Bacon and Vargas tackle national security, Social Security, abortion, taxes in second debate

Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District race in Omaha area is typically tight

By: - October 16, 2022 9:20 pm
Bacon-Vargas photo

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., at left, and State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha are running for the 2nd District seat in the Omaha-area. (Courtesy of Photos/House of Representatives and Unicameral Information Office)

OMAHA — Questions about deterring nuclear war and cyber attacks on American businesses nearly sent the second and final debate between U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Tony Vargas in a new direction on Sunday.

But the conflict between the candidates returned to the same key question: Do 2nd Congressional District voters care more about inflationary post-pandemic cost increases on gas and groceries or about abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade? 

Both candidates spent much of the one-hour debate at KETV’s downtown Omaha studio accusing his opponent of telling half-truths and leaving out unflattering details from his record. Both candidates each sidestepped one question seeking specific answers.

Abortion, Social Security

Democratic State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha speaks during the KETV debate Sunday in Omaha with U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. (Screen Capture/KETV)

Vargas worked to paint Bacon as a threat to Social Security and Medicare and women’s health care. Vargas singled out Bacon’s support for a constitutional amendment, H.R. 1011, that would have banned abortion with no obvious exceptions.

Vargas also criticized Bacon for considering changes to Social Security and Medicare. Vargas said Bacon would “gut” the entitlement programs, which Bacon denied. Bacon said he wants to “fix” the programs so they last for people who depend on them. He didn’t specify how. 

Bacon has said that he would support a federal abortion ban but that he supports exceptions for the life and health of the mother. On Sunday, he said that he understands no federal ban could pass in Congress and that he would support a federal ban after 15 weeks.

Tax cuts and credit

Bacon spent much of the debate chipping away at Vargas’ vote in support of Nebraska’s largest-ever tax relief package, which was passed in this year’s legislative session. Bacon said Vargas opposed the bill until he knew it would pass and then claimed credit.

Bacon repeated earlier criticisms that Vargas proposed an increase in income taxes on higher-income Nebraskans. Bacon said he expects State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha to discuss Vargas’ earlier votes and non-votes that gummed up the tax package.

Vargas on Sunday touted his support of a legislative bill reducing taxes on Social Security income faster, offsetting more in local property taxes and reducing state income taxes. He said Bacon is upset because Vargas’ record of balancing budgets and cutting taxes is real.

“This is the reason Congressman Bacon is scared,” Vargas said. “I’ve fought on behalf of working families.”

Said Bacon: “Tony, I don’t get scared or threatened. … I served my country for 30 years, while you were in New York City.”

National security

The debate’s first questions about national security found broad points of agreement between the candidates about the need to invest in helping businesses fend off cyber attacks by state actors and those working on their behalf.

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., speaks during the KETV debate in Omaha with Democratic State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha. (Screen capture/KETV)

Bacon pointed to his work in cyber-defense while serving in the Air Force, where he retired as a brigadier general, and said he helped pass a House bill now waiting in the Senate to let the feds help fend off attacks on businesses and infrastructure.

Vargas said he would make sure Congress adequately funds training and recruitment of the information technology talent needed to do the work of protecting American computers and computer networks from ransomware and spying.

On the issue of potential nuclear war with Russia, North Korea or another nation, both said they would make sure Congress gets Ukraine got the help that it needs and would support efforts for the United States to modernize its nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Inflation, pandemic relief

On pandemic relief, Bacon tried threading the needle — saying that he supported earlier packages that helped people and businesses but that the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress passed under President Joe Biden, was too much.

“We were coming out of COVID, out of the recession,” Bacon said. “The economy was firing on all cylinders at that point.”

He repeated his stance that federal spending has accelerated inflation, along with what he described as an energy policy that has leaned too heavily on oil from foreign sources instead of doing more to boost domestic drilling.

Vargas said the ARPA help was needed by families and communities. At the state level, he said, he helped State Sens. Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney steer funding to North and South Omaha that Vargas has said will be used to help spur economic growth and recovery.

“It’s clear that people need continued support,” Vargas said.

Sidestepped questions

Vargas sidestepped a question about what restrictions on abortion he would support, if any. He said he does not support abortion on demand or abortion until birth. He said decisions on abortion are best left to women and their doctors. 

Bacon said if Vargas won’t say he supports any restrictions, that means he “supports abortion until birth.” He called that position out of step with most voters.

“You don’t represent women on this,” Bacon said. “The far majority of women do not want ‘no restriction.’ Most want 15 weeks.”

Said Vargas: “I’m going to leave this privacy up to women and their doctors. You want to make this decision on their behalf.”

Bacon sidestepped a question about what Congress should do to help make prescription drugs more affordable. He said he’d like to make sure other countries help pay for the research and development costs of drugs that Americans pay for.

Vargas said that proves Bacon is in the pocket of drug and insurance companies and won’t help people pay less for presciptions. He said that’s why Bacon voted against bills to lower those costs.

In closing arguments, Vargas said he wants to make the country better and help “unify us.” Bacon said he wants to be “a check” on Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 


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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.