Tensions high in latest 6th District debateby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Candidates in Minnesota's 6th District congressional race sparred again today over issues like bank bailouts and tax cuts in a debate that was more vitriolic than one held a couple days ago in St. Cloud.
Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann and her DFL challenger Tarryl Clark took turns portraying one another as champions of unpopular policies and big bank interests during the debate held on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program. Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson mostly agreed with Bachmann.
Listeners to the debate might have found it hard to follow at times, given how frequently the candidates talked over one another.
In a particularly dense exchange, the candidates discussed their views of bank bailouts -- specifically, the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP. Many experts have said it ended up costing about half of its initial $700 billion price tag and is getting paid back more quickly and profitably than expected.
Still, the candidates all said they were against the unpopular bailout, which voters have seen as a boon to banks -- not average people.
Clark tried to seize upon that voter dissatisfaction by associating Bachmann with unpopular big bank interests.
"I think it's really important not to go to the failed policies of the past; the trickle down economics," Clark said. "The things Congresswoman Bachmann would do, they just haven't worked. We need to be doing things like making sure our banks are lending again. Instead of helping banks, we should've been helping Main Street."
But Bachmann also distanced herself from the bailout -- and from fellow Republicans who supported it.
"I will tell you that I was one of the strongest voices against President Bush and the $700 billion bank bailout," Bachmann said.
After the debate, Bachmann elaborated her objections, saying Congressional Democrats want to use the TARP as a revolving fund, when it should be ended completely.
The IP's Bob Anderson echoed the disapproval of TARP.
But Clark and Bachmann never admitted they agreed on it. Instead, they continued sparring over whether financial reforms passed this year had enough teeth. Clark accused Bachmann of siding with Wall Street in opposing financial reform, which led to a shouting match.
"This bill will make sure that there isn't a bailout again," Clark said.
"No, it makes permanents going into the future. You really misunderstand this bill," Bachmann responded.
The candidates also debated Bush era tax cuts, which are set to expire January 1. Bachmann wants the tax cuts renewed for all Americans -- including top earners.
"We need to make sure we pass them for everyone," Bachmann said. "People have an idea that these tax cuts for the top income earners are guys sitting back in leather chairs, lighting a cigar with hundred dollar bills. You know who these people are? They're businesses," said Bachmann.
Anderson agreed, and said more people would be affected by the cuts than just the rich.
"Everybody in this room, everybody listening, they're taxes are going up," Anderson said.
Bachmann and Anderson said that top earners need the tax cuts if they're expected to create new jobs, but Clark rejected that idea.\
"We were told by President Bush and people like Congresswoman Bachmann that that was going to create jobs, and it just didn't -- in good times or in bad, and we can't afford that," Clark said.
Host Gary Eichten asked if any of the candidates would be wiling to compromise on the tax issue, but no one took the bait.
Bachmann launched an attack on Clark, pointing out her history in the state Senate of voting for tax increases. Clark took aim at Bachmann for not resolving the Bush era tax issue before Congress adjourned.
More squabbling ensued.
"You're the one that's in Congress. You should've made that happen," Clark said.
At that point, the candidates started talking over each other again.
"I voted no on adjournment," Bachmann said. "I tried to stay there to actually try to make a difference."
Host Gary Eichten was forced to cut in to let the candidates respond one at a time.
Earlier in the week, Bachmann and Clark agreed that the tone of the attack ads they've each been running has been unpleasant. But in person, their demeanor wasn't a whole lot friendlier.
The candidates meet again Sunday for a third and final debate.
- All Things Considered, 10/28/2010, 5:24 p.m.