Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Dee Ann Birkel of Brady, with campaign buttons, including a Franklin Roosevelt button on her collar.
Bob Kerrey is ready to start work Wednesday -- the day after the election, he said at a final campaign stop in North Platte. Kerrey spent more than an hour with 50-60 people Friday morning, part of a swing around the state. He said Congress must get to work on the federal budget right away to avoid going over a “fiscal cliff.”
That so-called cliff makes sharp cuts to all kinds of government programs and ends the tax rates that were adopted 10 years ago under President George W. Bush.
Kerrey said the federal budget must be balanced, but it will take about a decade to do correctly.
He said Democrats have to agree to make cuts, and Republicans have to agree to raise taxes.
“The problem is if we cut too much too soon, it will damage the economy,” he said, referring to the reliance of private business on government jobs.
Kerrey is “guardedly optimistic” that Congress can reach agreements to stop the runaway deficit and start the country on a sustainable path toward a balanced budget. He said the budget reforms will hurt in some ways, but overall will be “pro-growth."
“It will be a short window (to get it done),” he said. “By February, everyone will start to focus on the mid-term elections. They won’t want to make any changes that might cost votes in the 2014 election."
“If I’m elected (Tuesday) I’ll go to work on Nov. 7,” he said.
Kerrey said he has the experience to get the job done.
He cited federal spending cuts and tax increase programs when he was a U.S. Senator in 1990, 93 and 97 that resulted in a balanced federal budget from 1998-2001.
Kerrey said he is confidant he will win. Pollsters say he is virtually tied with Deb Fischer, who has lost a commanding lead in the race.
Fischer has signed a pledge against any new taxes. That pledge would doom the state’s economy, especially in rural Nebraska, Kerrey said.
He said former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel’s endorsement, announced Thursday, is the kind of courageous, non partisan stand that will save the country.
“It took a lot of courage,” he said. “Chuck Hagel took a tremendous amount of flack from his own party for endorsing me. Washington is way too partisan. Too many candidates are worried about their victory party instead of a victory for the people.”
“I have a set of experiences that are useful,” he said, “I’m a Democrat businessman. I’ve been a Governor and a Senator.”
After brief opening remarks, Kerrey answered questions. He said he would cut overbearing regulations, such as clean coal restrictions on the electrical power plant near Sutherland, one of the cleanest power plants in the country.
He said clean air regulations should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Kerrey also said businesses that are too big to fail are too big, and credited the railroad and ethanol industry provide for good paying jobs.
“I’ve fought for 30 years for ethanol,” he said. “It’s raised the price of corn and created thousands of jobs that pay in excess of $35,000 a year."
"Good paying jobs solve a lot of social problems,” he said.
Continuing to bravely discuss cuts in social spending during his campaign, Kerrey said he would fight for reforms to Social Security and Medicare, including so-called “means testing” that would cut benefits for recipients who make more than $130,000 a year.
He has said reforms will keep Social Security solvent for several decades and will extend the life of Medicare for a decade or so.
He also called for:
• Gradual increase the Social Security retirement age,
• Increased Social Security payments to people in their 80s.
• Government to negotiate Medicare prices with drug companies.
• More fraud investigations.
• Partial Social Security payments for disabled, working-age people.
Kerrey said Fischer’s proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution would cut government spending by 30 percent – cuts that would be devastating.
He noted that health care is the No. 2 industry in Nebraska and the No. 1 business in several rural Nebraska towns.
Kerrey laid the blame for the stalled Farm Bill on 70-80 tea-party affiliated members of the House of Representatives.
“We need to shine the spotlight on them and say ‘You’re responsible,’” he said. “Even Rep. Adrian Smith didn’t sign the discharge petition to bring the Farm Bill to a vote in the House, and that was noticed -- rural representative who doesn’t even say he want the bill to come to a vote. The Farm Bill got kicked down the road, and now it’s at risk in a lame-duck session (before winners of the election take office.)
“I think we’ll get it (Farm Bill,)” he said. “But we need to focus on the problem --- a relatively small group of House members.”
“I’m very sympathetic to skepticism (about the partisan divide,)” he said.
Land grant colleges
Kerrey said he graduated from a land-grant university -- UNL -- and supports them.
"They can't survive without public support," he said.
He said the federal government should get out of education and let states handle that. In exchange, the federal government should take Medicaid from the states. Medicaid claims a major percentage of state budgets.
That exchange would free up money for states to support universities, he said.
Kerrey also said community colleges are the most important link of higher education.
"They provide valued-added education through private-public partnerships," he said, and then quipped, "even though they don't have football teams."
Kerrey cited his work on the bipartisan 9-11 commission, which investigated the failure of the intelligence agencies to prevent the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“It wasn’t easy, but we unanimously agreed in our report,” he said. “It was intense. Some Democrats are still mad at me. But we agreed and our recommendations were all adopted by Congress,” he said. “That’s what we have to do again.”
Kerrey also briefly discussed the recent, abrupt purchase of the 20,000-acre Lincoln Farm in southern Lincoln County by the Twin Platte Natural Resources District.
“A farm of 115 center pivots, taken out of production for 45,000 acre-feet of water for the Republican and Platte Rivers -- you couldn’t make this stuff up,” he said.
"I'm so happy Chuck Hagel has come forward and sees the worth of Bob Kerrey," said Dee Ann Birkel of Brady, a member of Move On who was sporting several Democrat campaign buttons. "When you know in your heart what to believe, you need to use your mouth more."