LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The financial crisis is sure to be on the minds of voters when they head to the polls next year. The debate is already raging in states like Indiana, where Senator Richard Lugar is in the fight of his political life.
The Tea Party wants to end Lugar's 30-plus year Senate career, and the economy will be central to the campaign so I asked Lugar to talk debt, spending cuts and his Tea Party challenger.
"I'm not certain I need to prove how conservative I am," said the six-term U.S. Senator who is locked in a tough campaign with his Tea Party opponent for the Republican nomination, Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Lugar voted in favor of the deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling to more than $14 trillion to avoid default. Within days, Mourdock's campaign launched a campaign ad inferring Lugar opposed deeper budget cuts and spending controls. But Lugar said that's not true.
Lugar told me supported the Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan's plan, which would reduce the debt by $4 trillion over 10 years through reductions to entitlements like Medicaid and Social Security. Lugar also said he favors a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. But with default imminent, Lugar said he voted in favor of the compromise plan to cut $2.4 trillion now and another $1.5 trillion down the road to avoid further damage to U.S. and global markets.
"I felt it was very important to at least pin down the gains that we had and not rattle the markets further," said Lugar. "Some feel that we should have got to $4 trillion and I am one of them."
The debt deal calls for a bi-partisan committee to negotiate further spending reductions, possibly to agencies like Medicare, Social Security and unemployment benefits. If no deal can be worked out, the deal automatically triggers across the board cuts that would heavily target defense spending.
As a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar believes defense cuts would not cripple U.S. efforts to fight terrorism. However, he said lawmakers need to be careful.
"As one who has been fighting the situation with regard to nuclear weapons and biological chemical weapons for the last 20 years, I would just say only a very few terrorists having those weapons of mass destruction could create havoc in any one of our cities in America," Lugar warned.
Lugar, who will likely be painted as an ally of President Obama by Mourdock in an effort to damage his conservative credentials, said he has met with the President four times this year. In one of those conferences, Lugar told the President he disagreed with his decision to launch military strikes against Libya. Lugar does not view Libya as a threat to U.S. security.
With nine months to go until Indiana Republican primary, Senator Lugar is already taking his message to Indiana voters. He has had phone banks up and running for months as he said he has raised close to $2 million already this year.
"We're doing over 2,000 telephone calls a night in phone banks and this gives us a pretty good indication first of all of the issues that Indiana voters are interested in, and where they are going to come out in the primary race," he said.
It's a race Indiana's senior senator feels confident he will win for a 7th time.
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