Wellstone and Coleman duke it out on ‘Almanac’

Andrew Pritchard

The two leading candidates in this year’s heated U.S. Senate race clashed in their first televised debate Friday, trading barbs on campaign advertising, Social Security and the recent congressional resolution granting President George W. Bush authority to use the military against Iraq.

Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac” broadcast the debate live.

White House-backed challenger Norm Coleman, the former Republican mayor of St. Paul, criticized Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone for voting against the Iraq resolution even though he supported a use-of-force resolution four years ago.

“In 1998, you were willing to give Bill Clinton as president exactly what you rejected today,” Coleman said.

The 1998 resolution was different, Wellstone said, because it was limited to specific Iraqi sites.

“This resolution was open-ended for pre-emptive strikes including ground forces,” Wellstone said. “That’s the big difference.”

Wellstone said the United States should coordinate with the United Nations and other countries before any military action.

“The difference between doing this alone and doing this as part of an international community is night and day,” he said.

Coleman said other countries such as Britain, Spain and Qatar already supported U.S. action and said it was “bad judgment” to wait for the United Nations to act.

He also criticized Wellstone for opposing “the vote that a broad, bipartisan majority thought was the better path.”

“I have to be a senator that makes the decision I think is the most honest decision for the people I represent,” Wellstone said. “We’re talking about life and death issues.”

Campaign ads

almanac” hosts Eric Eskola and Cathy Wurzer asked Coleman and Wellstone to comment on two ads, one attacking Coleman as responsible for giving billions of dollars to big business, the other criticizing Wellstone for opposing defense and anti-terrorism funding.

“This is one of those sham third-party ads … that Sen. Wellstone said he was going to fight against,” Coleman said, calling the ad “outrageous” and “patently false.”

“I didn’t vote on tax breaks for anybody,” Coleman said.

Wellstone said Coleman brought attack ads into the campaign first.

“It seems like there are a lot (of outside attack ads) on your side, too,” he said.

Both candidates disclaimed the ads as funded by outside organizations and not approved by their campaigns.

Yet each candidate also said the ads’ claims about his opponent are true.

“You have consistently been against funding for weapons systems, for pay raises, for training,” Coleman said to Wellstone. “That’s your record, and that’s what that ad focuses on.”

Wellstone said he has supported defense spending to confront new terrorist threats and has received awards from veterans groups, including Veterans of the Vietnam War, which named him legislator of the year in 1995.

Social Security

coleman said he supports allowing individuals to invest a portion of their Social Security accounts in the stock market, but he said he does not support privatization, which he defined as taking seniors’ money away for stock market investments.

“My commitment to seniors is very clear, from day one to now. This is personal to me,” he said. “I’ve got a mom and dad and this is their life. Ö I won’t support anything that cuts a dime of benefit from them.”

Wellstone said he has consistently opposed privatizing or partially privatizing Social Security.

“What you’re really doing when you tell people you can take 2 percent out of your paycheck and invest it in the stock market, what you’re really doing is taking money out of Social Security,” he said.

U.S. Comptroller General David Walker told a Senate committee in February 2001 that by 2030, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would consume more than three-quarters of the federal budget.

Sometime in the 2040s, he predicted, the government would have no money for anything but those programs.

Recent studies have predicted Social Security’s costs will fall most heavily on taxpayers in their 20s, who will pay more into Social Security over their lifetimes than they will receive from the system.

Wellstone said Social Security’s solvency depends on having a strong economy in which people have jobs and make enough money.

“We should not extend the tax cuts focused on the top 1 percent and the multinational companies,” he said.

Coleman said Wellstone favored doing nothing about Social Security and that he had proved his own record by solving St. Paul’s lack of retirement benefits funding without cutting city employees’ benefits.

Medicare

on the other federal entitlement program, Medicare, Wellstone said senior citizens need to be able to afford prescription drugs and that he had fought attempts to extend drug patents, which prevent introduction of cheaper, generic brands of medicine.

“You’ve got to be for the people of Minnesota, not the pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

Coleman said Wellstone had not kept his promise from 12 years ago to act on prescription drug coverage.

“You can’t keep pointing fingers at the pharmaceutical companies here and the Republicans there,” he said. “You haven’t gotten it done.”


Andrew Pritchard covers state politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]