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Published September 19 2010

Berg, Pomeroy offer federal budget ideas

About this series

On Nov. 2, North Dakota voters will decide the fate of the state’s only U.S. House seat.

In his bid for a 10th term, Democrat Earl Pomeroy faces a strong challenge by Fargo legislator Rick Berg – a Republican who’s consistently led Pomeroy in monthly polling.

The Forum asked Berg and Pomeroy where they stand on a host of issues, and each week leading up to Election Day, we’ll highlight their positions on topics including the economy, the federal budget, health care, Social Security, agriculture, energy and Red River Valley flood protection.

This week: a look at the economy and federal budget.

With America facing a record deficit and trillions of dollars worth of debt, both sides of the aisle preach that Congress needs to rein in spending and balance the federal budget.

But, just how to do that is the tricky part.

Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Republican challenger Rick Berg both propose reducing federal spending – but not at the expense of guaranteed benefits Americans enjoy through entitlement programs, such as Medicare or Social Security.

The candidates offer different solutions on how specifically Congress should tackle the government’s budgetary challenges.

For Berg, the solution comes, in part, by repealing the massive overhaul of America’s health care system.

“A trillion dollars should come off” if that happened, Berg said.

He also said he opposes excessive earmarks that load up congressional bills and unnecessarily drive up the cost.

Congress needs to take a long-term approach to funding and “make the tough decisions on the budget,” like the North Dakota Legislature did in 2003, Berg said.

“You need to save where you can,” he said. “We pull back on spending, we set priorities, (and) we fund those priorities that are going to help the economy.”

But when pressed about what specific budget priorities Berg would set if elected, he spoke only of a general approach.

“It’s an across-the-board thing where you set priorities, and as a Congress, you set those priorities,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pomeroy said there are several strategies in the works that he supports for addressing the federal deficit and balancing the budget.

He said the bipartisan fiscal commission – which North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad first proposed and sits as a member on – could go a long way to determining a long-term solution for the budget.

But in the meantime, Pomeroy said he wants to see a freeze and reduction on discretionary spending across all federal departments.

He also wants Congress to exhibit budget discipline through the “pay as you go” approach that was reinstituted this year. Pomeroy was a primary sponsor of that bill.

“Pay as you go” was first instituted in 1991 and was extended twice before lapsing in 2002, Pomeroy said.

“When it expired in 2002, as a direct priority of the Bush budget policies, I thought to myself: ‘Bar the door. Here come the deficits.’ And I was right,” Pomeroy said. “We haven’t had this enforceable budget discipline, so you put those elements in place, and I think you’re taking some meaningful steps to get us back into a balanced budget.”

However, the mounting deficits Pomeroy is critical of were continued under the Obama administration – most notably through the $800 billion stimulus package that was passed by Congress in 2009 without a way to pay for it.

Pomeroy acknowledged that but said it was necessary given the precarious economic situation of the country, which is why he supported the stimulus.

“There will be times when the nation has emergency circumstances that must be addressed, and facing the prospect of a depression is that sort of emergency,” Pomeroy said.

In focus: The federal budget

The economic prosperity America enjoyed at the turn of the millennium has transformed into staggering losses, due in part because of actions taken to combat a severe national recession and nine years of costly warfare overseas. In 2000, the U.S. saw a record budget surplus of $230 billion and had a $5.7 trillion debt. Ten years later, the national budget deficit is expected to approach $1.4 trillion and the country’s debt has ratcheted up to $13.4 trillion.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541