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Greg Hodur, Published August 20 2011

Between a rock and hard place

As I sat next to Congressman Rick Berg, R-N.D., at the town hall meeting at Longfellow school Aug. 11, I found myself having a flashback to the late 1980s.

At that time, I was the legislative director for a congressman from New York City and had to go there to defend his support for a highly controversial new Medicare act that many liberals didn’t like.

That was not fun. While many Democrats supported the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, I found myself arguing against others who strongly believed it undermined traditional Democratic principles applying to Medicare, despite the good it did in closing some of the gaps in coverage for senior citizens and the disabled.

Similarly, despite his congenial visage, I don’t think Berg had much fun in Fargo last week.

After that appearance, there must be no illusion in Berg’s mind that he is between a rock and a hard place.

To gain the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate against a tea party opponent, he somehow has to reconcile that wing of his party, which will accept no compromise even if it’s necessary to address the budget, debt and deficit problems they say are their priorities, with the more traditional, fiscally oriented Chamber of Commerce wing that recognizes that kamikaze tactics like the defaulting on the debt are reckless and harm the economy.

After that, to win the general election, he’ll have to sell North Dakotans that ending Medicare as we know it and decimating Medicaid, veteran, Indian and other federal health care programs, rather than asking the most affluent Americans to do their fair share and closing tax loopholes for corporations, is the right course. That clearly was the point of the “pop quiz” he gave the audience at his town hall meetings as to what the Republican strategy will be for the next election.

It would be disingenuous of me as a Democrat to say good luck to Berg. But while I cannot envision supporting him, I certainly do empathize with his plight.