VIRGINIA, Minn. — Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack and DFLer Rick Nolan talked mining during their final debate in this Iron Range city on Wednesday.
Over an hour and a half, the two debated traditional topics like the economy and jobs and made them specific to the 8th District, and the Iron Range in particular: how to create jobs for the mining industry.
On the economy, Cravaack called for tax cuts, including an across-the-board 25 percent rate for corporations to spur hiring. Nolan called such an approach “letting the rich get richer,” and said the tax could should be rewritten to give incentives for companies that bring jobs back to the United States.
The two were on opposite ends of a House Republican budget plan: Cravaack highlighted the lower taxes and decreased spending in the bill and said, “That is how you create jobs, by reining in our excessive tax code, the excessive amount of regulations that impede the small business owner, and the corporations, for that matter, from creating jobs.”
“Certainly you have a plan,” Nolan countered. “It’s called the [Rep. Paul] Ryan plan. We call it here the Ryan-Cravaack plan.” He hit it for protecting defense spending while pushing domestic cuts, as well as for its changes to Medicare.
The fiscal cliff, the series of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year, took center stage as well, specifically the scheduled $600 billion cut to Pentagon spending. Cravaack said such a plan would devastate the armed forces, leading to the lowest amount of ground forces since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915 and the smallest-ever Air Force, he said. Nolan, however, said there was room to trim some fat, specifically by ending the war in Afghanistan, and that defense cuts would be needed in order to help balance the budget.
But the pair agreed on one thing: robust spending for the Duluth wing of the Air National Guard.
“I’m actually smiling because we have some bipartisan agreement,” Cravaack said to laughs from the audience.
Detailing disagreements on health care
As they have throughout the campaign, the pair sparred on Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, specifically $716 billion worth of Medicare cuts that have become a political football nationally.
Nolan hit Cravaack for supporting a plan to use that funding to pay for tax cuts. He said the Affordable Care Act, which passed with a similar cut, helps keep Medicare solvent for an additional eight years.
Cravaack said such a scheme was an example of misplaced priorities.
“Our seniors are being robbed from Medicare to pay for Obamacare,” he said. More broadly, Cravaack said he supported the House Republican plan to create a premium support system for future beneficiaries currently under the age of 55. He called for repealing President Obama’s health care law, while Nolan said it was “a very good beginning, [but] we don’t know for sure how well the aspects of it are going to work out … there’s probably going to have to be some changes made.”
Focusing in on mining
Cravaack and Nolan were debating at the Mesabi Range Community College, named for the area of the Iron Range near which it sits. Both candidates have expressed pro-mining views throughout the campaign, so their goal Wednesday was to try to get a leg up on the other.
Cravaack hit Nolan for supporting environmental regulations, as well as a $250 million mining research institute he said would do nothing to create jobs. He plugged an amendment he introduced to require federal transit projects to use American-made steel, using iron ore mined on the Range, as well as a bill he introduced to streamline the permitting process for mining projects.
“My goal, my vision of the 8th District of Minnesota, is to have people moving into the 8th District for good, high-paying jobs,” he said. “I truly believe we can be the Bakken Field of taconite and precious metal mining.”
Nolan defended the research center plan as one that would help find innovative ways to actually do mining. He also espoused a view similar to Cravaack’s on mine permitting, saying miners he’s talked to support environmental regulations as long as they are able to do their job.
“I’ve met with the mining companies as well, they don’t have any problem meeting the regulations,” he said. “They do have a problem with the process, and understandably so. It just clearly takes too long.”
(Here’s a more detailed look at the candidates and their views on mining).
Cravaack and Nolan are locked in what is considered the tightest congressional race in Minnesota. Recent public polling has given Nolan a slight lead in the race, though the polls have been contested by Cravaack, a first-term Republican who pulled a huge upset over longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010. Oberstar had represented the area for 36 years, and the district leans Democratic.
The race has become a magnet for outside money, bringing in $3.9 million in ads from independent expenditure groups on both sides of the aisle.
Cravaack and Nolan debated four times in all, more than any other congressional race in Minnesota this year.
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry