CARSON CITY -- In the first on-the-ground clash of their U.S. Senate race, candidates Rep. Shelley Berkley and Rep. Dean Heller on Wednesday offered starkly different views of the future for Nevada and the nation.
Berkley told the Nevada Legislature, meeting in joint session, that senior citizens would suffer under a Republican plan to replace Medicare with a voucher-like system for younger recipients to save money.
"Should they remove themselves from their dialysis machines and quietly go away to die?" Berkley asked, saying the treatment might be too costly for some.
Heller, speaking in Reno to a GOP group four hours before Berkley's address in Carson City, warned that Democrats would be "demagoguing" Medicare and using "scare tactics" to slam proposed budget cuts.
Heller said Republicans want to maintain Medicare for older people while reforming the system for younger health care recipients by having them choose private insurance plans that could save people and government money.
"Don't listen to the demagoguing that's out there. It just isn't true," Heller told the Washoe Republican Women, saying the GOP doesn't want to kill Medicare.
Heller also took a jab at President Barack Obama ahead of his visit today to ElectraTherm Inc., a Reno clean energy company, where he will hold a town hall meeting to tout his plan to cut $4 trillion in federal spending over 10 years.
"He's late to the party," Heller said of Obama, who is making his first visit to Reno as president.
Heller noted that the president submitted a revised budget this month as the GOP-led House got behind Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to cut spending by $6.2 trillion over the next dozen years. Ryan's plan includes changing Medicare and other entitlement programs.
"It's amazing you can bring this guy along, actually dragging him, so he can be part of the game," Heller said of Obama, echoing GOP officials in Washington.
The differences between the seven-term Berkley, who is considered a liberal lawmaker, and Heller, who has grown more conservative since first elected to the House in 2006, is a perfect example of the wide divisions that separate Democrats and Republicans in Washington and in state capitals nationwide.
Voters in 2012 will have clear choices between Obama and Democrats such as Berkley, who want to cut spending but maintain entitlements, and Republicans who want to shrink the size of government along with the nation's runaway debt and record deficit.
Berkley, after her speech, objected to Heller's charge that Democrats were using scare tactics. She said senior citizens would likely pay $6,000 more for health care under the GOP Medicare reform proposals.
"This is not demagoguing," she said. "These are real life numbers."
Both Heller and Berkley said creating jobs is key to the recovery of the nation and Nevada. The state has the country's highest unemployment rate at 13.2 percent. It also has the worst home foreclosure and bankruptcy rates after three years of recession.
Heller believes spurring business growth by reducing regulations and keeping taxes low is the answer to job creation as 170,000 Nevadans look for work.
Berkley, in her address to the Legislature, told lawmakers and Gov. Brian Sandoval the answer to attracting new business and jobs is improving education and expanding clean energy development, not only maintaining low taxes.
Berkley said she didn't want to "criticize people" in the Assembly chambers, including the GOP governor, who sat in the front row. Yet she said she believes the state won't recover until it does better at educating children and university students and making the most of its solar, wind and geothermal energy resources.
Berkley also promoted infrastructure projects, such as building roads and bridges, to create jobs for unemployed construction workers.
"In my mind, gutting our education is shortchanging our children," she said. "And it's undermining our ability to diversify our economy."
The line won applause from Democrats who have been saying Sandoval's $5.8 billion budget cuts education too much.
So far, however, the minority Republicans in the Senate and Assembly have stood behind the governor's pledge not to raise taxes, which he believes would hamper business and job growth.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.