2nd District candidates cover budget, deficit, political ties
The two major party candidates for the 2nd District seat in U.S. Congress met in their second debate on Thursday, Oct. 20, during a one-hour session on Minnesota Public Radio.
Republican Jason Lewis and Democrat Angie Craig traded barbs over health care, the federal deficit, budget cuts and taxes as they pointed their campaigns into the final days.
The candidates covered their backgrounds with moderator Tom Weber and many issues related to the Affordable Care Act that were outlined in previous Sun Thisweek and Dakota County Tribune stories, but also discussed other topics.
In talking about budget cuts, Lewis said if federal departments can’t find 2.5 percent of cuts to make, then something’s wrong. He said the amount is about $100 billion out of a $4.1 trillion budget.
He said the problem with Congress is people are “going along to get along” resulting in a trillion dollar deficit.
“I am going to work with budget caps,” Lewis said.
He said another problem results when Democrats cut Republican programs and Republicans cut Democrat programs, then they meet behind closed doors and end up funding each other’s programs. He said that’s what’s led to the $19.5 trillion debt.
Lewis said he’s in favor of a normal appropriations process. In recent years, budgets have been set using continuing resolutions, which Republicans have said don’t allow spending or policy changes.
Craig said experts have reported that sequester cuts to the Department of Defense and National Security will make us less safe.
She said there are 200 federal programs that can be run more efficiently.
With regard to Social Security, Lewis said he is not in favor of raising the retirement age or raising taxes to double the amount coming in to Social Security – a move that he says only solves 30 percent of the problem of the trust fund running out by 2034.
Lewis said they need to get the economy cooking again and an additional payroll tax is not the way to do it.
He said a tax on employment does not do good things for the economy and is a disincentive to work.
Craig said she would consider raising the cap on Social Security contributions, not for those making $118,000 per year, but possibly for those making $250,000 and above.
Craig was critical of Lewis’ revenue-neutral flat tax idea, which she said would add $3.6 trillion to the debt. She said raising the flat tax would have to result in a raise in the Social Security retirement age.
She said the flat tax is a windfall for the wealthy, and the middle class would lose deductions like those for their mortgage interest and charitable contributions.
Lewis said his flat tax rate proposal is fairer to the middle class.
He said higher tax rates bring in less revenue because people paying at the higher rates would use exemptions to not pay it.
Lewis was critical of Craig, who he said supported the Affordable Care Act but then opposed the medical device tax when it negatively affected the company for which she previously worked — St. Paul-based St. Jude Medical.
Craig said it is ironic that Republicans are criticizing her support for the repeal of the tax that she said 241 Republicans voted to suspend.
“I would have voted with them,” she said.
She said the tax would have cost Minnesota jobs.
Lewis said that if Craig would have opposed ACA from the beginning there never would have been a medical device tax.
Craig said she is in favor of reforming corporate taxes, which are the third highest among nations in the world.
Both candidates cast each other as political insiders.
Lewis said Craig spent years working for a corporation that has been lobbying in Washington, D.C.
Moderator Tom Weber pointed out that she has served on St. Jude Medical’s Political Action Committee.
Craig said she was one of seven chairpersons on the committee that has given more money over the years to Republicans than Democrats.
Craig said Lewis’s years on the radio and having run for Congress before make him the insider who has been promoting partisan politics.
She criticized him for saying he wanted to join the Freedom Caucus, but now he doesn’t.
Lewis said Craig was humbled and gratified to receive the endorsement of the Progressive Caucus – which he said is calling for a $6.6 trillion tax hike.
Craig said she does not support the Progressive Caucus’s tax plan, but does support its social agenda.
Lewis tied Craig to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and Craig tied Lewis to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Lewis said he would be voting for Trump, saying he doesn’t want to turn over the country to the Clinton machine.
With regard to Trump’s degrading comments about women and sexual harassment allegations against Trump, Lewis said the Clintons shouldn’t be throwing stones in glass houses, referring to Bill Clinton’s past sexual improprieties.
Lewis said he disagrees with Trump’s view of eminent domain.
He said just because you are in the same party you don’t work in lockstep, adding that Craig doesn’t disagree with Clinton or former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on anything.
He said he would be someone who is principled over party rather than Craig, who he said would be a rubber stamp for Clinton.
Craig said if elected she would focus on high-quality affordable education, keeping the nation safe and working with others.
“We have to find common ground in this country again,” she said.
The candidates will have their third and final debate Sunday, Oct. 30, which will be aired on KSTP Channel 5 at 6 p.m.
The MPR debate can be found at http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/10/20/minnesota-congress-lewis-craig-debate.
The candidates’ first debate is at http://www.tpt.org/almanac/episode/2nd-district-congressional-debate-political-scientist-panel.