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Senate Candidates Spar in Dallas Debate


By Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter

Dallas, TX – U.S. Senate candidates John Cornyn and Rick Noriega traded barbs on the economy and health care as they took part in a live televised debate at KERA studios last night. KERA's Bill Zeeble reports that sparks flew over the economic bailout Congress recently approved.

The candidates attacked each other on several issues, including the current economic crisis, called the worst since the Great Depression. Senator John Cornyn says he would keep taxes low to help job growth, and he defended his vote for the $700 billion bailout plan that State Representative Rick Noriega opposed.

Senator John Cornyn: The people who got us into this mess need to be held accountable. And I would say to representative Noriega, it's not enough to say no. You've got to come up with a positive solution. All I've heard you say is you would have voted no. You have no alternative. That's not good enough. We need to work together to solve the nation's problems. Good for Barack Obama. Good for John McCain. Good for the leaders on both sides of the aisle coming forward and saying we need to do something about this to protect Main street.

Representative Rick Noriega: We need to go back in and regulate. That means with Wall street trying to police itself, we need regulation over those products. We need police on Wall Street like police on Main street. Unfortunately, through this $700 billion bailout Cornyn voted for, we didn't see that. So it didn't restore the trust that was violated. Therefore, this fumbling around the past week, which cost all of us over $3 trillion.

Another divisive issue is the cost of health insurance, especially in Texas, which claims the highest rate of uninsured in the country.

Cornyn: I guess we've had a lot of discussion about S-CHIP, State Childrens Health Insurance Program. While Representative Noriega was in the Texas legislature 10 years, he didn't introduce any legislation to make sure the 800,000 children who qualify for medicaid and S-CHIP actually got those benefits. While the state of Texas had hundreds of millions available to actually pay for those benefits.

Noriega: Senator Cornyn voted against the children's health insurance program six times. I was an author of the bill this last legislative session to expand us as Texans to be able to receive additional federal funds to insure more Texas children to address the problem that we have so many children of working families uninsured. Today we have enrolled 145,000 additional children of working families.

Both candidates have said employers should be held responsible for hiring illegal immigrants. But when asked what they personally would do if a construction crew of undocumented immigrants showed up to work at their homes, both initially sidestepped the question. Noreiga finally responded he would obey the law.

Noriega: I don't assume looking at someone what their status is. I think that's inappropriate. Without question if someone is here, they need to be reported. If someone's here illegally.

Cornyn: The situation you describe is symptomatic of our current broken immigration system.

With prodding, and only after the debate ended, Cornyn eventually said he would follow the law as well.

The candidates also discussed education and the rising costs of college, as well as energy policies and the need for additional oil drilling along with alternative energy development. The entire debate airs again Sunday at 4 p.m. on KERA channel 13. Bill Zeeble KERA news.