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Published October 02 2012

Election 2012: Cramer, Gulleson square off in debate

FARGO – In cordial fashion, U.S. House candidates Kevin Cramer and Pam Gulleson sounded off on health care, the farm bill and partisan gridlock in a debate here Tuesday.

The debate, hosted by Prairie Public Broadcasting, will be broadcast on the station at 7 tonight.

The candidates traded few direct jabs, instead assailing the current leaders of their respective parties.

Cramer, a Republican, focused on Obama administration policies he said have kept the economy stalled. Gulleson, a Democrat, said the blame for many current problems falls largely on conservative groups with which Cramer is aligned.

Prairie Public producer Matt Olien moderated the 30-minute debate. Topics included:

Affordable Care Act

Cramer called the health care overhaul “a tax on job creators” that has killed job growth nationwide.

He said the law’s requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty is “absolutely offensive to the sensibilities of a free country.”

He said he likes some of the law’s provisions, such as letting young adults stay longer on their parents’ insurance plans, and that there needs to be a way for people with pre-existing conditions to remain insured, as the law provides.

But he said health care reform should include tort reform and consumer choice to control costs.

Gulleson said the law isn’t perfect but is a step in the right direction toward preventing medical emergencies from bankrupting families.

“This starts down that road, and I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

She told the story of a neighbor who was badly burned in an accident and wound up going bankrupt because of the medical bills.

“This is for real people,” she said of the law.

Medicare reform

Cramer said he supports “drawing a line” at a certain age to guarantee no benefits will change for people above that age.

For younger people, he said he supports offering consumer choices.

“One of the choices will be Medicare as we know it,” he said.

He said the issue is urgent as the program nears insolvency in the coming decades.

Gulleson said a proposal by some Republicans, including vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, to transform Medicare into a voucher system will put senior citizens at risk.

“I’m just not willing to put the nation’s debt on the back of our senior citizens,” she said. She said the government should seek other alternatives to shore up the program.

Farm bill

Both candidates said Congress needs to pass a farm bill this year.

Cramer blamed the hold-up in part on a Senate requirement that would tie farm aid to compliance with conservation programs. He said the connection should be eliminated.

Gulleson blamed the influence of conservative groups like the Club for Growth, a powerful group that has pushed hard against federal crop supports.

The group has endorsed Cramer, though Cramer has said he favors crop supports. He reiterated that position Tuesday.

“A good farm bill’s got to have a robust crop insurance program,” he said.

Gulleson said Cramer has lacked urgency in addressing the issue.

“If my opponent was serious about the farm bill, he would have reached out to those leaders” of the groups opposed to the bill, she said.

Like Cramer, she said she doesn’t support tying aid to conservation programs.

Political environment

Gulleson said ideologically inflexible groups that refuse any whiff of compromise have hamstrung the nation’s ability to solve problems.

She cited as an example anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist’s pledge to never vote for a tax increase, which Cramer and the vast majority of congressional Republicans have signed.

“The only pledge I’ll ever sign is to the people of North Dakota and of this great country,” she said.

Cramer said he’s shown he can think and act independently.

He said Democrats squandered their opportunity to make progress when they controlled the White House and both houses of congress following the 2008 election.

“They had everything,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

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