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Tester, Rehberg Trade Familiar Barbs at Kalispell Debate
Senate debate also included Libertarian Dan Cox
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, left, Libertarian Dan Cox, center, and Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg participate in the Senate debate Sunday night at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Denny Rehberg traded familiar barbs at a U.S. Senate debate in Kalispell Sunday night, though the presence of Libertarian Dan Cox threw a wrinkle into the two adversaries’ onstage battles.

Unlike Tester and Rehberg’s most recent debate in Billings on Oct. 8, Cox was invited to participate, giving the Democrat and Republican fewer opportunities to spar one on one. Yet they still got in their fair share of attacks on each other, with Cox taking the opportunity to go after both of them.

The result was nearly an hour and a half in which Tester and Rehberg once again drew clear lines between their “competing visions and competing records,” as Rehberg put it.

The six-term Republican congressman, who is challenging Tester for his Senate seat, repeated his refrain that the Democratic senator has voted with Obama “95 percent” of the time and endangered the country’s fiscal stability through reckless spending.

“We do have two paths,” Rehberg told a crowd at Flathead Valley Community College. “One is the government solution and government path and the other is mine.”

Tester, meanwhile, took the common Republican line of attack of Democrats being the fiscally irresponsible, big-government party, and flipped it around by saying Rehberg entered office in 2000 with a federal surplus and wasted it with two wars, prescription drug spending and tax cuts that he put “on a credit card.”

“If you want to talk about a long history of not being fiscally responsible or not being responsible period, the congressman needs to look in the mirror,” Tester said, adding that the claim that he has sided with Obama 95 percent of the time is “inaccurate and it’s misleading and you know it.”

The Oct. 14 debate at FVCC was sponsored by the Daily Inter Lake and is the third of four debates scheduled between Tester and Rehberg. Before the Billings debate, the two candidates and Cox debated in Big Sky in June. The final debate before the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 20 in Bozeman.

The race for Tester’s Senate seat is one of the most closely watched in the nation, with control of the Senate possibly hanging in the balance. The campaigns have spent millions of dollars on advertising, as have outside groups, and the race remains too close to predict with polls showing only a small percentage difference separating them.

Both candidates sought to use local Flathead Valley anecdotes in their arguments Sunday, including Tester’s defense of his vote for what Rehberg called the “failed” stimulus bill.

Tester said stimulus funds went toward Kalispell’s U.S. Highway 93 Alternate Route, Going-to-the-Sun Road construction, a local community health center and a revamp of Kalispell’s fire department.

The senator said the country was “hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month” at the time of the stimulus and now is experiencing job growth. He said the bill also provided $575 million in tax breaks for Montanans.

“If that’s a failed stimulus…I wonder what the definition of success is,” he said, adding that “it was critically important to do at that time to put people back to work.”

But Rehberg, who repeated the “failed stimulus” line throughout the debate, countered that “you don’t borrow a trillion dollars against the future" and hope it creates an asset. The congressman pointed to the stimulus as an example of Tester’s support of government intrusion and overreach, which he said inhibits the job creators of the private sector and creates tax uncertainty.

“The proof is in the results,” Rehberg said of the stimulus. “Where are the jobs?”

Rehberg also went after Tester for supporting the Affordable Care Act, which he said was “supposed to be health care reform but it didn’t reform health care,” and siding with Environmental Protection Agency emission regulations that Rehberg said led to the closure of a coal-fired power plant in Billings.

Tester shot back that officials from the plant’s owner, PPL Montana, told him they could deal with the emissions rule.

“The bottom line is I did listen to the executives of PPL and they said they could work with the regulation that’s been on the books for 20 years,” the senator said.

Cox was equally critical of Rehberg and Tester, saying they are both part of the problems in Washington D.C. and advocating a minimalist government role in the country's affairs. He said the nation needs a fresh perspective, because the pattern perpetuated by Democrats and Republicans over the years has failed.

"All it’s gotten us so far is debt, inflation and war,” Cox said.

Tester and Rehberg sparred over their views on the estate tax, the Dodd-Frank financial reform, the Farm Bill, Rehberg’s House appropriations subcommittee budget and Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, among other issues.

Tester criticized Rehberg for trying to eliminate Title X family planning funding three times in the past year. The senator said the funding serves “tens of thousands of women.” Rehberg said he researched the issue and decided it was the best budgetary course of action and that those who need the services would be covered elsewhere.

“We made the determination that Medicaid has expanded to the point that it could take care of those most in need,” the congressman said.

Rehberg was critical of Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, arguing that it only guarantees more wilderness and not jobs. He said Tester was trying to “fool the public.”

After criticizing a Rehberg bill dealing with public lands, the HR 1505 “National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act,” Tester said that the majority of Montanans support his forest bill, just not those on the far right and the far left.

Tester said his act was crafted through the cooperation of many different groups, which should happen more in Washington D.C. Tester continued touching on the theme of cooperation throughout the evening, including when talking about solving the debt.

“Working together is a Montana value,” Tester said. “We have a lot of work to do in Washington D.C. and I will tell you that none of it – none of it – will get done unless we work together.”
 
On 10-15-12, HRH Prince Michael commented....
The non-stop “Attack-Ads” on ALL sides, are fitting testaments to unfit, special-interest serving, career-Politicians. The real differences between Republicans, Democrats, Libertarian, and “Independents”? The deceptions which they perpetrate, the benefactors whom they serve, and the true cost paid, by American Citizens. Democrat “Re-Election”? Republican “Election”? The…
 
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