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Senate candidates debate in Gering
February 06, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen - Republican U.S Senate candidates (from left) Bart McLeay, Sid Dinsdale, Shane Osborn and Ben Sasse were in Gering for their first debate and discussed their views on a variety of topics.

The first debate of the campaign season happened at the Gering Civic Center last week as four Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate fielded audience questions on the state of government.

Participating in the hour-long debate were Omaha attorney Bart McLeay; former Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn; Ben Sasse, president of Midland University in Fremont; and Sid Dinsdale, whose family owns Pinnacle Banks.

There were few differences in the candidates as they presented their views on a number of topics. They ranged from the Farm Bill, ethanol and fuel standards, government overreach in departments like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the deficit, immigration reform and problems with the Affordable Healthcare Act.

The only noticeable differences came up in the second half of the debate when candidates gave their views on immigration reform. All four agreed that securing the nation’s borders was the first priority.

McLeay said he would not support a pathway to citizenship for those who have violated our criminal laws. “I would agree to a pathway to residency, but that does not include voting rights, does not include federal benefits, and it includes a number of other requirements for them to meet.”

Dinsdale said that illegal immigrants who have criminal records should be deported. For those without a criminal record, he supports some kind of worker status. “They use our schools, highways and power,” he added. “They need to contribute to our society. I’m not for shipping 11 million of them back unless they have a criminal record.”

Osborn differed, saying he didn’t support amnesty in any form for those who broke the law to come here. “It all starts with securing the border,” he said. “We have the technology to do it. Until we get that done, there’s no sense talking about those other issues.”

Sasse agreed, saying he was opposed to amnesty. “The first duty of government is to protect us from enemies foreign and domestic,” he said. “When we aren’t securing the border, we aren’t doing our first duty. And we have a crisis of trust with this administration.”

That crisis of trust also spilled over into a discussion on the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. While there was agreement among the candidates, two of the more vocal opponents were Sasse and Osborn.

“We’re seeing how this bill is resulting in government run healthcare,” Osborn said. “If you want to see how that works, just look at the Veterans Administration. It’s the largest healthcare system in the country that’s run by the government. It’s not a money problem, but an access to healthcare problem. Veterans are dying every day because they can’t get access.”

Osborn said he would like to see the elimination of the individual mandate under the ACA and no bailouts for insurance companies. And he wants to see Congress and their staffs live under the law, rather than opt out like they have.

Sasse, who was a healthcare policy expert during the Bush administration, has read the 2,300 page bill and said it’s worse than people think. “You can’t fix this because it’s broken beyond repair,” he said. It’s a country wrecking, budget busting, freedom destroying very bad idea.”

He said the problems with healthcare that existed before ACA were actually a result of too much government interference in the market. “I have families telling me they’re more worried about Obamacare than Al Queda for the future of this country. We need to extinguish both of them completely.”

Candidates also agreed the current administration is overreaching into the lives of private citizens through agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. And they said the tax code needs to be revamped and simplified.

Nebraska’s primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, May 13.
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