Lewis, Craig clash on health care, prior careers and Trump

Angie Craig and Jason Lewis debate at MPR
2nd Congressional District candidates Jason Lewis and Angie Craig prepare to debate with moderator and MPR News host Tom Weber.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Republican Jason Lewis and Democrat Angie Craig mixed it up repeatedly Thursday on issues from climate change to Social Security during an hour-long radio debate on MPR News.

Health care has been a front-and-center topic as problems persist with the federal Affordable Care Act. Republicans around the country are pouncing on increasing insurance bills for people buying mandatory coverage. Lewis was anxious to drive home his indictment of the Democratic-drafted law.

"This is an unmitigated disaster. Don't ask me. Just ask Bill Clinton or Mark Dayton," he said, referring to recent comments by the former president and current Minnesota governor about financial strains some families are facing from fast-rising health premiums.

"You've got premiums going up 54 percent last year and 67 percent this year," he said. "Angie talks about everybody being insured. Yeah, everybody is insured but nobody has good health care. That's the result of the Affordable Care Act. We need real reform and it's not just a matter of tinkering around the edges."

Lewis said he would seek to get rid of the requirement that people carry health insurance. Instead, he said he would pursue more tax credits and try to reestablish special risk pools for people with the most serious health problems.

Craig said it would be better to make targeted improvements than scrap the whole law.

"I don't want to go back to a time when women paid more than men, when pre-existing conditions prohibited someone from having health insurance, when we couldn't keep our children on our plans until age 26," she said.

Craig has a background in the health industry as a former executive at St. Jude Medical. Lewis tried to use her professional past against her, pointing out that the medical device company successfully lobbied to suspend a medical device tax established under the new law.

Craig called that criticism a double standard, given how other Minnesota Republicans have touted their work on halting the tax.

"I think it's the most ironic thing that's happened so far in this race, that Republicans are attacking a Democrat for being opposed to a business tax. Think about that for a second," she said.

Craig used Lewis' prior career as a conservative radio show host against him. More than once, she said his hardline positions might sound good on the air but wouldn't fly in Congress where cooperation matters.

Lewis was ready to counter the criticism. He said he proved during a quarter-century on air that he isn't shy about speaking up, even when it contradicts leaders of his own party.

"Who do you want?" he asked. "Do you want someone that has been principled and put principle above parties over the years? And I've had as many Republicans mad at me on my radio show as Democrats. Or do you want somebody who is going to be a rubber stamp for Hillary Clinton? There is literally nothing Hillary says that Angie Craig doesn't support."

It was no surprise then, that Lewis' support for Donald Trump as the Republican nominee created sparks, too. Lewis said he isn't "willing to turn the White House back to the Clintons."

Lewis affirmed his plan to vote for Trump. He said he doesn't agree with Trump on everything, and he broke from the presidential nominee by declaring that next month's election results should be honored. And Lewis expressed dismay over taped remarks of Trump talking crudely about women.

"I've got two daughters," he said. "That offends me as much as it offends anybody. Trust me. But for heaven sakes, you have the Clinton machine throwing stones in a glass house. I mean why are we even talking about this?"

"I'm just embarrassed for you, Jason," said Craig.

"Oh, thank you," Lewis shot back.

As she's done in a barrage of TV ads, Craig highlighted comments Lewis made over the years. That included radio segments where Lewis suggested women were more focused on access to contraception than other important topics.

"I'm in favor of contraception. I'm in favor of it. I think it ought to be over the counter," Lewis said.

"But do you have to call women ignorant as you're talking about it?" Craig asked. "To me it's just offensive and it's not a leader. I don't think you're a leader."