In a pro-business speech to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley on Wednesday promoted tax breaks for small companies, renewable energy growth and an expansion of international tourism to boost Nevada's lagging economy and put people back to work.
"I believe the top priority of the next U.S. senator must be helping Nevada families not only to survive but to grow and prosper," Berkley said, noting there are signs of recovery. "I believe our best years are ahead of us, both in this nation and in this wonderful state of ours."
The Democrat's address to the chamber's "Eggs & Issues" breakfast came seven weeks after her Republican Senate opponent U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., spoke to the group. The two are locked in a tight 2012 contest that could determine whether Democrats maintain control of the Senate.
In his speech, Heller blamed "big government, big business and big unions" for persistent economic problems. And he directly criticized President Barack Obama for proposing a budget that would increase the U.S. debt $11 trillion over 10 years, boost U.S. borrowing and expand government.
Berkley took a different tack in front of a 170-member crowd at the Palms hotel-casino. She talked up bipartisan ways to boost the economy, praised Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval for backing the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act, which gives tax breaks to companies, and noted she supports legislation by U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., to make it easier for international tourists to get visas.
In answering questions from the audience, Berkley didn't defend Obama's Affordable Health Care Act, which is facing a U.S. Supreme Court challenge. It has been criticized by the GOP and businesses as too costly and possibly unconstitutional. Instead, she said that -- whatever the legal outcome -- she hoped, "We could work together in a bipartisan way to figure out how we can provide health care coverage that's affordable to millions of Americans," including 600,000 Nevadans.
Berkley also refused to side with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in his standoff with Heller over the nomination of Elissa Cadish to the federal bench. Heller is blocking Cadish because the judge once stated in writing that the Second Amendment doesn't guarantee the right to bear arms.
Berkley called Cadish a "close personal friend" and suggested the Clark County district judge deserves a shot at a promotion.
"She's well-qualified for the position," Berkley said to reporters after her speech.
But Berkley added she didn't want to insert herself in the hot-button debate.
"This will play out without my interference," she said.
Although very popular in Democratic-leaning Southern Nevada, Berkley is less known in Northern Nevada and in rural counties, where gun rights can be a make-or-break issue for some voters.
In her address to the chamber, Berkley said Nevada can prosper if it takes advantage of solar, wind and geothermal energy opportunities, and she backs tax credits and loans to help.
She said tourism remains the state's top economic driver, and she supports or co-sponsors bills to expand the visa waiver program to more countries, including ones such as Brazil, India and China.
As for small businesses, Berkley said she has supported major legislation, from the Hire Act to the recent Jobs Act, to provide tax incentives for hiring and to reduce regulations to create more jobs. She also supports a $300 billion small business lending fund that could provide capital.
Berkley acknowledged that some chamber members may not have liked some of the votes the staunch Democrat has taken in her seven terms in Congress, but she said no one cares more than she does.
"Nobody will dispute that nobody works harder than I do, nobody knows the issues better than I do, and nobody fights harder for the people of the state of Nevada than I do," she said.
The line won Berkley a healthy round of applause, the loudest of the one-hour event.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal. com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.