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Klobuchar and Bills debate economics in low-key session
Screen shots of Republican candidate Kurt Bills and Sen. Amy Klobuchar during Tuesday morning's debate.

Economic issues took center stage Tuesday morning at a U.S. Senate debate between Sen. Amy Klobuchar and her Republican challenger, Kurt Bills.

The debate was decidedly more low-key than the one the pair held at the State Fair in August.

The policy differences were just as sharp as before, but neither candidate seemed as willing to bash the other as frequently as they did in front of a rowdy, supporter-filled crowd in Falcon Heights.

That’s not to say Klobuchar and Bills sheathed their swords entirely. Klobuchar again hit Bills for supporting what she called an extreme budget resolution proposed by Sen. Rand Paul, and when the topic turned to the Federal Reserve, she reminded the audience that Bills has said he supports ending, not simply auditing, the Fed.

Bills’ response: “Why would she attack me and call me extreme? I’m a public school teacher. How extreme is that?” He also attacked her for her oft-emphasized focus on bipartisanship, implying it was a political tactic rather than an actual lawmaking strategy in Washington.

“We should do more than just poll and find that if you say ‘bipartisan’ 15 times in a debate, that’s the way forward,” he said.

The pair debated fiscal issues exclusively, including the so-called “fiscal cliff” that faces the country at the end of the year. With the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire and $110 billion in spending cuts scheduled to kick in, officials warn that congressional action is needed to prevent a recession, but Bills said he’s concerned Congress, and the Senate in particular, will not act on it, citing the lack of a Senate-passed budget resolution for more than three years.

He didn’t get into specifics, but said he’d be willing to vote for a compromise bill.

“This great compromise will come forward, and even though I’m a staunch conservative, when it comes time to vote to move this country forward, I will make that vote, and I will make it not for my party, but for all the kids that I’ve taught,” said Bills, a high school economics teacher. [Update: Here’s Kurt Bills on taxes and deficit reduction, and why he knows it goes against a no-new-taxes pledge he signed earlier in the campaign.]

Klobuchar again voiced her support for a $4 trillion, 10-year deficit reduction package, consisting of, in part:

• The $2.2 trillion saved under the deficit reduction passed by Congress last year;

• $750 billion in new income by raising taxes on income greater than $250,000 a year;

• $200 billion in savings by negotiating for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D;

• Ending oil subsidies, to the tune of $40 billion in savings.

Klobuchar also defended the 2010 deficit reduction law, called the Budget Control Act, as a de facto budget because it cut spending and set limits on spending going forward. It was more of a compromise plan than the Paul budget Bills supports, she said; it failed, receiving 83 “no” votes in the Senate.

But Bills said that was simply what he personally supported and not what he actually thought would be passed into law. It was a starting point for negotiations, he said.

“This is what I think the way forward should be, but that’s not going to be forward, I know that, but I want people to know what my feelings are,” he said.

He put the point in the context of education: finding ways to cut down on the number of federal science, technology, engineering and math programs, rather than gutting them altogether, and dismissing both the No Child Left Behind program introduced by President Bush and the Race to the Top program put in place by Obama.

“The people who are not offering solutions are the people who are going to take Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security off the cliff,” he said. 

After the debate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke with The UpTake’s Mike McIntee.

Since the debate was held in Duluth, both candidates tailored parts of their message to the Northland. Klobuchar talked about bills she’s supported to boost the forest and tourism industries and recent expansions to the Duluth airport and the Port of Duluth. She emphasized “real results for real people.”

Bills tried to tie himself to one of the Northland’s most colorful and popular liberals, retiring state Rep. Tom Rukavina, saying both of them voted against a school funding shift on similar economic grounds.

“It’s not a hit on Republicans or Democrats — it’s a hit on the system as a whole,” he said. “We need people to work together.”

Klobuchar and Bills have debated twice before, at the Fair and at Farmfest in August. They’ll debate a fourth and final time the weekend before the election in November.

Devin Henry can be reached at

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by David Frenkel on 09/18/2012 - 11:15 am.

    Defense Bill

    Besides jobs the other hot topic in Washington, DC is the defense bill. No talk about that?

  2. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 09/18/2012 - 12:45 pm.


    Curious that a teacher–and a man who boasts of being a teacher–is urging that we cut down on the number of science, math, technology and the like programs. He didn’t provide a reason.
    He also said that the “people who are not suffering are going to take Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security off the cliff.”
    Many people are suffering and will suffer more in the future from any cuts to these programs. And these are not the things driving us over the cliff. Social Security has not added a dime to the deficit. Any need for more revenue can be simply solved by raising the $110,000 limit on social security contributions. I’m sure there are measures that can help the other programs, but throwing people off is not going to solve any fiscal problems. There are possible changes but he isn’t looking for them. One, as someone noticed, is the huge defense spending that is rising, not because the Pentagon wanted it but because our republican congress thinks we have to boost it to stay strong. On the contrary, it can only weaken us. Wasn’t one big cause of the failure of the Soviet Union due to their immense defense spending.
    What will strengthen us are taking adequate care of our own citizens and ensuring that our education programs, including college and other post-graduate programs, are funded so well even poor and middle lass students can take advantage of them.

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 09/19/2012 - 09:38 am.

    Abolishing the fed

    Perhaps Professor Johnston should do an article about what the federal reserve does and then we can mail it to Mr. Bills with the analogy of blaming the third grade teacher for high school graduates that can’t read. Perhaps he wants to review history before he makes such statements.

    Just a note of clarification, they are talking public finance not economics.

    If they were talking economics they would be talking about matching the supply and demand for public goods and services and strategies for payments. Those are the things that Ms. Martin touched on in her comment.

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