ECM Capitol Reporter
The first debate between Republican Sixth District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Democratic challenger and hotel magnate Jim Graves with the election just a week away made up for in feistiness what it lacked in timeliness.
“Michele, could you read my lips please,” said Graves to Bachmann during one exchange, arguing Bachmann was ignoring his position on the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.
Graves summed up one his opponent’s comments about another matter as “a bunch of malarkey.”
The crowd assembled Tuesday at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud
for the candidates’ hour-long debate showed its vivid partisan colors during another exchange when Bachmann said it was insulting that her opponent styled her comments as “political speak.”
“Because that’s one thing I do not do,” Bachmann said.
The crowd burst into laughter.
Bachmann throughout the debate repeatedly described herself as a listener – one that delivers for the district.
Bachmann pointed to passage of long delayed St. Croix bridge legislation − she even got former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to vote for it, Bachmann quipped − and St. Cloud Airport funding as examples of her skill at addressing the needs of the district.
But Graves, while giving Bachmann some credit for the bridge, slammed it as costing too much, of being a Rolls Royce kind of bridge when a functional Chevy bridge would do.
“This is not the time to be frivolous,” Graves said, adding that replacing the collapsed I-35W bridge in Minneapolis cost only about $234 million while the proposed St. Croix bridge costs more than twice the amount.
Bachmann didn’t dispute Graves’ numbers, but argued bridge costs had been driven up by delays caused by lawsuits filed by “radical environmental groups.”
“I’m extremely proud of this project,” Bachmann said of the bridge, adding construction would create hundreds of new jobs, but more importantly, answer the needs of residents in the district.
But Graves’ edginess surfaced again during an exchange about social security, Medicare, and other entitlements.
Graves argued that to ensure social security solvency, basically two things could be done. One would be to change the retirement age, something Grave indicated he did not support.
Rather, Graves spoke of removing the cap on social security, having wealthier people pay more into the system.
Bachmann, indicating that considering age could be part of the discussion, also explained that she did not favor removing the cap.
But Graves argued Bachmann hadn’t offered specifics.
“I just want to say one thing − she didn’t answer the question again,” he said.
Bachmann insisted House Republicans have plans on addressing entitlements.
On the Affordable Care Act, Graves said there are some good things contained in Obamacare but that he considers the “heavy lifting” on health care reform as just beginning.
Graves faulted the landmark legislation as insufficiently redirecting the health care from a focus on medical procedures to one of medical outcome.
Bachmann, a fierce critical of Obamacare, warned of IRS involvement in health care, a job killing tax on medical devices and bureaucratic flab wrought by the legislation.
Indeed, Bachmann depicted Graves as a Johnny-come-lately to criticisms of Obamacare, insisting she knew well in advance what a terrible piece of legislation the act was.
“You can’t have it two ways,” Bachmann said to Graves.
But Graves at times dismissed his opponent’s criticisms, quipping they seem to be based on the idea that he had already served in Congress rather than seeking the office for the first time.
Graves described Bachmann as passionate for her issues, a legendary fund-raiser, a headline generator, but failing to represent the district.
He heralded his business savvy and ability to jobs. “I’ve been there. I’ve done that,” Graves said.
Bachmann insisted she represents the district skillfully by listening and delivering.
Local people considered it virtually a “miracle” a solution to the St. Croix bridge impasse had been found, Bachmann explained.
“This is the moral issue of our time,” Bachmann said, addressing the federal deficit.