With Election Day just a week away, the candidates in the 3rd Congressional District debated on MPR News' Daily Circuit program Tuesday.
Host Kerri Miller moderated the discussion between Republican incumbent Rep. Erik Paulsen and his DFL opponent, Brian Barnes.
Paulsen is running for his third term in the district that includes western Minneapolis suburbs, while Barnes is a political newbie who's running his first campaign.
Both men portrayed themselves as being somewhat independent of their parties. But on one of the central issues of this election, whether the Bush-era tax cuts should be allowed to expire on those earning more than $250,000 a year, both candidates back their parties' positions.
"We should not be raising taxes in this tough economy on anyone," Paulsen said.
Mentioning his work on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, Paulsen instead called for tax reform to expand the tax base, which he said could encourage economic growth and increase government revenues.
Barnes countered quickly.
"When you say 'expanding the tax base,' what you're basically saying is you're going to tax seniors and soldiers," Barnes said. "It may not be a tax increase on upper-income people, but it's a tax increase on somebody."
While President Barack Obama is prepared to allow taxes to rise on those making more than $250,000, Barnes said he believed only those making more than a $1 million a year should get a tax hike.
Barnes said the extra revenue should be used to reduce the deficit and pay down the national debt.
On the subject of taxes, Paulsen was asked whether he had signed the "no new taxes" pledge organized by long-time Washington anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
"I signed the pledge once back in the 1990s, I believe, in the state Legislature, and I think they carry that forward for life," Paulsen said. "I don't feel bound by any pledge from the perspective of a lifetime."
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While disagreeing on many fiscal issues, both agreed that big ticket military weapons programs could be scaled back to help lower the deficit.
Another point of agreement was nuclear energy. Both said that the use of nuclear power should be expanded, a position that puts Barnes at odds with the DFL's party platform.
With many Republicans contest the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming, Paulsen was asked about his views on the matter.
"I'm not a scientist; I couldn't tell you if it's actually because of human activities," Paulsen said.
Barnes responded by citing a past interview where Paulsen said he wasn't smart enough to weigh in on the science of global warming.
"To me, I want people in Congress who are smart enough to understand this," Barnes said.
The candidates also tangled over abortion. Paulsen said he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
Some Republican congressional candidates this year have taken to opposing abortion under almost any conditions.
Barnes disagreed and said he believes women, and not the government, should decide whether to have an abortion.
There's been no polling in this race and political handicappers say Paulsen's seat is safe. He leads Barnes in one important metric: money. As of mid-October, Paulsen's campaign had more than $700,000 in the bank, ten times as much as Barnes.
Submit your questions for the next debate at The Daily Circuit blog.