Republican Rep. Joe Heck and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera clashed over health care, Social Security and business taxes in a debate slated to be televised tonight on VegasPBS Channel 10.
And Oceguera — questioned about an ad that falsely accuses Heck of voting to restrict rape victims access to abortion — refused to back down. “Yes, I will stand by that ad,” Oceguera said.
Oceguera said Heck supported H.R. 3, a bill that would restrict federal funds from paying for abortions. But that bill contains a specific exemption for victims of rape, incest and in cases in which the pregnancy threatens the health of the mother. Oceguera maintained during the debate that the bill could lead to “audits” of women, forcing them to prove they were raped, but the bill contains no provision for such audits.
Oceguera also noted Heck voted to defund Planned Parenthood and against bills in the Legislature that funded — among myriad other things — the Rape Crisis Center and domestic violence programs. Heck defended his record, saying he voted against “pork” spending that had not been properly vetted.
Neither candidate scored any obvious points in the debate, but neither did either man stumble under questioning from moderator Mitch Fox.
Fox asked Oceguera directly about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, about which Oceguera has dodged questions in some interviews in the past. Does he support it? “Yes, and this is why,” Oceguera said, telling the audience that he had to pay more than $1,400 per month for health care coverage after leaving his job as an assistant chief with the North Las Vegas Fire Department.
“I believe that the health care law was a good start,” he said.
Heck said he supports several elements of the law — including a ban on excluding people for pre-existing conditions, preventing people from losing insurance when they get sick and allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance longer. But he said the balance of the bill is objectionable, which is why he’s voted repeatedly to repeal or limit its provisions.
Heck didn’t directly respond when Fox asked him about his remark calling Social Security a “pyramid scheme,” but explained that he was trying to say the program is doomed without significant changes. Most interestingly, Heck said reforms could include raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes, which would be the equivalent of a tax increase on upper-income earners. (Currently, only wages and earnings up to about $110,000 are subject to the tax.)
“Every option has to be on the table,” he said.
Oceguera didn’t back away from his support for allowing the George W. Bush tax cuts to expire for those earning more than $250,000 per year, even after Fox followed up to ask about the impact on small business owners. Heck jumped on the issue, accusing Oceguera of being anti-business because of his votes in the Legislature to double the business license fee and increase the payroll tax.
(Oceguera replied — accurately — that the payroll tax bill lowered those taxes for the vast majority of small businesses, and that the business license fee increased from $100 to $200. “If you’re going to do business in this state, I don’t think $200 is too much to ask,” Oceguera said.)
Oceguera pointed to his support for a state foreclosure mediation program that he said could be a model for the country, but Heck said the plan has only imposed a temporary halt to foreclosures. “We really haven’t helped anybody out of foreclosure,” Heck said. Meanwhile, Heck touted his support for a federal anti-foreclosure program in which he voted against his own party’s position.