CARSON CITY – Candidates in two of Nevada’s hotly contested Congressional races debated the issues Thursday in separate 30-minute discussions on public television.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., faced off against state Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, in the 3rd Congressional race, while Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian debated state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the race for the newly created 4th Congressional District.
Heck has a slight lead in the District 3 race in Las Vegas, while Tarkanian has a modest edge in District 4 despite the strong Democratic registration advantage in the district that covers northern Clark County and much of rural Nevada.
Oceguera called the federal Affordable Care Act “a good start” that needs to be expanded, while noting that Heck has voted repeatedly to oppose the measure.
Good elements of the bill include no caps on medical costs and prohibitions on excluding people for preexisting conditions, he said.
Heck, a physician, agreed there are good elements in the bill, but that Congress needs to repeal the law and replace it with a better measure making health insurance affordable for everyone.
On the issue of Social Security, Heck was asked about a comment he made in 2011 but later backed off from when he called the program a “pyramid scheme.” Congress needs to look at a variety of options increase the solvency of Social Security, including looking at raising the retirement age, he said.
“Part of the problem right now is the high unemployment rates under this administration, and we have fewer people paying into the system because they are not working,” he said. “So the first thing to help shore up Social Security is get the economy started, get people back to work, so more people are paying into the system.”
Oceguera said Heck has repeated the pyramid scheme statement on several occasions, making it clear he wants to privatize it. Oceguera said he would work to preserve and protect the program, not privatize it.
Oceguera was asked about his goal of protecting small business while at the same time supporting the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year. He said the expiration of the tax cuts has to be part of a balanced approach that includes elements such as ending tax cuts for big oil companies and those companies shipping jobs overseas.
But Oceguera said that vote actually lowered payroll taxes for a majority of Nevada businesses.
The biggest controversy in the 30-minute discussion was an ad being run by Oceguera criticizing Heck, a former state Senator, for votes on a rape crisis center and abortion.
The ad cites Heck’s 2007 vote on a bill funding a crisis center, and also says the Republican tried to restrict access to abortion for victims of rape.
Oceguera said he stands by the ad.
“Congressman Heck’s record on women, women’s health and safety, is clear,” he said. “He voted to weaken the Violence Against Women Act, he voted twice to defund Planned Parenthood. He voted to make it so that the IRS could go in and audit a rape victim to ask them to have them prove that they had been raped.”
Heck said Oceguera’s statements are blatantly false and have been rejected by the media.
“The votes that he references in the Senate were the end of session pork bills that had 30 to 40 different little pet projects, some of which were very reasonable and very worthwhile, but which never received a public hearing,” he said. “I’m into transparency and accountability. If my opponent wants to pass bills and pet projects and pork in the middle of the night, what will he do in Congress?”
In the second debate, Tarkanian spent much of his time criticizing Horsford for what he said were mischaracterizations of his positions.
Horsford said his references to Tarkanian’s positions on Medicare privatization, immigration and other issues are accurate and point out his extreme positions.
Tarkanian said he supported Arizona’s anti-immigration law because the state had a right to do what it thought necessary to protect the health and safety of its residents. Nevada’s elected officials have to review for themselves if such a law is needed here, he said.
Horsford says Congress needs to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Tarkanian criticized Horsford for consistently voting in the Legislature to raise taxes on business.
“He does have a record and it’s a failing record,” he said.
Horsford said he is proud of his record in the Legislature, working across party lines to create jobs and reduce payroll taxes on small business.
“He’s not accurate,” Horsford said. “I have a strong record, he does not.”
He said Tarkanian has run for office four times and been rejected by voters because of his extreme positions.
Tarkanian said Horsford has spent years in the Legislature but has failed to come up with plans to create jobs.
Rep. Joe Heck says Congress needs to consider changes to preserve the Social Security system:
Assembly Speaker John Oceguera says he stands by an ad criticizing Heck’s positions on women’s health and safety: