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Manny Crisostomo / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, left, and Democratic challenger Ami Bera shake hands Tuesday at their debate, the first matchup for the two-time rivals. Lungren and Bera are vying in the 7th Congressional District, where Democrats and Republicans claim virtually equal shares of the electorate in the nationally watched race.

Misspeaking and a misunderstanding -- more on the Bera-Lungren debate

Published: Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:16 pm

The close of Tuesday's debate between Dan Lungren and Ami Bera wasn't the last word on hot-button issues in the 7th Congressional District race.

Both campaigns found themselves answering questions Wednesday about statements made during the televised showdown, the first and only formal debate scheduled in one of the country's most closely watched congressional contests.

Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, backed away from his pledge to forgo his own pay entirely if elected to Congress until the unemployment rate goes down in Sacramento.

"Here's my promise to you," Bera had said in his closing statement of the Tuesday debate. "I pledge not to take any salary until unemployment in Sacramento is below 5 percent. I pledge not to take a pension until we've secured Social Security and Medicare for the next generation and our seniors."

Bera spokeswoman Allison Teixeira said Wednesday that the candidate misspoke. She said he meant to say he would not accept any congressional pay increases until Sacramento unemployment levels drop. He has featured that "no pay increase" pledge on his website and in his first television ad. The area's jobless rate is now 10.3 percent.

Bera, who has never held public office, sought to make Lungren's pay and pensions an issue during the afternoon debate sponsored by The Bee, News10 and Capital Public Radio. He criticized Lungren for having pensions from service in state and federal office and a congressional salary.

Lungren pointed out in response that he is not eligible to draw from his federal pension until he leaves office and noted that Bera's assertions that Lungren had "spiked" his own pay as attorney general to boost his state pension had also been shown to be false by The Bee.

Lungren, meanwhile, faced questions over whether he supported controversial legislation that sought to limit certain federal funding for abortions involving pregnancies caused by "forcible" rape.

The congressman distanced himself from that language during the debate, saying he told the original sponsors of House Resolution 3 that he "would not support" the proposal unless the word "forcible" was taken out.

"So in fact, if you're talking about the mistake they made, I was the one who pointed it out," Lungren said. "… I can tell you it was after I went to them and told them I couldn't support it if they didn't take the word 'forcible' out that they changed it."

Congressional records show, however, that Lungren signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill when the legislation was first introduced, before "forcible" was deleted from the text.

His office blamed a misunderstanding at the time of the bill introduction for the disconnect.

Brian Kaveney, the communications director in Lungren's Washington, D.C., office, said the Gold River Republican agreed to become a co-sponsor before seeing the actual draft legislation because he was "under the impression that they were going to use the original Hyde language."

"When he got the bill and he reviewed it and he saw that somebody had tampered with that language he basically said that was unacceptable, and he went to the original co-sponsors and he said you have to change this," Kaveney said.

Lungren said in the debate that his concerns were based on his commitment to preserve what's known as the Hyde Amendment, language that Congress has for years passed to ban using certain federal funding for abortions. He said he worried any change in wording "would change the state of the law."

The "forcible rape" bill has already fueled attacks in the rematch between Bera and Lungren.

Democrats sought to tie Lungren to the legislation after another co-sponsor of the bill, Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, now a U.S. Senate candidate, came under fire for saying a woman's body can somehow prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate" rape – a statement Lungren denounced as "simply incomprehensible."

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