By Peter Passi, Forum Communications
DULUTH — Rep. Chip Cravaack and challenger Rick Nolan wasted little time in drawing distinctions between themselves on big issues such as Medicare and the economy during a lively debate Tuesday morning at the Duluth Playhouse.
“This election offers us a real clear choice,” Nolan, a former Democratic congressman from Crosby, said in his opening remarks, launching into criticism of Cravaack’s support of a plan to restructure Medicare.
“Congressman Cravaack has voted repeatedly to end Medicare as we know it, increasing costs to our elderly,” he said.
Cravaack, a Republican from North Branch, contended action is necessary to save the program.
“The bottom line is Medicare is insolvent in 2022. Doing nothing is actually a dereliction of duty,” he said.
Cravaack said the plan he supports would make no changes to Medicare for people ages 55 and older but would affect younger workers.
“If you’re 54 years of age and younger, there has to be a change, because there will be nothing left in 2022,” Cravaack said of the plan he supports. “It gives future seniors options, the same kind of options that federal employees get.”
But Nolan pledged to go after an estimated $750 billion per year in waste and fraud in the system and said there still was plenty of time to make less-drastic structural changes to Medicare.
“Now, Medicare and Social Security, those are not entitlements,” Nolan said. “Those are firm benefits people started paying for the very first day they went to work. They’re entitled to those benefits. They’ve earned them, and we have to do everything we can to make sure we protect them. We have to keep our promise to our seniors.”
Cravaack said he and his opponent differ on what’s best for the economy, too.
“While I know that both of us truly want what’s best for the 8th District and what’s best for the nation, we have a very divergent way of how to get there,” Cravaack said. “I believe that more government and more regulation is not the answer. As a matter of fact, I think it’s the problem.
“I believe that government overregulation is absolutely crushing our small businesses and our industry, thereby jeopardizing Minnesota’s livelihood for families and the Minnesota worker.”
In particular, Cravaack pointed to delays in the permitting of Polymet, the first copper-nickel-precious metals mine proposed on the Iron Range. He took Nolan to task for earlier claims that regulation is not an issue and the Environmental Protection Agency actually is a job creator.
Nolan defended his comments, pointing to jobs that were produced when the EPA sought to address acid-rain problems. He said the effort resulted in work installing scrubbers on coal plants and developing and manufacturing catalytic converters to improve automotive emissions.
But Nolan said he agreed with Cravaack that the permitting process for Polymet — now eight years long and $42 million in the making — was “simply inexcusable” and needed to be expedited.
Cravaack pointed to burdensome regulation and overbearing taxes as two factors holding back job growth in the district.
Nolan said he considers providing tax breaks to the wealthy an ineffective way to stimulate the economy. Instead, he called on government policies to support the middle class, saying a strong middle class will result in increased demand.
“The growing inequalities between the rich and the poor, and the destruction of the middle class, is one of the most terrible things that is happening in this economy today,” Nolan said. “Whether it comes to taxes or spending, helping a poor kid get a chance to go to college; whether standing up and defending collective bargaining rights and wages and benefits for working people. Every opportunity we get, we have to say to ourselves: ‘Is this good for the middle class?’ because we’re going to build this economy back up from the middle out, not from the top down.”
Cravaack suggested any meaningful economic recovery will come from a less-fettered private sector.
“It’s about jobs. It’s about creating jobs,” Cravaack said. “It’s about giving small business owners the confidence to be able to expand and create jobs.”