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Published October 16 2012

North Dakota House candidates Cramer, Gulleson express visions in debate

FARGO – Health care reform, deficit reduction and tax credits for wind energy were among the biggest points of contention between U.S. House candidates Kevin Cramer and Pam Gulleson in a radio debate Tuesday.

The debate, hosted by radio station KFGO, covered a wide range of domestic and foreign policy topics. The sharpest contrasts emerged on the former, starting with competing visions for balancing the nation’s budget.

Both candidates said they would ask government agencies to seek spending cuts. Democrat Gulleson said she’d seek 5 percent across the board, while Republican Cramer said he would prioritize programs and cut from those deemed least important.

They both said military spending cuts should be on the table, but neither expects North Dakota’s military facilities to be in danger.

Gulleson also said she supports extending the Bush-era tax cuts for people making $250,000 or less, and raising tax revenue by letting the tax breaks for higher earners expire.

“The wealthy are getting more wealthy, and the poor and middle class have gone backwards,” she said.

Cramer said that expiration would cost the country thousands of jobs. He said he would instead push for tax code reform that would eliminate loopholes and deductions for the rich, but that most revenue growth would come from growing the economy.

He said he would have let the American auto industry go through managed bankruptcy instead of the bailout that ultimately took place.

“I don’t think picking winners and losers is the job of the government,” he said.

Gulleson said nobody likes bailouts, but the move saved the industry and preserved many jobs.

She also said she supports extending tax credits for wind production. The loss of those credits has threatened the survival of the wind industry in North Dakota.

Cramer said he wants to let the credit expire, saying the cost is too great.

“We have to sacrifice somewhere,” he said.

Both candidates said they liked some provisions of the Affordable Care Act health care law, such as letting young adults stay longer on their parents’ coverage and bolstering payments to North Dakota health care providers through the Frontier Amendment.

But Cramer called the law a job-killer and said he favors repealing it and replacing select provisions.

He doesn’t think repeal is likely, but said health care costs need to be reined in one way or another.

Gulleson said the law isn’t perfect but should be tweaked rather than repealed. She said many of the positives were hard-fought and wouldn’t be easy to replace.

“There is a lot of good in this bill,” she said.

On foreign policy, the candidates agreed on a number of key points. They both said military action to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should be an option, but only as a last resort.

“We can’t take anything off the table,” Gulleson said, but “nobody wants to see another ground war in the Middle East.”

Both supported ending the war in Afghanistan sooner rather than later, though Cramer criticized the Obama administration for publicly setting a withdrawal date.

Both candidates said they want a farm bill passed this year. Gulleson prefers the bill that passed the Senate, while Cramer said he prefers a House version that cuts more from the nutrition program.

The two clashed briefly on campaign contributions Cramer, a sitting Public Service commissioner, has accepted from interests the commission regulates.

Gulleson said accepting such contributions was unprecedented, and that Cramer could quell controversy over the issue if he gave the money back.

Cramer said the contributions are both legal and ethical.

“Democracy’s built on the whole idea that you get to participate in the elections of people that regulate you,” he said.

Charley Johnson, former television journalist and current head of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau, moderated the debate. KFGO’s Don Haney and Paul Jurgens, and Jim Shaw of KVRR asked the questions.

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

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