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Lively exchange at Cravaack town hall

DEER RIVER -- Minnesota Nice was out in full force, but some audience members still challenged Rep. Chip Cravaack on his economic theories Tuesday evening during a town hall meeting.

Cravaack implored the about 200 people in the audience to be polite and not heckle each other, then gave what he said was a brand-new 20-minute presentation about the state of the federal government's budget. He warned that almost half of what the government spends is borrowed, and almost half of what is borrowed is borrowed from foreign governments.

But he continued to argue that taxes should not be raised to help balance the budget.

Cravaack said he wanted to bring down the tax rate to 25 percent for small businesses because higher taxes are passed on to consumers or result in layoffs.

Audience member Dave Garshelis of Cohasset said President George W. Bush tried that plan and it didn't work.

"Is this an experiment or a concept or do you have information from somewhere that shows this works?" he asked. "I'm wondering when the jobs are going to happen."

Cravaack said he wants reduced taxes with the addition of tax reform. He said jobs went to places like Mexico and China because of high taxes in the U.S.

Kevin Kooiker of Pequot Lakes wasn't so sure of Cravaack's answer and said the tax rate today is lower than it's been in years. He said major corporations are known to be sitting on sizeable amounts of money instead of creating new jobs.

"People need to get more money in their pockets," he said. "The stimulus bill was way too small."

Another man asked why Congress could not come to some kind of agreement to fix the budget problem.

"To be honest, it's politics," Cravaack said. "People don't like this idea because it's from a Democrat and they don't like that idea because it's from a Republican. I don't care where it comes from."

Using charts and graphs from the congressional budget office, Cravaack said that of the current $3.5 trillion budget, $1.6 trillion is borrowed money, with 47 percent borrowed from foreign countries. And 29 percent of the foreign debt is owned by China alone.

He said just the interest the U.S. pays to China on that debt supports their entire military, and that model is unsustainable.

When one audience member challenged him to admit that Republicans and not Democrats created the budget problem, Cravaack said he wasn't interested in who created it.

"It's taken a long time to get here," he said. "I want to solve the problem for my kids."

Audience members asked about everything from the proposed Polymet mine to the Federal Aviation Administration to clean coal technology. But they seemed most passionate on the issues of job creation and taxes.

Cindy Martin of Grand Rapids asked why Cravaack was supporting lower taxes for the rich.

Cravaack countered by asking, "Who are the rich? Give me a number."

Some of the only negative responses from attendees during the hour-long meeting came after she tossed out the annual income of $100,000 as an example.

Although Cravaack's staff tried to cut off questions at precisely 8 p.m., only three people remained in line and he allowed them to speak before thanking people for attending.

"What you tell me, I take to Washington," he said.

Lisa Baumann is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. The News Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.