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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published May 04 2012

Heitkamp: I’ll suggest federal spending cuts, debt reductions

MINOT, N.D. – Challenged by a questioner at a town-hall campaign meeting, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp said she’ll offer suggestions for cutting federal spending and reducing the national debt during her campaign this fall.

In public appearances, Heitkamp has detailed her objections to a budget-cutting plan offered by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which potential GOP Senate rival Rick Berg has supported.

Ryan’s blueprint would reduce tax rates, including those for high-income Americans, and end guaranteed Medicare benefits for younger people once they reach retirement age, Heitkamp said.

It suggests ending some tax breaks, without being specific, Heitkamp said.

“None of these (budget plans) are detailed. The problem is, they’re all political documents. They’re not real budgets. That needs to end, and we need to have a discussion,” Heitkamp said.

At a campaign town-hall meeting late Thursday, Jeremiah Glosenger of Minot challenged Heitkamp, saying Senate Democrats have avoided producing their own spending plan in favor of taking shots at Ryan’s.

President Barack Obama’s own $3.6 trillion budget proposal did not attract a single Democratic vote in the House in March, Glosenger said. It was defeated, 414-0.

“Paul Ryan did get a budget passed, and he had to make difficult decisions by saying, ‘I’m going to be specific,’ ” Glosenger said. “It puts on a path of fiscal responsibility as a nation, which is going to help us tremendously.”

He suggested that Heitkamp use a website that allows visitors to make federal budget choices to assemble her own plan to balance the budget.

Heitkamp said she would offer a menu of suggestions for cutting federal spending during her campaign.

Among them will be having administrators of federal health care programs negotiate with drug companies over prices for prescription medicine, and reductions in travel spending by federal employees, she said.

“It’s going to tell you what the priorities are and what I’m concerned about, and where I see we can take some cuts,” Heitkamp said. “I understand the obligation of running for office and being more specific. ... I will tell you specifically what I think in the budget can work and what can’t work.”

Heitkamp recently backed a federal constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget while limiting its effects on Social Security and Medicare. She described her support of a budget amendment as “something I thought I never would do.”

“We cannot any longer rely on ... people who are elected to office, them feeling a personal obligation to (balance the budget),” Heitkamp said. “We have to have a system in place ... that is going to create an obligation.”

Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder said Friday that Heitkamp backed a new federal health care law that will add billions to the federal debt.

Her preferred balanced-budget amendment was “rejected as a sham” by a majority of Democrats, Van Guilder said.

Bismarck businessman Duane Sand and Berg – a Fargo real estate developer and former state legislator who is finishing his first U.S. House term – are running in the June Republican primary for the GOP’s Senate nomination. The winner will oppose Heitkamp in the fall.