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Kerrey challenges Fischer's views in Senate debate

OMAHA, Neb. — U.S. Senate candidates Deb Fischer and Bob Kerrey acknowledged in their second debate Friday that they tend to espouse the same goals — lower government spending, transform Social Security and Medicare and work to break partisan gridlock in Washington.

The devil, they noted, is in the details.

Kerrey, a Democrat, aggressively questioned Fischer's Republican views during the 60-minute event in Omaha. Both are seeking to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson.

It's been more than a month since the pair first debated at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, when they clashed over issues regarding immigration and the route of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Friday's exchange focused on national issues of spending and government's role in helping a society still reeling from years of economic hardship.

Kerrey — a former Nebraska governor and two-term U.S. Senator — all but ridiculed Fischer's backing of a balanced-budget amendment to address the nation's staggering debt, saying the Republican debt solution isn't that simple.

Fischer, a rancher from rural Valentine and a two-term state senator, shot back that government must honor its promises — like those on Social Security — for senior citizens relying on them.

Kerrey's plan to reform Social Security would expand the payroll tax to higher income levels and would gradually increase the age of eligibility for benefits to 69 in 2075. Fischer's plan would increase the retirement age for people younger than 40 and adding a means test for benefits.