Franken challenges Coleman on the economyby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken Monday set off on a statewide campaign swing to criticize Republican Sen. Norm Coleman on the economy. Franken is ripping Coleman for wanting to make the Bush tax cuts permanent for the wealthiest Americans. Coleman says raising taxes on anyone right now would be bad for the economy.
St. Paul, Minn. — Franken is calling his latest campaign swing his "On Your Side" tour. He told reporters he would be a much stronger voice for middle class Americans than Norm Coleman has been.
"Norm Coleman is going to stay the course on the Bush economic policy that's gotten us this far," he said. "I want to reverse course and stand-up for middle class Americans who it's just getting harder and harder for them."
Franken said he favors rolling back the tax cut for the nation's top income earners but keeping tax cuts that directly benefit the middle class.
He said it makes no sense to continue tax cuts for the richest Americans.
"We're talking about a time when the gap in income and wealth in this county is the greatest it's been in at least 80 years," Franken said, "and that's not the time it seems to me to be targeting the tax cuts to people at the top."
In addition to criticizing Coleman for supporting the tax cut on the wealthiest Americans, Franken is portraying Coleman as closely aligned with special interests such as the energy, financial services and pharmaceutical industries.
Norm Coleman defended his economic record, insisting he's helped create numerous jobs, both as a Senator and as the mayor of St. Paul.
Coleman characterized Franken as a wealthy outsider with little connection to the middle class and with no public service experience.
"I run against a guy who went to the fanciest prep school in Minnesota, went out to Harvard, he lived in a fancy condo on the Upper East Side of New York and now he's coming to listen to Minnesotans," Coleman said. "I think it's a wonderful thing, a wonderful thing, but that doesn't translate into actually making a difference in people's lives. And that's what I have done consistently with great pride and hopefully will continue to do."
Coleman's campaign released a web video quoting Franken at a debate last fall saying Minnesotans would not likely notice a five to ten cent increase in the state gas tax.
Coleman said raising taxes on the top income earners would hurt small businesses and many middle class Americans.
"I think this is the wrong time to talk about taking more money out of people's pockets, talk about raising taxes," he said. "That's simply not the path to go down. There are people hurting out there. They need a job. They need health care. They need to have a roof over their head, and those are the things I've worked for and I will continue to work for."
But Franken defended his proposal, noting that when the Clinton Administration increased taxes on top earners the economy grew.
"My response to Republicans on that is, do you remember the 90's?" he said. "I mean, in the Deficit Reduction act of 1993 Clinton raised the top rate on people at the top and Republicans said it was going to cause a recession. Instead it led to eight years of expansion."
Fellow DFLer Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer agrees with Franken that wealthy Americans should be paying more taxes.
But Nelson-Pallmeyer said military spending should be cut by 30 to 40 percent as part of a larger plan to turn around the U.S. economy.
"The elephant in the room that we don't talk about enough is the military spending levels in this country, and I'm just honest and say as long as this country accounts for half of the world's military spending, we're not going to have a healthy middle class," he said.
Expect to hear a lot about economy between now and November. A Gallop Poll taken last week had Americans naming the economy as the most important issue facing the country by a margin of nearly two-to-one over Iraq.
- All Things Considered, 04/14/2008, 5:20 p.m.