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By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published October 25 2012

VIDEO: Berg, Heitkamp haggle over budget

BISMARCK – Democrats are failing to slow the nation’s growing $16 trillion debt because they won’t agree on budget and tax reforms in the U.S. Senate, Republican Rick Berg said Thursday in his final duel with Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota’s closely watched Senate race.

Both candidates pounded on familiar themes including spending, taxes, farm legislation and energy during their third and last debate before the Nov. 6 election.

Heitkamp and Berg are competing to succeed retiring Democrat Kent Conrad, and national Republicans are counting on a Berg victory in their quest to retake control of the U.S. Senate.

Berg’s campaign has emphasized Heitkamp’s support of the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, who has been critical of oil and coal development, as well as her support of the new federal health care law that Berg wants to repeal.

Berg argued that a new, comprehensive federal budget is the best strategy for reining in growth of the nation’s budget deficits and debt, and that the Senate has not approved one in more than three years.

“If you’re going to solve a problem ... the first step is, you need a budget,” Berg said.

Heitkamp said Berg would continue a partisan approach to policymaking as a senator, which she said would cut against North Dakota’s collegial political culture and be ineffective in solving problems.

“All problems in America can be solved if we put partisanship aside,” Heitkamp said.

She said she has long supported oil and gas development, which are major industries in North Dakota, and would continue to do so as a senator. Heitkamp also promised an independent approach to legislating.

“I am not Harry Reid. I don’t know how to say it more clearly,” she said. “I am my own person.”

Both candidates mostly ducked a question about whether they would support closing tax loopholes as part of an overall reform plan.

Heitkamp said she would “never” support eliminating a tax deduction for interest on home mortgages, and declared she would abolish tax incentives that she said have encouraged companies to export jobs.

Both she and Berg said they supported reducing corporate income tax rates, with Berg said he favored bringing it down from 35 percent to 25 percent.

Polls show Berg and Heitkamp are close in the campaign’s home stretch.

Berg is North Dakota’s incumbent congressman. He’s running for the Senate during his freshman term in the U.S. House.

Heitkamp is a former North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner. She is running her sixth statewide campaign.