The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 11, 2010

Walz, Demmer spar at MSU

MANKATO — The more than 300 people who skipped the Vikings-Jets game to watch the 1st District Congressional Debate Monday night saw more points scored, witnessed a similar number of bone-crunching hits and also experienced a fumble or two.

Democratic Congressman Tim Walz and Republican challenger Randy Demmer battled throughout the 90-minute debate in Minnesota State University’s student union ballroom. Independence Party candidate Steven Wilson took no shots from either Demmer or Walz and was less aggressive in attacking his opponents — offering an idea-focused and more peaceful option for voters.

Walz and Demmer clashed most forcefully on the national health care reform, government spending and energy policy, and they disagreed strongly on which man’s philosophy represented the view of most southern Minnesotans.

It started with the very first question from moderators Joe Spear, The Free Press editor, and Pete Steiner, KTOE news director, about changes — if any — needed in the health care reform law.

Walz said he was proud of the bill, noting that Americans were dying because they weren’t getting needed medical care due to lack of medical insurance. The former West High School teacher also said that America spends twice as much on health care under the current system than any other country — even as its health care outcomes lag in 37th place internationally. And he noted that the Mayo Clinic and former Republican Sen. David Durenberger applauded many aspects of the bill.

Demmer questioned whether the Democratic-controlled federal government truly listened to Americans when drafting the plan and did nothing to rein in escalating health care costs. And the state lawmaker from Hayfield said the legislation was paid for by cutting Medicare, put burdensome new tax-filing rules on business, and pretends that payments to doctors will be reduced to exaggerate its cost savings.

“This is the clear difference when you get talking points from the Republican National Party rather than listening to the Mayo Clinic,” Walz responded, saying the Medicare cuts were aimed at eliminating wasteful spending in other states. “... Are you for fraud, waste and abuse, Randy? Because that’s what you’re saying.”

Walz also ridiculed the idea that Republicans, if put in control of Congress, would repeal the Democratic bill and pass something better.

“They didn’t do anything for 75 years,” he said. “Tomorrow, they’re going to?”

Demmer responded that Democrats have controlled the federal government the past two years.

“They’ve done nothing, done nothing, about health care whatsoever,” he said.

“We passed a bill,” Walz said.

“Yes we did,” Demmer said, after the moderators cautioned the audience against clapping and laughing. “We did pass a bill. Against the wishes of the American people and against the people that live in this district. It’s about taking control from the people in their health care. It’s about saying ‘Employers, you’re not responsible for your employees’ health care. Congressman Walz, you wouldn’t know that. You’ve never been an employer.”  

Wilson said he supports the original objective of health care reform: promoting affordable health care for everyone.

“We got to the ‘everyone’ part but we seemed to skip over the ‘affordable’ part,” said Wilson, who spent much of his career in business development. “Really, that is the most important part because that does affect everyone.”

The Independence Party nominee from Rochester recalled early in his career putting together a budget for a business that wanted to expand, only to have a banker question the idea because the business was losing money — a problem that hadn’t been addressed in the proposal.

“Expanding a business that’s inefficient and unprofitable is only going to get you more of the same,” Wilson said. “And I believe it’s the same with the federal government.”

The disagreements continued on the growing federal deficit, with Demmer calling it “one of the most ominous things” America has ever faced and calling it “totally irresponsible” that Congress failed to pass a budget resolution this year. Demmer, mentioning the 30 years he worked as a business owner, said private companies can’t borrow without a plan to pay it back and government shouldn’t either.

Wilson agreed, saying the amount of government debt owned by foreign nations could put our children at risk of a fiscal “cold war.” But Wilson said both the Republicans and Democrats must share the blame for America’s cumulative debt.

Walz also made that point, noting the costly wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and other policies pushed during the presidency of George W. Bush.

“The debt didn’t start on Jan. 1, 2009,” Walz said.

Walz and Demmer also argued about the level of distortion in their opponents’ television ads and the wisdom of attempting to reduce American dependence on fossil fuels, much of which is imported, through a cap-and-trade system.

Wilson repeatedly noted the arguing going on beside him and directed the audience to his website — where he has a list of specific ideas, developed in conversations with 1st District residents, on how to address health care, budget deficits, energy policy and other issues. And he noted his pledge to run only positive ads.

“They’re family friendly,” Wilson said of his advertisements. “They won’t start arguments, and you’ll feel good after watching them.”

Walz focused on his long list of endorsements from organizations as varied as the major farm groups to the National Rifle Association to veterans associations.

Demmer repeatedly suggested that Walz is part of a liberal mindset that believes government spending and regulation can lead to a stronger economy.

Both Walz and Demmer had one obvious fumble Monday night.

Walz, talking about the health care reform, quoted the Mayo Clinic as calling the legislation “a wonderful first step.” Demmer noted that Walz added a word.

“The word ‘wonderful’ is never in there,” he said.

And when asked their opinions about Middle East peace talks , Demmer said: “The peace talks between Israel and Palestine have been going on probably for a thousand years. ...”

Israel was founded just after World War II, and Wilson pounced on Demmer’s mistake.

“Probably not a thousand years,” he said, prompting laughter from the audience.

The debate, sponsored by the bipartisan organization Debate Minnesota, was recorded and can be heard today on Minnesota Public Radio’s Midday show, which begins at 11 a.m. at 91.5 FM.


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