The first debate between Republican 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and her Democratic challenger, hotel magnate Jim Graves, made up in feistiness what it lacked in timeliness.
In the debate Tuesday, coming just a week before the election, Graves said, “Michele, could you read my lips please,” arguing the congresswoman 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, too, at the St. Cloud Civic Center showed its partisan colors during another exchange when Bachmann said it was insulting that her opponent called her comments “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 who delivers for the district.
She pointed to passage of long-delayed St. Croix bridge legislation — she even got former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to vote for it, Bachmann said — 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 when a functional Chevy would do.
“This is not the time to be frivolous,” Graves said.
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, he said.
Bachmann didn’t dispute Graves’ numbers, but said 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.
Construction would create hundreds of new jobs but, more importantly, answers the needs of the district’s residents, she said.
But Graves’ edginess surfaced again during an exchange on entitlements — Social Security, Medicare, others.
According to Graves, to ensure Social Security solvency, two things could be done.
One would be to change the retirement age, something Graves said he did not support.
Rather, he spoke of removing the cap on the Social Security payroll tax, meaning wealthier people would pay more into the system.
Bachmann, indicating that considering age could be part of the discussion, said that she did not favor removing the cap.
But Graves said 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 for 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 outcomes.
Bachmann, a fierce critic of Obamacare, warned of IRS involvement in health care and a job-killing tax on medical devices.
Indeed, Bachmann said Graves was a Johnny-come-lately to criticism of Obamacare.
She knew well in advance what a terrible piece of legislation the act was, according to Bachmann.
“You can’t have it two ways,” Bachmann said to Graves.
Graves at times dismissed his opponent’s criticisms. They seemed to be based on the idea that he had already served in Congress rather than seeking the office for the first time, he said.
Graves described Bachmann as passionate for her issues, a legendary fund-raiser, a headline generator, but failing to represent the district.
He spoke of his business savvy and ability to create jobs.
“I’ve been there. I’ve done that,” Graves said.
Bachmann said she represents the district skillfully: listening and delivering.
Local people considered it virtually a “miracle” that a solution to the St. Croix bridge impasse had been found, she said.
“This is the moral issue of our time,” Bachmann said of addressing federal deficit.
T.W. Budig is at [email protected]