Lewis and Craig disagree on major issues during final debate

Democrat candidate Angie Craig and Republican incumbent Jason Lewis.
2nd Congressional District Democrat candidate Angie Craig and Republican incumbent Jason Lewis.
Evan Frost and Regina McCombs | MPR News

Republican Congressman Jason Lewis and his DFL challenger Angie Craig met for their final debate of the 2018 campaign Thursday at Dakota County Technical College.

In the hour-long forum the two candidates, in a rematch of the race two years ago, agreed the nation needs to embrace post-secondary technical training along with traditional four-year college as equal career options.

That's where their meeting of the minds ended.

Lewis, who's been focusing on economic issues throughout his first re-election campaign, repeatedly heralded the Republican tax law as the reason the economy is booming.

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"We've got the greatest economy since 1969, according to the unemployment statistics. We've got median after-tax income up 6 percent, wages going up, bonuses going up, utility bills coming down," he said.

Craig took exception to the notion that the tax cut has been great for the country. She maintains the vast majority of the law's benefits go to wealthy people and corporations, while the middle class is left with a growing national debt to repay.

"Look, I support middle class tax reform and tax reform for small businesses, but the last time we tried trickle-down economics in this country was in the 1980s, and I lived in a mobile home court with my mom and I can promise you that nothing trickled down to us," Craig said.

Lewis and Craig sparred over the Affordable Care Act as well. Lewis voted for the Republican plan to scrap it. He said the nation was much better off before the law, and he said he wants a return to a more free-market approach with a high-risk pool for people who would otherwise be priced out of the market.

"Let's reward people if they're young and healthy and doing the right thing, so that young people can buy at a cheaper premium, come back voluntarily into the insurance pools to subsidize the risk for people that need the claims," he said.

Craig said Congress should improve the health care law by passing a federal reinsurance program like the one Minnesota lawmakers approved that reduced individual-market health insurance premiums by an estimated 20 percent. She also promoted opening Medicare to people who are not currently eligible for it.

"I think we need to introduce more competition into the marketplace by offering a [plan] similar to a United or Blue Cross plan that's available from Medicare, not subsidized, for people to buy into," she said.

Lewis warned a Medicare buy-in would destroy the program.

"If we do that, Medicare as we know it for seniors, will end," Lewis said.

Craig also supports allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients. And she said allowing Americans to buy drugs from Canada could help bring down prices.

Lewis said squeezing pharmaceutical companies would strip them of revenue they need to do research and development which in turn would lead to a decrease in life-saving innovation.

Asked what each would do to improve prospects for small business owners and workers, Craig returned to the health care debate, saying that getting costs under control would free up money for businesses to use in other ways

Lewis said lower taxes are the answer.

Craig said she favors working toward a $15 an hour federal minimum wage which Lewis said he opposes.

On climate change, Craig promoted more investment in green energy and a return to Paris climate accord that the Trump administration abandoned.

Lewis said international climate change agreements punish the U.S.

On immigration, Craig called for a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally. Lewis chided Democrats for refusing to include funding for a Mexican border wall in any solution.

"Let's secure the border and part of that's got to be a wall," he said. "Their side said 'nope, we're not doing that you just give us what we want. No wall.'"