Berg, Heitkamp meet in last ND US Senate debate
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Democrats are failing to slow the nation's growing $16 trillion debt because they won't agree on budget and tax reforms in the U.S. Senate, Republican Rick Berg said Thursday in his final duel with Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota's closely watched Senate race.
Berg and Heitkamp were quizzed on spending, taxes, farm legislation, energy and foreign policy during their third and last debate before the Nov. 6 election decides which will win the battle to succeed retiring Democrat Kent Conrad. The race has drawn national attention because Heitkamp, a former Democratic attorney general and tax commissioner, has made a close race of what Republicans had expected to be an easy GOP pickup in their quest to retake control of the Senate.
Berg, who is North Dakota's incumbent congressman, is running for the Senate during his freshman term in the U.S. House. Heitkamp is running her sixth statewide campaign. Polls show the race remains tight in the campaign's home stretch.
Berg's campaign has emphasized Heitkamp's support of the Senate's Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, who has been critical of oil and coal development, and Heitkamp's backing for new federal health care legislation that Berg wants to repeal. But Heitkamp counters that Berg would continue a partisan approach to policymaking as a senator, which she said contradicts North Dakota's collegial political culture and would be ineffective in solving problems.
Both candidates continued to pound those themes Thursday in the debate that was watched by more than 400 people at a north Bismarck middle school and broadcast live on local television and radio.
Berg said a new, comprehensive federal budget was the best strategy for reining in the growth of the nation's budget deficits, and that the Democratic-controlled Senate has not approved one in more than three years.
"If we're going to solve a family problem, or a small-business problem, the first step is, you need a budget," Berg said. "We need a budget that comes to closure, so people can see we're going to balance it."
In her own political career, Heitkamp said, she has worked with Republicans on issues, including an alliance with the ultra-conservative Constitution Party to fight an attempt to weaken North Dakota's bank privacy laws, and teaming with a former state Republican Party chairman to push for stronger protection of private property rights.
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