Terry, White square off in first debate

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October 12th, 2010

By Robyn Wisch

Lee Terry and Tom White squared off in their first televised debate Tuesday. The two, who are fighting for Nebraska’s seat in the U.S. House representing District two, battled over taxes, spending and who’s the bigger Washington outsider.This debate was sponsored by the Omaha World Herald and Cox Communications. Click here to watch the full debate.

Lee Terry, R, is running for his seventh term in Congress (Photo courtesy U.S. House)

The two candidates stayed on message during the debate, hosted by the Omaha World Herald. Tom White, a Democrat and State Senator, whose term ends in January, was on the attack, while Terry, a Republican, who’s running for his seventh term in Congress, defended his record on Capitol Hill. White used the platform to paint Terry as embedded in Washington politics and cozy with lobbyists. He criticized Terry for voting for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, also referred to as the bank bailout, and said Terry’s years in Congress show him as a false fiscal conservative.

“Budget after budget under Republican leadership and with President Bush in control,” White said, “Congressman Terry voted to do exactly that, he doubled the national debt.” “But when it comes to helping middle class Nebraskans and middle class Americans, Congressman Terry doesn’t want to vote for those kinds of programs. He has however a history of voting for Wall Street and major gifts to huge multinational companies.”

Terry countered TARP has almost entirely been paid back, and was an emergency bill he voted for during an economic crisis. He defended his record on spending, saying he didn’t support bills that placed the burden on taxpayers, like the federal stimulus package and the healthcare overhaul.

Tom White, D, is running to unseat Terry in the U.S. House (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

It’s interesting Tom,” Terry said, “because over 85 times, I’ve voted against spending, seven trillion dollars, even during the Bush years.” “I’ve continuously voted against large omnibus spending bills.” He added, “the other thing that strikes me as interesting, is that the bills you bring up that you support would have added over two trillion dollars to additional spending in the last year, much of which would have gone to our national deficit.”

The candidates were also questioned on their leadership style. Omaha World Herald reporter Robynn Tysver said White has been called combative by his colleagues in the Legislature, while Terry has been criticized as too easy going. Terry replied using the opportunity to suggest his accomplishments in Congress are more than his record may show.

“I have a leadership style where I like to build a team.” Using the example of a bill to expand hydrogen power which Terry said he wrote, he said the best work is done when people aren’t worried about who’s getting the credit. He said if White researched the bill “he’ll find my name’s not even on that bill, even though I wrote it, because I handed it off to Mike Doyle, a Democrat. So I think the most effective leadership style is building a team, and that’s why I’ve had great success.”

White countered that Terry’s record “has been judged on what Washington is doing.” “A go along get along attitude,” he said, “does not work when Washington is profoundly broken.” White also defended his reputation as combative saying he wasn’t liked because he fought spending cuts to education that would have driven up property taxes.

One talking point that never came up is a common one this election cycle: Republicans calling their Democratic opponents “rubber stamps” for President Obama. Nebraska’s 2nd district went to the President in 2008, some evidence there may be impetus to turn some of Nebraska blue. Both candidates were asked what they thought of the President’s accomplishments so far. White said he should be focusing more on job creation, but added his efforts have been blocked by Republicans in Congress. Terry also blamed Congress for standing in the President’s way. But that went to the Democratic leadership, who he said has stymied Obama’s efforts to work across the aisle. Both used their arguments as the reason to throw the other party out of office.

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