GRAND ISLAND — It was the debate of the candidate who wants to work with all and the incumbent who said she already does.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and her Democratic challenger, Jane Raybould of Lincoln, went head-to-head in a rousing 60-minute debate for the six-year U.S. Senate seat Monday during the fourth day of the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island.
The debate, hosted by the Omaha World-Herald and KMTV News of Omaha, was conducted inside the Bosselman Conference Center at the Heartland Events Center on the grounds of the Nebraska State Fair. All 60 chairs set up for the debate in the large space were full.
The debate between the two candidates and Raybould’s clear disdain for Fischer’s five years in office became apparent when the first question regarding the country’s health care law was asked.
“I think it is very scary that health care premiums are increasing and the cost of prescription drugs is becoming more expensive, and that is hurting Nebraska families, and it’s Washington politicians like Sen. Fischer that are pushing these health care costs and premium increases,” said Raybould, a Lincoln city councilwoman who is vice president and director of buildings and equipment in her family’s retail grocery business, B&R Stores Inc.
“Sen. Fischer voted along with the special-interest health care groups like the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies who have funded her campaign to a tune of $120,000 to date. So while she’s taking their money, she is throwing Nebraska families under the bus.”
Fischer, who ranches with her husband and family near Valentine, responded, saying she worked on both sides of the aisle, even working on the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill offered by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray D-Wash.
She said the two sides were working well together on the bill, which would have amended the Affordable Care Act to fund cost-sharing reductions subsidies and make other changes, until the Democrats pulled out just prior to a vote.
Fischer said the goal is to find a plan that will truly help all Americans.
“When we do this through transparency, through flexibility and through competitive pricing and competitive health care plans, we’re going to see premiums come down,” she said.
Raybould was quick to respond to what she said was an attack on the Senate Democrats.
“That’s Washington speak for a senator who says, ‘I can be bought,’ by accepting $120,000 from health care special interest groups who told her how to vote,” Raybould said. “Sen. Fischer, that’s corruption plain and simple. You ought to be ashamed, and you should give that money back.”
Fischer said Raybould was making the same old argument without offering any solutions to the real problem of health care reform.
“Making attacks, not coming up with plans she can talk about, that’s too bad and not what Nebraskans want,” Fischer said.
At that point, the moderators shut off that conversation moving the two candidates through a series of other debate topics including immigration, climate change, the concept of compromise and trade.
On the trade issue, the candidates were asked how they felt about Congress gaining more control over trade, specifically the tariff issue now impacting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.
“It’s about time we have a president and administration step up and take a stand against the Chinese for example on trade,” Fischer said. “They cheat. They steal our intellectual property. They steal our patents.”
Fischer said she’s glad the Trump administration is working on some tough trade deals but said tariffs aren’t the way to go.
“We need to protect our ag economy,” she said. “We need to protect our manufacturers, but not with tariffs. We want to have a level playing field. We need fair trade. “
“I am so proud of the resilience of our farmers,” Raybould said. “Not only do they feed the world, they fuel the world. That makes Nebraska an economy superpower, and that is something we should be so proud of. You know what farmers are telling us. They want trade. They don’t a bailout. They don’t want aid. They want trade. That’s what we need to do. We need to elect a senator who is going to fight for our Nebraska economy rather than listening to her party leaders and party bosses.”
The argument between the two candidates on Fischer’s voting record came up again when Fischer was asked a reader question from the Omaha World-Herald about if she was a “yes vote” when it comes to President Donald Trump.
Fischer said she votes for Nebraskans and does not always agree with the president.
“The president and I do disagree, and he knows when I disagree with him,” she said. “We disagree on tariffs. I’ve had three face-to-face meetings with him, and I’ve talked to him on the phone and explained to him tariffs are bad for Nebraskans and that we do need to be careful on that so it doesn’t just hurt our ag producers but the economy in the state...
“There are reasons when I disagree with my party,” she said. “There are reasons when I disagree with the president, and those reasons are I vote for Nebraskans.”
Raybould was asked how she would get the Democratic Party’s voice heard if the Republicans keep the majority after the November mid-term election.
“My entire career I have worked with everyone regardless of their party persuasion,” she said. “I’ve gotten things done.”
She said that’s what Nebraskans do. They work together. They roll up their sleeves and get things done.
“Unlike Sen. Fischer who votes on party lines 98 percent of the time, I will be that individual that will not listen to party bosses because I will always put Nebraskans first,” Raybould said.
Fischer responded with an example of her ability to work with both parties.
“I am 13th-most effective senator in the United States Senate. That is through the University of Virginia study. You don’t get that rating unless you work across the aisle,” she said. “I get things done. I work with Republicans and Democrats. And I get things done. I fight for this state. I get bills passed that affect people of this state.”