Democratic Rep. Dina Titus and Republican challenger Joe Heck met in their first debate late Saturday afternoon before an audience of about 300 at College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas. The event was co-sponsored by the Asian, Latin and Urban chambers of commerce and the college’s student government body, and focused on education and small business issues.
In his opening remarks Heck listed his experience as a small-businessman, physician and Army reservist. He also spoke as a concerned parent and said his daughter, a recent college graduate, cannot find a job in her field, while saying another daughter was recently laid off due to downsizing.
“It is time for real world experience and common sense solutions in Washington, D.C.,” Heck said. “She (Titus) believes that government is the answer to all your problems, and I believe that government is part of the problem.”
Titus used her opening statement to express sympathy for the struggling residents in her district, acknowledging that voters are worried about unemployment and home foreclosures. She also referenced the millions of dollars in assistance she has delivered for her district’s seniors, veterans and small businesses.
Titus, a former university professor with no personal business or executive management experience, countered Heck’s reference to his business credentials by listing family members including her father and grandfather who own small businesses.
“It is my job to help create jobs, to pull us out of the deepest recession we have seen in over a generation,” Titus said. “I think I know these issues firsthand.”
Both candidates questioned the likely effectiveness of the recently passed Small Business and Jobs Credit Act, a bill that gave $30 billion to community banks to assist businesses. Heck said it is “too difficult or too restrictive for small businesses to actually get access to the money,” and Titus agreed that it “was not the way to get money flowing back into the market.”
On the national debt and budget deficits, Titus said, “We have got to bring that down in the long run. In the short run, though, we have to invest in our economy.”
Heck said Titus isn’t serious about debt reduction, quipping, ”She voted for every appropriations bill that came through.”
The exchange became tense when the two candidates talked about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as shown here when Heck talked about certain burdensome provisions for businesses:
Heck correctly noted that due to new mandates, all businesses will have to provide a 1099 for everyone from whom they purchase goods and services totaling $600 or more, not just to non-corporations as is presently the case. Heck also correctly stated that all businesses must report the value of health insurance benefits on each employee’s W-2 at the end of the year.
Titus countered with a claim that neither of these requirements apply to any businesses with fewer than 50 employees:
But as Heck subsequently pointed out, Titus is either lacking candor or does not understand all the provisions of the bill.
While it is true that there are sections of the health care bill that apply only to “large employers”–generally defined as businesses employing more than 50 people–those sections deal almost exclusively with the requirements to offer qualified coverage to employees and the fines for not doing so.
However, Section 9002 (the W-2 requirement) and Section 9006 (the 1099 requirement) of the heath care bill contain no such exemptions or distinctions and do apply to all businesses.
Furthermore, according to Section 10106(f)(2), any business with “substantial annual gross receipts” attributable to the construction industry is considered a “large employer” even if it employs as few as five employees and has total annual payroll expenses of $250,000. So, contrary to Titus’ claim, every small construction or construction-related business is subject to all the mandates requiring employers to offer qualifying plans to all employees if even only one of their handful of employees obtains insurance through the exchanges.
On education issues, both candidates said they support continued federal funding for education, particularly for higher education, although Heck said he favors more local control and thinks there should be a better process for getting rid of poorly performing teachers.
Titus said the evaluation metrics of student achievement should make sure teachers aren’t punished for performance issues beyond their control, and posited that too much education funding is too competitive.
“When you are crawling along the bottom it is very hard to race to the top,” Titus said, likely referencing Nevada’s recently failed Race to the Top application for federal funding.
Titus also echoed a recent ad when she said Heck wants to save money by cutting the U.S. Department of Education, which Heck flatly denied.
Titus also revisited the accusation that Heck voted against funding for textbooks as a member of the state senate, which brought boos from some in the crowd and prompted the moderator to call for order. Heck then defended and explained his vote:
At the close of the debate, Titus admonished members of the audience as they stood and cheered for Heck, but then smiled and waved when cheered by her own supporters:
Recent public polls show the two candidates in a dead heat.
Freelance reporter Mike Chamberlain did video work and contributed to this report.