, and cut money for head-start programs and other child welfare initiatives.
Polls have shown Fischer, a rancher and state senator, leading Kerrey, a former governor and U.S. Senator who moved back to Nebraska to run for Senate.
Kerrey said Fischer's support for $1 trillion in federal cuts might win her political points but, he argued, it would hurt veterans, seniors and the military while increasing unemployment.
"All this is sloganeering," Kerrey said. "I'm very optimistic about our future, but when you cut $1 trillion and you don't want to raise taxes on people making over $1 million - when you do it by cuts alone - it will make it impossible" to provide services to those groups.
Fischer defended her proposal, and said Kerrey's pledge for a constitutional amendment to make congress nonpartisan would face strong resistance.
Fischer noted that Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson - the retiring Democrat they hope to replace - has signed the pledge as well, and she pointed to the nation's $16 trillion debt. She said her plan would "back the government away" from small businesses, which in turn would grow the economy. She said she would support lowering the corporate tax rate to 24 percent, from the current 35 percent.
The candidates also disagreed on the federal health care law, which Kerrey supports and Fischer opposes. Fischer repeated her criticism that the law will trigger $700 million in Medicare cuts that would hurt seniors. Kerrey countered that the savings in the law will help extend the programs solvency from 2016 to 2024.
Fischer and Kerrey have cast themselves as independent-minded public servants with the ability to transcend party politics. Fischer pitched herself as a new face in Washington, saying: "I'm not one of your good ol' boy politicians."
Kerrey said he would not shy from challenging party leadership.
"I've never been a cookie-cutter politician," he said.
The debate was hosted by NET News in Lincoln.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)