PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Republican Rep. Kristi Noem defended her record as South Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House during a fast-paced and contentious debate Friday night, while Democratic challenger Matt Varilek accused her of being part of a dysfunctional Congress that has accomplished little because of politicians who refuse to compromise.
In their fourth and final debate before Tuesday's election, Noem and Varilek tangled on taxes, Medicare and other issues that have dominated the campaign. The two frequently interrupted each other, sometimes accusing each other of not telling the truth.
Noem said she has lived up to her pledge to fix problems in Congress. She said Congress previously worried only about how to spend more money, but it has cut federal spending by $2.2 trillion since she was first elected two years ago.
"We've changed that now to how much do we cut, how much do we need to tighten our belts to make sure we don't continue the deficit spending and accumulating debt our kids and our grandkids are going to have to pay off," Noem said in a one-hour debate televised statewide on KELO-TV.
But Varilek said Congress has not improved the way it operates in the past two years.
"This Congress has been one of the least productive in history," Varilek said. "There's too much of my-way-or-the-highway. I bring a different style. I believe we have to willing to work together, willing to seek common ground and work with others."
Varilek, a 37-year-old former member of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's staff, said an example of congressional stalemate was the House's failure to pass a new farm bill before recessing for the election. He said Noem was unable to persuade the House GOP leadership to hold a floor vote on the bill.
Noem, a 40-year-old farmer and former state lawmaker from Castlewood, said she worked hard to pass the farm bill, but that it was impossible to bring it up for a vote because Democrats opposed the bill's changes in food stamps.
Varilek asked Noem if she would agree that both campaigns stop running negative ads in the last few days of the campaign. Noem said she would consider it, but doesn't believe any of her ads are negative because they just contrast the records and positions of the two candidates.
Some of the sharpest exchanges during the debate were on Medicare, the health care program for retired people. Each candidate accused the other of supporting plans that could wreck it.