Listen Reporter Tom Scheck's story: Klobuchar, Bills square off in final Senate debate
Nov 5, 2012
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The two candidates for U.S. Senate from Minnesota are making their final cases to voters, one day after their final debate of the campaign.
DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar and her Republican opponent, Kurt Bills, faced off against each other Sunday evening in the debate, which was sponsored by MPR News. It was the last chance for Bills, who is trailing far behind Klobuchar in the polls, to try to make his case.
The hour-long debate at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul touched on many of the themes facing every candidate for federal office.
There is the issue of the federal debt and deficit -- something Republican Kurt Bills brings up repeatedly on the campaign trail. He said he wants to see drastic changes in federal spending, and blamed Klobuchar and Senate Democrats for failing to pass a budget that lowers the deficit.
"When you're sitting here as a Democrat in the United States Senate from Minnesata, and you're so well liked and you have these numbers, why are you not leading?" Bills asked Klobuchar.
Klobuchar responded that she supports plans to address the deficit by increasing income taxes on top earners and cutting government spending on things like subsidies for oil campanies.
Klobuchar also said an agreement between President Obama, the Senate and the House to cut spending across the board and increase taxes -- called sequestration -- will force Congress to start acting on the problem.
But Klobuchar said moving forward will require politicians who can work across party lines.
"As fun as it is to make a speech by yourself in Washington, courage in the next few years is going to be willing to stand next to someone you don't always agree with to find the common ground for the betterment of this country," she said.
The two candidates sparred over the best way to approach tax reform. Bills said he supports a flat tax, under which all taxpayers would pay essentially the same tax rate. Klobuchar criticized that idea, saying a flat tax would be unfair to lower and middle-income Minnesotans.
"A flat tax would be much harder on the middle class because of the fact that you are really adding tax cuts to the wealthiest bracket, and that is not what we want to do," said Klobuchar.
"You're looking at the middle class," Bills countered, adding that he wouldn't support a plan that would hurt the middle class.
"My wife and I will struggle to make six figures this year, about $98,000 probably, with a family of six," Bill said. "So please don't talk about the middle class like we're not at this table."
Klobuchar said she supports a plan that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000 a year, but would allow the cuts to expire for those who make more than that.
Klobuchar also strongly denied any suggestion that she looked the other way regarding criminal wrongdoing by former businessman Tom Petters, who was convicted of a multimillion dollar fraud scheme. Bills accused Klobuchar of that in the only TV ad he has run during the campaign, and questioned Klobuchar about it during the debate.
The hurricane that ravaged the East Coast also prompted some questions about disaster aid and the impact of climate change.
Bills said the federal government should play a role in disaster cleanup, but only after the market and charitable institutions get involved. Klobuchar said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is vital.
The two also disagreed over whether greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate.
"I don't believe there is such a thing as climate change," said Bills. "I believe there are scientists out there who don't believe that we are driving a massive change in our climate."
"I believe in the science of climate change," Klobuchar said. "Minnesota is a state that believes in science. So once you're there, what's your next step?"
The debate strategies of the two candidates may be a signal as to where the race stands at this point. Bills repeatedly tried to link Klobuchar to the country's problems. His closing arguments focused on her record.
Klobuchar mostly played it safe, sticking to the talking points she used in the campaign. Her closing comments focused on her bipartisan work in Congress. She didn't mention Bills at all. With a wide lead in the polls, she may not have to.
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