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Dean, Santorum square off




Rick Santorum and Howard Dean sparred over abortion, health care, campaign finance and the government shutdown during their debate Monday night at Fort Hays State University.

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Rick Santorum and Howard Dean sparred over abortion, health care, campaign finance and the government shutdown during their debate Monday night at Fort Hays State University.

Sitting before a crowded audience in Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center, the two men fielded questions from moderator Kent Steward, FHSU's director of university relations, and the audience.

Abortion sparked the evening's most heated exchange.

"I don't believe life begins at conception," said Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania. "I know life begins at conception because it's a scientific fact."

Dean, a former Vermont governor and former Democratic National Committee chairman, said his medical background gave him a different opinion.

"I'm a physician. I don't believe life begins at conception," Dean said.

Santorum interrupted Dean's reply, and they talked over each other as the crowd's outcry swelled.

"You're entitled to your beliefs. You're not entitled to the facts," Santorum said.

The duo also disagreed on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

The legislation sacrificed the value of health care for wider coverage, Santorum said.

"There are lots of countries around the world that have universal health insurance, but they don't have good health care," he said. "Because you have to wait for that health care or because of the government bureaucracy and regulation, the quality of the health care gets decreased."

America's youth will foot the program's bill in the future and suffer from worse treatment, he said.

"People who voted for this president in huge numbers are the ones that are going to be at the shortest end of the stick possible," Santorum said. "You're going to see a degradation of the health care system as a result of that. It's a lose, lose, lose for young people."

Dean said he does not support the approach of the president's namesake legislation, but he said precedent suggests it can work.

"It's been tested in Massachusetts. It has a five-year history in Massachusetts, and 98.5 percent of all the people in Massachusetts have health insurance," Dean said. "No other state comes close to that."

Doctors will perform anything on a patient because they are paid for it, so measures should be implemented to reduce unnecessary procedures, control costs and reward doctors for keeping patients healthy, he said.

Dean said he does not believe Obamacare is a disaster because his experience as governor taught him computer programs can be difficult to implement.

"I can remember doing the tax department when I was first governor," he said. "It was very expensive; it got all screwed up. It took twice as long, cost twice as much and in the end we had to pull it all out and do the whole thing all over again."

Santorum said Obama's lack of bipartisanship was a factor in the recent government shutdown.

"He has not been a leader that has brought people in and tried to work with them and tried to make change," he said.

Dean said he agreed with Obama's decision not to deliberate with Republicans during the standoff.

"It's like negotiating with a child who is having a tempter tantrum," he said.

The two men had conflicting views on the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case that allowed for corporations to donate an unlimited amount of money to political advocacy groups unaffiliated with candidates.

Santorum said the cap on private donations to candidates has led to a flood of money to groups outside campaigns. People should be allowed to donate any sum of money directly to the candidates, and the recipients would have to be accountable for their campaign tactics, Santorum said.

"What ends up happening is the people who are very interested and active in politics, get together and form these entities that are outside of politics. ... They are the ones that end up deciding the election," he said.

Dean said the court's decision marginalized others' First Amendment rights.

"Don't tell me if you have $10 million you should have more free speech than someone else. I think that's un-American," he said. "I think the court made that decision up. I find nowhere in the Constitution for any basis for that whatsoever."

The men both said the premise of America, which is found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, makes the country exceptional.

They also said they believed FHSU's affordable tuition and online programs are the model for the future of higher education.

The program was part of the Sebelius Lecture Series. Karl Rove, a Republican strategist and pundit, will be the next speaker Feb. 4.