Newly elected U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack said Monday that he opposes increasing the federal debt and will work to undo portions of the recent health care overhaul, although the freshman lawmaker acknowledged he has not read the legislation.
Cravaack defeated 18-term DFL incumbent James Oberstar in the unexpectedly tight race for the 8th Congressional District seat. The district, which stretches from Chisago County to the Canadian border, was last represented by a Republican in 1947.
Cravaack has kept a relatively low profile since winning the race. He spoke with MPR's Tom Crann on Monday after speaking at a Republican Party event earlier in the day.
The newly elected lawmaker said he supports some provisions in the federal health care law, but believes that it's unconstitutional to require Americans to purchase insurance.
"And more than that, I myself have to read the bill," he said. "I have to get into it, see what's in there, and start peeling it back, and seeing what's good, what's bad, what we can keep, what we need to get rid of, but ... an outright repeal would be very difficult at this point."
Cravaack also discussed the pending legislation to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits. Without the tax cuts, he said, many small business owners would not be able to hire more employees or make other investments.
"I haven't read the bill," he said. "That's one thing I'd want to do first, but if it increase the debt at all, that to me is a non-player. We cannot kick this can continually down the road."
Cravaack said he plans to focus on constituent services. He was elected, he said, because people wanted someone to listen to them.
"That's my primary focus," he said. "Everything else, I'm going to go by a set of rules: Is it constitutional? Does it increase the debt? Along those lines. And if not, why are we doing it?"
As chair of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar directed millions of federal dollars to infrastructure projects in the 8th District and throughout Minnesota.
Cravaack said the state's Department of Transportation should "decide what projects are best, instead of having basically some muscle saying, 'I think we need to put,' pardon the pun, but, 'this bike trail up in Virginia.' Or, 'We're going to do this road project in Ely'... I think a congressman should step out of that situation."
He said Oberstar has not called to congratulate him or offer advice, but Cravaack said he hopes that those who voted for Oberstar will keep an open mind.
"Judge me by my actions, not my words, that I will work hard for the people of Minnesota," he said. "That's my pledge that I will represent the 8th as best I can. And I hope they give me a shot."