With eight days to go before Election Day, 2nd District Republican Rep. John Kline and his DFL opponent Mike Obermueller met for their first and only debate Monday on the Daily Circuit on MPR News, moderated by host Kerri Miller.
The pair sparred over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Kline said Republicans will repeal the law after the elections, if they are able to.
When asked how Republicans would replace the law and address issues such as health care affordability, Kline said a GOP plan would try to offer some of the features of the current law, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions. But Kline said Republicans would focus on incremental changes.
"You start by not trying to replace it with another 2,700 page monstrosity that's jammed through that's full of backroom deals, that's what happens when you put together a giant piece of legislation like that," Kline said. "You take it in pieces."
Obermueller said that repeal of the health care overhaul would have dire consequences for many people who are already taking advantage of some of the law's benefits.
"When these folks like John are voting to repeal this law, they're essentially voting to kick kids off their health insurance before they turn 26," he said. "They're voting to make it harder for seniors to pay for prescription drugs."
On the topic of government spending, both Kline and Obermueller agreed that some spending cuts are necessary to rein in the budget deficit. But Kline said spending cuts should by the only way to try to balance the budget.
Obermueller echoed Obama and national Democrats in arguing that some taxes should also rise for the wealthiest earners. Kline said a major source of the deficit is spending on programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
"Social Security has to be addressed," he said.
"In what way does Social Security have to be addressed? Do you approve of raising the benefits age?" Miller asked.
"You've got to do something and so you could do that, which was done in the 1980s, you could slowly start raising the retirement age, that will address the problem," Kline said.
"What do you think of that idea? Is it a good one?" Miller asked.
"Well, I think it's the mostly likely to have bipartisan support," Kline replied.
Obermueller disagreed, saying that those who have worked hard for many years should not have to wait even longer for retirement. He said that Republicans like Kline are responsible for the legislative gridlock on Capitol Hill.
"This Congress, especially the last couple of years, has been more focused on fighting with each other than getting anything done," Obermueller said. "This system is hopelessly broken the way you guys are running things now. I mean, John, you vote 95 or 96 percent of the time with your party. That's more partisan than Michele Bachmann."
Obermueller is a lawyer who served one term in state House.
Kline is running for his sixth term in office. He chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Submit your questions for upcoming debates at The Daily Circuit blog.
We've already gathered questions for today's debate from the audience. But you can still submit questions here - on our blog - for the 2 other debates we have this week.
Tuesday, October 30: 3rd District debate with Brian Barnes and Erik Paulsen
Thursday, November 1st: 6th District debate with Michele Bachmann and Jim Graves
Five-term incumbent Republican Rep. John Kline is facing a challenge from former state Rep. Mike Obermueller in Minnesota's 2nd congressional district. They joined Kerri Miller in our studio.
Want some more background on the candidates? Read MPR News coverage of the race here.
Here is Rep. John Kline's homepage.
Here is Rep. Mike Obermueller's homepage.
Rep. John Kline
Rep. Mike Obermueller
Kline on the Affordable Care Act. Kerri asks "What would he replace it with?"
Kline says he has supported and co-sponsored legislation that expands high risk pools, medical liability reform, and that he does support letting young people stay on their parents' plans. He supports what he calls these "simple" ideas that can make a change and he calls the ACA "a huge drag on the economy."
He says he doesn't think we need a bill as large as the ACA. He thinks smaller pieces like covering pre-existing conditions, supporting association health plans, health savings accounts and enabling people to buy health care coverage across state lines can make a big difference.
Kerri asks Rep. Mike Obermueller what changes he would like to see in the ACA:
Obermueller says that the law needs improvement. It didn't "work on payment models enough." The law is weak in how it controls costs. We need payment reforms to change the health care system so that it works to keep people healthy rather than only help people who are already sick.
New topic: medicare.
Rep. Kline on Ryan's medicare plan:
It is a competitive system. Companies would bid to provide services. "It works because there is a competition to drive costs down....That's what we want to do is lower costs."
Ryan's plan would "end medicare as we know it." Seniors will pay more for their health care. Prescription drug costs would increase because it would open the donut hole.
"There's tens of millions of fraud and waste in medicare and medicaid" but that "the primary focus needs to be on saving this program," says Obermueller.
Rep. Kline on Ryan's medicare plan:
"The Ryan plan provides an option that no senior is forced to pay more" than they currently pay.
"You need to reform the system if you want to save it for not just current seniors, but our kids and grandkids."
The Ryan system makes medicare a "voucher" system and current seniors will be affected by the Ryan plan.
Kerri mentions that Rep. Kline has pharmaceutical companies as donors and asks "are you worried about the appearance?"
"I tend to get contributions from people who are supportive of the private sector...I get small dollars and big dollars." He says "contributors look to see the incumbent and where they stand on policy" and "it's not the reverse."
Obermueller has a lot of trial lawyers as contributors.
Obermueller says that he is a lawyer and gets contributions from friends and colleagues who are lawyers, too.
"I think people do come to you because they believe in what you are trying to do and not the other way around."
"The big drivers of deficits and debts are entitlements," says Kline. "Medicare: you've got to turn the spending curve down. Social security has to be addressed. You've got to do something so you could slowly start raising the retirement age."
He adds that raising the retirement age has bi-partisan support.
To what age the new retirement age would be the subject of debate says Kline. Does not give a particular age.
"I don't know. It's not my proposal," Kline says when kerri asks him about the new retirement age.
"I clearly do not support raising the retirement age." Says the people "swinging hammers" for a living can't do that after a certain age.
Kerri to Kline: "You are a strong ally of Boehner's. When have you not voted with the Speaker?"
Kline cites his vote against No Child Left Behind. Kline says he works with George Miller, a House Democrat, on charter school lto help legislation. Says he's "bucked John McCain" to work with Senator Klobuchar on getting aid to troops.
Question for Obermueller:
"Is there an initiative of Kline's that you support?"
Obermueller says he applauds Kline's support for troops.
And now, to Kline. Kerri asks, "Does your challenger have an idea you support?"
It is a good idea to cut government fraud and waste. He and Obermueller agree on that.
Kerri did a great job moderating this, specifically in stopping both candidates when they tried to rely on "cookie cutter" responses and sound bites and making them supply specific details.
Unfortunately, when they were forced to give specifics, there was not alot of good information they could give. I am not excited about either of the choices in my district.