BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Backers of Republican U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer are delaying crucial new federal farm legislation by threatening electoral retribution against candidates who support it, Democratic rival Pam Gulleson says.
The two candidates spoke Tuesday during a half-hour debate at Prairie Public's television studios in Fargo that was recorded for later showings on the statewide public broadcasting network. The first airing will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Cramer said Gulleson has advocated quick approval of the U.S. Senate's version of the farm legislation. It requires farmers to participate in soil conservation programs to qualify for crop insurance, which helps to protect farmers against losses from hailstorms, flooding and drought.
Cramer called the provision a "nonstarter" and said it is unnecessary because farmers already have an incentive to protect the soil they use to raise crops.
"What I hear more than anything else is, 'Give me crop insurance and get out of my way. Don't tell me how to farm,'" Cramer said.
One of Cramer's leading financial supporters, a conservative pressure group called Club for Growth, has focused on the Senate's preferred version of the farm bill as an example of wasteful spending. The group advocates reductions in the growth of the federal food stamp program, which is part of the farm bill.
Gulleson said the group "has basically put a hold on this bill, said to their members that it's a key vote, they'll use it against them."
"If (Cramer) was serious about the farm bill, he would have reached out to those leaders" and put more emphasis on farm legislation, Gulleson said.
She said she opposes requiring farmers to take part in soil conservation programs to qualify for crop insurance. She believes the provision can be removed during House-Senate negotiations on the bill's final version.
Gulleson, a former state legislator and aide to former North Dakota Democratic U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, is competing against Cramer, a state public service commissioner, to succeed incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D. Berg is running for the U.S. Senate.
Gulleson and Cramer argued about the farm bill, health care, Social Security, energy policy and the effects of partisan infighting in Washington during their debate.
Cramer said he supported establishing a cutoff age at which North Dakotans would be assured of benefits under the traditional Medicare program. Those who are younger would have the choice of keeping Medicare or using other insurance options that could save them money and provide incentives for healthier living, Cramer said.
Both candidates backed elements of the Affordable Care Act, a federal health care overhaul law that Cramer wants to repeal.
The candidates said they wanted to keep the legislation's prohibition on using existing health conditions to disqualify someone from coverage, and extending parental coverage to children up to age 26.
Gulleson said she would work to end what she called a partisan stalemate in Washington. Republicans control the U.S. House and Democrats the Senate, and differences between the two parties have delayed bipartisan solutions to urgent national problems, she said.
"There's a time for debate, there's a time to discuss the issues at length, but then there's a time to come together, and that's what I will do again," Gulleson said.
Cramer said Democratic control of Congress and the presidency during the first two years of President Barack Obama's administration resulted in "Obamacare (and) more regulations."
"The country said, 'You know what, maybe divided government isn't that bad,'" Cramer said. "I think that our politics is a reflection of our culture. Unfortunately, our nation is divided, and it demands some leadership."