By DUSTIN HURST | Watchdog.org
BIG SKY — Montanans expected the first debate among Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Republican U.S. House Rep. Denny Rehberg and Libertarian Dan Cox to be a dicey affair and it lived up to — if not exceeded — the hype.
Rehberg, seeking to knock Tester out of the Senate in November, took the first swipe at the incumbent during opening remarks Saturday here, saying the Democrat’s spending policies are bad for the economy.
“Nobody feels good about the direction the country is taking,” Rehberg said. “We’ve got to get ourselves out of this recession.”
The Republican congressman made job creation and recovery the theme of Saturday’s debate at the 127th annual convention of the Montana Newspaper Assoociation, and slammed Tester for supporting Democratic policies that enlarged the national debt and enabled out-of-control spending.
Tester countered early and often, saying his Senate votes helped those who need affordable health care coverage and supported care of veterans.
When debate moderators pressed the candidates on health reform, Tester said the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, isn’t perfect legislation, but it is an an important first step toward holding insurance companies and providers accountable for costs.
Rehberg, again tapping the jobs theme, called the law “job-killing,” and a measure that would place onerous burdens on small businesses.
To improve health care, the congressman said the government should explore pooling, so small businesses can join forces in purchasing health insurance to obtain better rates. While small businesses can purchase small group coverage now, no law and nothing in the federal health-care reform allows them to pool to reduce health coverage premiums.
Additionally, he added, medical tort reform should be explored, a tenet he felt was excluded from the 2010 reforms as a political favor.
“It was a payoff to the trial lawyers,” Rehberg said, adding that defensive medicine costs the country untold sums annually.
“It’s not the lawsuit, it’s the fear of the lawsuit.”
Cox said the government simply needs to remove itself from medicine and let the free market correct the system.
“What aren’t we going to let the government
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