Ensign, Bernstein square off in last debate

LAS VEGAS - Republican John Ensign and Democrat Ed Bernstein mixed it up Sunday in a final debate before Tuesday's election, questioning each other's credentials for the U.S. Senate.

During the KLAS Channel 8 debate, Ensign tried to argue that Bernstein is an ill-prepared candidate for the seat that Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., is giving up.

''I asked for a detailed pharmaceutical plan, he doesn't have one,'' Ensign said.

Bernstein countered that he did have a plan, and that Nevadans don't want ''the same old Washington nonsense'' that occurred in Congress during Ensign's two terms as a U.S. representative.

Bernstein argued that he has a three-point plan to lower the cost of prescription drugs so that seniors pay the same price that HMOs pay for pharmaceuticals.

Ensign responded that Bernstein's plan matches one proposed by President Clinton, which Bernstein denied.

Ensign's plan would allow seniors the opportunity to choose from several different prescription drug plans under Medicare, to allow for competition.

Both candidates also rehashed their earlier statements on health care, abortion and nuclear waste, and said they wanted to clear up misconceptions that developed during the campaign.

Bernstein, now trailing in the polls by 17 percent, said he got into the race because of his concerns about health care and seniors.

He wants to see a patient's bill of rights that would hold HMOs accountable by allowing patients to sue them for decisions based on profits rather than proper health care.

Ensign said he voted for legislation that would allow patients to sue HMOs, but added that employers should be protected from lawsuits.

''If you allow employers to be sued, they will drop insurance coverage altogether,'' he said. ''If we hold HMOs accountable and protect employers, we can have a real patient's bill of rights.''

Ensign, a conservative who's opposed to abortion, said he didn't think that stance has cost him votes. ''Most people aren't single-issue voters. It doesn't hurt,'' he added.

Berstein, who supports abortion rights, said the federal government shouldn't be involved in the issue.

Bernstein also insisted he's not misleading people by telling them that nuclear waste won't come to Nevada if Al Gore is elected president and Democrats increase their power in Congress.

Ensign said nuclear waste isn't a partisan issue, but a Nevada issue.

''Gore and Bush's positions are identical,'' he said. ''I don't like either of their positions because both want a permanent repository.''

Ensign is proposing that the nuclear waste be left in dry-storage casks in the 31 states that produce until recycling can become a reality.

Ensign added that because there is no Republican from Nevada in the Senate, he'd be a voice for the state on such volatile issues as nuclear waste.


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