Minnesota U.S. Senate candidates square off in Mounds View debateby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Taxes, health care and national security were among the key issues addressed by three candidates running for Minnesota's open U.S. Senate seat. The seat has been viewed as one of the more competitive seats in the nation ever since Mark Dayton announced his decision not to run for re-election. Republican Mark Kennedy and DFLers Amy Klobuchar and Ford Bell all hope to replace the DFL incumbent and put their differences on display in the debate sponsored by the North Metro Chamber of Commerce.
St. Paul, Minn. — All three candidates say they will bring some change to Washington but their definitions of change are different. Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar says she would bring her experience as a prosecutor and outsider to office. Veterinarian Ford Bell says he would change the partisan tone if elected.
Republican Congressman Mark Kennedy, who represents Minnesota's Sixth District, says he would change the tone in the Senate. Kennedy, an accountant and businessman, said an attorney such as Klobuchar couldn't do that.
"A big part of the problem is that not enough people in Washington have real-world experience and too many have the same experience. Nearly two out of three senators today is a lawyer. You don't change Washington by sending another lawyer to the U.S. Senate," Kennedy said.
Kennedy criticized attorneys at least seven times during the debate. But Bell and Klobuchar said it's not members of the bar who are a problem, but the people who are currently working in Washington. The two have repeatedly criticized Kennedy and President Bush for tax cuts for the wealthy, the Medicare prescription drug plan and the increasing deficit.
On the issue of health care, Bell is pushing a universal health care system that would allow every American to enroll in Medicare. He says the current system isn't working because health care costs are going up.
"We spend $6,250 per person per year on health care in this country; that's two-and-a-half times what the countries with who we have anything in common spend like our allies in Europe. Our health care is good in this country but it's not two-and-a-half times better than anyone elses," he said.
Klobuchar also says she'd work toward a universal health care system. She says she'd pay for it by allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices for seniors and by reducing health care fraud. Klobuchar says the current system isn't working, noting that health care costs and the rate of the uninsured have gone up since 2000.
"Health-care costs have gone up 60 percent since Congressman Kennedy has been in office and if he thinks that's helping your business, it's not. We need to have a cost crackdown on medical costs in this country," Klobuchar said.
Kennedy wants to rein in costs by limiting lawsuits on doctors and by pushing for greater enrollment in consumer driven health care plans. Supporters say those plans bring down costs because consumers will be spending their own money when they make health care choices.
Kennedy also called the two DFL proposals "government-run health care" that would be too expensive for taxpayer. He questions Bell and Klobuchar's commitment to reduce the deficit while proposing universal health-care plans.
"It's so hypocritical to talk about balancing the budget at the same time when you're talking about these huge new government spending programs but not talk about how you're paying for it," he said.
Kennedy says he will not support any tax increases. Klobuchar and Bell say they would roll back tax cuts for those making over $200,000 a year to pay for other programs.
The three candidates also have different opinions on the war in Iraq.
Kennedy says the U.S. should stay the course in Iraq until victory is achieved. He would support a troop withdrawal only if military commanders in Iraq recommend it.
Klobuchar says she never supported the war in Iraq and supports a gradual troop withdrawal. She also says military commanders and the president need to push for a major course change in the conflict.
"You do have a choice, Congressman Kennedy. You have the choice of more of the same. You have the choice of staying and staying and staying in Iraq with no change in course and no realization, while our troops have been so incredibally brave, this has been a policy fiasco," she said.
Bell has set a firm timeline on troop withdrawal. He wants U.S. troops out of Iraq by Christmas because he says the conflict is making the United States less safe.
"Enough is enough. It's time to push aside those who are saying that we have one more corner to turn. We can't endure any more of this administration's victories in Iraq," Bell said.
Kennedy faces opposition for the Republican endorsement from John Uldrich and Harold Shudlick. Klobuchar says she will abide by the DFL party endorsement. Bell says he will abide by the endorsement if the delegates overwhemingly endorse Klobuchar.
- All Things Considered, 03/03/2006, 5:23 p.m.