Senate candidates disagree on the economyby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, Democrat Al Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley agree that bringing down energy prices would significantly help struggling Americans. But beyond that they don't agree on much when it comes to the economy.
St. Paul, Minn. — Dean Barkley of the Independence Party believes the financial meltdown is merely a symptom of a much larger and deeply rooted threat the United States must confront, namely the national debt.
Barkley said there can be no long-term hope for the U.S. economy until Congress stops spending so much more than it is taking in. And Barkley insisted raising taxes is not the solution.
"At this point in time I would do nothing with tax policy," he said. "We do not have a tax problem in this country. We have a spending problem."
Barkley is proposing a four-year federal spending freeze. And he sees plenty of opportunity to cut spending, starting with the U.S. military.
"It's time to take a look," he said. "Who are we defending? What are those costs? What military bases can we close? What troops can we bring home? We have to start shrinking our military spending. I think there are billions of dollars to be saved in the defense budget."
Barkley claimed to be the only fiscal conservative in the Senate race. He's been sharply critical of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman for his part in the growing national debt.
Barkley has accused Democrat Al Franken of proposing billions of dollars in new spending without saying where the money would come from.
In the short term Barkley said Congress needs to start working across party lines to address issues ranging from energy policy to health care. He said the economy won't recover until Americans have more disposable income.
Coleman said he has vigorously worked to cut wasteful government spending.
Coleman too says Congress needs put aside its partisan battling. In fact, at a recent debate Coleman cited the partisan divide in Washington as the most serious threat facing the nation.
"I think what Minnesotans need is hope that Congress can put aside the partisan divide," he said. "And show a little confidence. There's fear out there and if all we have is the partisan bickering the in the end fear is going to prevail and that's not what we need now."
Coleman said to get people working he'd push for borrowing $50 billion to fund infrastructure improvements around the country.
Coleman said he would resist any move to raise taxes.
"You don't raise taxes during times of economic downturn," he said. "Even Barack Obama said that he wouldn't do that. So clearly as we move forward let's resist temptation that some folks have to quickly raise taxes because that would have a devastating impact on any potential economic growth."
Actually, Obama's plan would raise the taxes of individuals who make more than $200,000 per year and couples who make more than $250,000.
Coleman voted for the Wall Street bailout and Barkley said he would have too.
Franken said he would have voted against it. He said the bailout failed to impose new regulations on Wall Street, and it did nothing to address the housing crisis.
Franken has been calling for a moratorium on home foreclosures among other measures.
Franken said his economic policy is rooted in an entirely different philosophy than Coleman's.
"We have some honest differences me and Norm Coleman," he said.
He made the point recently outside an East St. Paul body shop where he was announcing a plan to make several billion dollars of loans available to small businesses.
"He thinks wealth comes from the top," Franken said. I think it comes from the working people and from the middle class."
Franken disputes claims that he's coming up with all kinds of new spending ideas without ways to pay for them.
Franken said cutting taxes for wealthy Americans has failed to create the jobs Coleman and the Bush administration said it would.
Instead he said the trickle-down economics approach has only widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Franken often calls for raising taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
"Let's not tilt all our tax break to the people at the top," he said.
Dean Barkley called Franken's approach typical class warfare that would hurt job creation.
Norm Coleman agreed Franken's approach would cost jobs.
Opponents of increasing taxes on wealthy Americans often claim that doing so would result in small business job losses. But research shows the overwhelming majority of small businesses don't report enough income to fail into that one percent bracket.
Franken has been campaigning heavily on giving middle class Americans tax cuts and credits. To jumpstart the economy, Franken said several billion dollars currently set aside for projects in Iraq should be redirected to fund infrastructure improvements here in the U.S.
Many expect one of the first tasks of the new Congress next year will be to take up another economic stimulus package.
Coleman called this year's economic stimulus "critical" to the challenging economic times. Barkley said the checks sent to Americans earlier this year were an election year gimmick. Franken said the money would have been better spent on a jobs program.
- All Things Considered, 10/20/2008, 3:36 p.m.