U.S. Sen. Nelson squares off with member of Congress Connie Mack IV in only debate
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10/18/12 Janelle Irwin
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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) at a press conference in January.


photo by Janelle Irwin

In their only debate, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent, Congress member Connie Mack IV didn’t hold back the finger pointing. The one hour sparring match at Nova Southeastern University was packed with accusations about voting records, cuts to Medicare and cows.

Republicans looking to oust President Barack Obama have a second priority: winning a majority in the Senate. The GOP needs a net of four victories to do that and unseating longtime incumbent Bill Nelson would help. To do that, his opponent is wielding claims that Nelson has voted to raise taxes on Americans, including the middle class and small business, more than 150 times.

“If you’re going to raise taxes on the very people that we are relying on to create jobs, they don’t have the money to invest if you keep taking it to Washington. If you continue with the regulations, they can’t grow. Let’s put our faith and trust back in the people of this state and this country.”

Mack’s claims were debunked by PolitiFact. They rated his claim false because it was based on double-counted votes and classifying voting against tax cuts as the same thing as voting to increase taxes. Mack also criticized Senator Nelson for not passing a budget.

“That’s significant because if you want to control spending, you have to have a budget. The reason you have a budget at home, the reason you have a budget in your business is so you can control spending. The Senator sits on the budget committee and has failed to pass a budget in almost four years.”

Nelson has his own ideas on how to reign in spending including closing tax loopholes.

“How about $40 billion to come out of the oil industry? How about – here’s a good one - $11.5 billion to come from not letting BP deduct their particular clean up expenses?

And that got Mack talking about cows.

“Senator, you put some cows on your farm to avoid paying taxes. What problems me about that is you tell everybody else not to do it, but it’s okay for you - $43,000 that could have gone for teachers…”

Senator Nelson got quite defensive of his cattle, saying there had been cows on his land for 60 years. He also turned the finger to Mack who he accuses of claiming two homestead exemptions. PolitiFact rated Nelson’s claim mostly false because Mack and his wife each own homes in different states. The candidates disagreed on a host of other key issues. Both claim the other is gutting Medicare for seniors.

“He voted to cut Medicare by taking away the guaranteed benefit and replacing it with a voucher that a senior citizen would have to negotiate with an insurance company.”

Nelson said the voucher program would cost seniors more money and praised the fact that under the plan he voted for, it extended the life of Medicare benefits for an extra eight years. But Mack claims all Nelson’s vote did was rob Medicare to fund the President’s Affordable Care Act.

“Now, Senator Nelson cast the deciding vote to cut $700 billion out of Medicare. What did Senator Nelson say before the vote? He said it is unconscionable to whack away Medicare Advantage from our seniors.”

Nelson said that wasn’t true because the $716 billion dollars Mack is referring to comes from reducing payments to insurance companies and hospitals. Mack repeatedly criticized Nelson for being a lockstep liberal who votes with President Obama 98% of the time. Nelson fired back about his opponent’s voting record.

“Why don’t you explain how, this year, you have one of the worst voting records? I have missed one vote this year, you have missed 178 and when you do show up to vote, it’s even worse.”

The candidates were also asked foreign policy questions. Nelson told voters he doesn’t support lifting the trade embargo with Cuba, something his opponent agreed with. Recent polls show Nelson holding a lead in the race. Nelson and Mack also face two candidates without party affiliation -- Chris Borgia and Bill Gaylor -- and five write-in candidates. They were not invited to the debate.

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