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Jun 16, 2012 11:01 PM by Christina Lysacek

Montana's first U.S. Senate race debate has cautious feel

The Montana U.S. Senate race, one of the most highly anticipated races in the 2012 campaign, kicked off Saturday in Big Sky.

Roughly 250 people attended the debate and it was split pretty evenly, about half were supporters of incumbent Jon Tester and half supporters of Congressman Denny Rehberg.

The two front-runners were joined by Dan Cox, the libertarian candidate. They all voiced their opinions on a number of controversial issues including healthcare.

"Folks who have pre-existing conditions at no fault of their own can now get insurance. People who happen to get sick that are being thrown off of policies now can't get thrown off policies. It holds insurance companies accountable. Uninsured folks, some 45 million of them, will have access to insurance," said Senator Jon Tester.

"The real question here is once again, what aren't we going to let the government take over? It seems like the health industry is a business just like everything else and when the government owns business it's called communism," said Cox.

"It's the expansion of Medicaid and the insurance premium subsidy. It adds up to $1.4 trillion over the course of the next ten years. Let's talk about the job killer that the health care reform did, but it didn't reform health care. What were our ideas that we wanted to put forward? Well, you don't even begin to control the cost of health care unless you address defensive medicine," said Rehberg.

Unemployment and job creation were two hot topics. "Can't government create jobs? I don't really think so, because in order to create a job, they have to take money from you to give to him. If you want to get the economy back you have to be able to fit your government inside the constitution," said Cox.

"It's our tax policy; it's our regulatory policy. If you want to put people back to work, get out of the way of projects like the keystone. Build the infrastructure necessary to take advantage of the things that we have right here in Montana. We have in fact a plethora of energy solutions: oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass," said Rehberg.

"I've got a bill that I just passed a month and a half ago. It's probably the best jobs bill we passed in a while that will help those companies get access to capital so that they can expand and go forth and hire people, those small businesses," said Tester.

Some other issues brought to the table were veteran services, the citizen united ruling, and each candidate's stance on compromise.

There was one heated exchange during closing statements at the debate.

Sparks flew when Tester and Rehberg disagreed on each other's agriculture backgrounds.

"Farming and agriculture is part of my blood. Building houses and mansion ranching is not ranching and to say that you are, when the congressman hasn't sold a cow or goat in years, and years, and years is very unfortunate" said Tester.

Rehberg responded with, "see I have a herding operation, I guess somebody doesn't understand the difference between farming and ranching because if you have livestock, guess what they eat every day. You have to know the difference between keeping them in the fence or not and branding and castrating. See I didn't have the luxury of having anybody take over my ranch for me because I was a sole proprietor."

The next scheduled U.S. Senate debate is scheduled for next Sunday in Whitefish.

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