Amodei, Marshall Duel Over Facts, Foreign Policy, Medicare and Taxes

State Treasurer Kate Marshall and former state senator Mark Amodei sparred over Medicare reform, campaign ads and even the uprising in Libya in an hour-long debate airing on the statewide news program Face to Face on Monday and Tuesday.

Former Nevada state Sen. and CD2 GOP candidate Mark Amodei.

The two candidates vying for a vacant congressional seat in a special election next month offered starkly different solutions to the nation’s problems, including how to best rein in Medicare spending.

Marshall said the federal government should use its power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the price of prescription drugs for seniors, while Amodei said the Medicare eligibility age should be bumped up and the program’s benefits restructured for those 15 years or more from current eligibility.

Amodei said he wanted to reform the program while increasing the reimbursement rate doctors receive for treating Medicare patients.

Jon Ralston, host of Face to Face and the debate moderator, asked the Republican candidate what he would cut if he were not in favor of reducing reimbursement rates for doctors.

“How about a federal hiring freeze?” said Amodei, adding that it was wrong, “to tell people they have a Medicare program when doctors won’t let them in the office because reimbursement rates are too low.”

The Medicare discussion raised the issue of the budget plan put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, which calls for turning Medicare into a program in which seniors are given vouchers to purchase insurance on the private market.

Democratic candidate Marshall said the plan “lacks vision” and actually exacerbates the problem because the cost of private insurance has grown faster than Medicare.

“Medicare is a good bang for your buck if you’re a senior,” said Marshall.

Amodei said he would have voted against the Ryan plan if he had been a member of Congress at the time, but Ralston pointed out that Amodei was quoted in an article on Politico saying the plan was “excellent.”

“I think Mr. Amodei is trying to have it both ways,” said Marshall.

Amodei defended the change in views, saying he had read the Ryan bill since making his earlier statements of support and that it would not work well for his district. He added that the Ryan plan was the only budget plan on the table.

The pair also discussed their dueling campaign ads. A Marshall ad accuses Amodei of being a paid lobbyist while serving in the legislature, when he was employed by the Nevada Mining Association, and also of voting himself a pay raise.

Amodei said he was not employed as a lobbyist nor registered as one in the years in question, and that the bill he voted for that gave legislators a bump in pay meant he made only $7 more per day for 60 days during the 2007 and 2009 legislative sessions. Meanwhile, he said, the state treasurer was given a $17,000 pay raise.

The same bill that gave legislators their pay raise also increased the state treasurer’s salary from $80,000 to $97,000, but Marshall did not take office until after the bill went into effect.

The Marshall ad also accuses Amodei of voting for the largest tax increase in the state’s history, in 2003 when the legislature passed the modified business tax. Amdoei said it was supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Tax Association and was necessary to fund the education budget requested by then Gov. Kenny Guinn.

“I’m a solutions guy who deals with the facts and the fact at the time was that was a responsible way to deal with Gov. Guinn’s budget request,” said Amodei. “What we need now is a solutions person who won’t ignore the facts, won’t go in the tank for a political caucus or special interest group and who says we’ve got to bring the federal budget into balance, we’ve got to bring some spending discipline.”

Marshall said she would not have voted for the modified business tax because it penalizes employers for hiring people.

Amodei distanced himself from an ad paid for by the Republican party that showed Marshall saying she had “steered the state with a steady hand,” while flashing grim statistics about Nevada’s unemployment and foreclosure crisis.

Amodei talked about some of his solutions to the state’s fiscal woes, including expediting the permitting process to use federal lands for recreation and resource exploration. Marshall countered, saying she supported what she called streamlined permitting.

Nevada state Treasurer and Democrat CD2 candidate Kate Marshall

Both candidates shied away from answering whether they supported the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s project to import water from rural Nevada.

Marshall said the project wasn’t being done correctly, while Amodei said he supports the process of the state engineer having control and would not, as a federal official, intervene in a state-controlled decision.

Ralston started the debate asking about Libya, where a popular uprising has ousted Muammar el-Qaddafi, with the help of the United States and other countries.

Amodei said the U.S. should now enlarge its embassy there to monitor the situation and determine who is in charge while Marshall said we should first work through an intermediary there, such as a country friendly to both the U.S. and Libya.

“Mr. Amodei shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Middle East,” said Marshall in the first jab of the debate.

Amdoei responded by saying America needed to discern the situation there for itself and not rely on outsiders.