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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published October 27 2012

Bills, Klobuchar offer very different approaches to fixing federal budget

ST. PAUL – Kurt Bills dumped several books on a table in his U.S. Senate campaign office, declaring they were his plan to fix the federal budget.

He said those documents provided a “starting point,” admitting that key provisions such as eliminating the Education Department likely would be dropped in negotiations.

Amy Klobuchar touted her vote on the Budget Control Act that would chop $2.2 trillion in federal spending over 10 years as her starting point.

She insisted that Congress work on the issue after the Nov. 6 election all the way through the holidays “if that is what it takes to come up with the best solution for our economy.”

As Minnesota’s two major U.S. Senate candidates offer different starting points for the federal budget, they spell out some of their major differences. Both acknowledge the end result will be somewhere in the middle after negotiations.

The federal budget usually is a key issue in congressional races, but this year it takes on a new urgency.

As Bills campaigns, he talks about the “fiscal cliff” America faces on Dec. 31, when the Budget Control Act kicks in and automatic spending cuts begin.

Bills backs the Platform to Revitalize America, a budget proposal by fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Rand Paul. The Kentucky congressman is the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a presidential candidate whose delegates dominated the Minnesota state GOP convention and endorsed Bills.

For Bills, the Paul plan’s key is eliminating 15 percent of the federal workforce. Bills said that would occur over years, with most jobs ending after retirements.

The plan also would eliminate the federal Education, Energy, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development departments.

Paul claims his plan would balance the budget in five years.

Bills said the Klobuchar-backed Budget Control Act does not cut the budget, it only “pulls down the trend line.”

Klobuchar said the act she supported is a good place to start.

“I believe the way to reduce our debt without setting our country back or causing a sharp contraction to our economy is to take a balanced approach, which means both spending cuts and revenue increases,” she said.

Klobuchar said she supports cutting $2.2 trillion over 10 years, as the Budget Control Act would do. She favors negotiations this year to target those cuts before they become automatic.

She calls for extending tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush on the middle class, but eliminating cuts for those earning more than $250,000 annually.

Klobuchar ties tax reform to fixing the debt problem, and both need to be done in the next year, she said. “We have to find a path where we really send a message to the country and the world that we are serious.”

For Bills, what to do about taxes is simple: a flat tax. He favors a solution that would tax every person and business 17.1 percent of their income, with just one or two deductions. That would allow tax returns to shrink to postcard size, and he said it may force some wealthy Americans to pay more.

Klobuchar said she joined with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., in refusing to raise the federal debt without creating the commission to recommend spending and tax changes.

She called the Budget Control Act “one of the major debt reductions in the past decades.”

Bills, however, said the act is not a budget. His campaign hammers home the point that Congress has not enacted what is supposed to be an annual budget since April 29, 2009.

Congress has three choices to reduce the debt, Bills said: grow the economy, reduce government or raise taxes. He said that cutting government would help the economy grow and could end up bringing in more taxes, even without a tax rate increase.

He said Americans need “to elect people who are willing to compromise,” adding that he would do just that.

As an example, he said that the federal Education Department has made no improvements he has seen in his 16 years as a high school teacher and he would abolish it. However, he said he realizes the department probably would survive negotiations, which he could accept.

The department is bloated, he said, including operating more than 200 programs encouraging students to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math education. He blamed the large number of programs on federal lawmakers, each of whom wants to look like he supports education.

Bills blamed an overgrown bureaucracy for problems. He said many federal workers have nothing else to do but sit around and think of new regulations.

He said he does not think Congress needs to take action to reduce regulations because cutting the bureaucracy would give federal workers less time to dream up new ones.

Klobuchar said regulations need to be examined on an industry-by-industry basis. Regulations should be crafted to allow businesses to grow “while keeping strong safety and health regulations,” she said.

The incumbent’s first television commercial this year promoted her work in saving Minnesota car dealer jobs.

She said that as a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, car dealer representatives approached her for help after big carmakers began ordering some local dealers to close.

“They were unilaterally shutting down these dealerships that were profitable,” Klobuchar said, taking credit for saving 28 Minnesota dealerships.