In a Fact to Face debate provided by Prairie Public Broadcasting the candidates had an opportunity to debate the issues that were most pressing to the nation and North Dakotans. In his opening statement, Berg emphasized the duty of this generation to the those that follow. In attempting to secure a bright future for the next generation, Berg promised to fight against Obama’s failed policies and emphasized that North Dakotans should make decisions as to what happens in this states. In his time in office Berg says he has crafted policy that makes North Dakota the economic envy of the nation, simply by living within the states means (Olien). During Heitkamp’s opening statement she told the audience why she got into the race, simply because she found Washington to be a badly broken place, where the politicians care about the party more than they do about the people or moving the country forward. She highlighted how Berg has failed to deliver on promises he made to North Dakotans; he did not end the partisanship or the gridlock in Washington. Heitkamp also exploited Berg’s shortcomings as a politician and said that on important legislation like the Farm Bill Berg was willing to cut funding and he was willing to change Medicare programs to increase payments for retirees, while giving tax breaks to millionaires and those companies who shift jobs oversees (Olien).
The moderator then gave each candidate an opportunity to respond to the role of advertising in this race:
Heitkamp opened by referencing her time as attorney general; she thought that the case of Buckley v Valeo, that essentially equated money to speech, was the end of decent campaign advertising. In an attempt to fight outside monetary influence, Heitkamp asked for more debates so that the candidates could talk about the issues in a format that allows for clear expression. Unfortunately a lot of the advertisements aren’t ones that Berg or Heitkamp paid for and thus skew the publics opinion.
Berg agrees with Heitkamp that the ability to debate is a great way for the candidates to show the public what they truly stand for. He posits that North Dakotans believe in talking one on one, and that this race is simply an issue of government solutions versus individual solutions. He predicted that this election would be decided through grassroots politics and through the dispositions of those individuals who come out on election day. Berg was sure that the public would come out in his favor, and that he had made a positive impact upon the North Dakotan people (Olien).
The next issue discussed was the Farm Bill:
Berg stated that agriculture is the back bone of North Dakota. He utilized his ties to agriculture to show how he is deeply connected to the issue. Berg also mentioned how he challenged leadership in the House to bring a bill to the floor; he says that the nation needs a Farm Bill based on crop insurance and that the Senate bill has many problems; including adding wetlands into crop insurance. One of the biggest issues according to Berg is that people don’t truly know where food comes from. Further, the House Republicans leadership is a problem on the Farm Bill; but Berg has made a deal with the speaker, who promises that he will take up the issue by the end of the year but the challenge in agriculture is that it is an issue out of washington (Olien).
Heitkamp responds to Berg saying that the failure of this Congress is exemplified by the issues surrounding the Farm Bill. The Senate was able to pass an imperfect Farm Bill and when it went to the House it faced gridlock in the Republican party. She asserted that Berg did not really do as much as he could have to move the Farm Bill forward; he did not sign up for the agriculture committee, and mostly democrats were voting on this bill thus showing that Berg did not do enough to influence the Republican party. Heitkamp thinks it is essential to pass a farm bill. Heitkamp comes form a farming community, and knows how critical it is to have crop insurance as a safety net, but she does not think Berg will be able to solve the gridlock. Heitkamp said that at this point we have seen no activity on the Farm Bill and cannot see that an election will solve the gridlock that has fallen on congress (Olien).
Medicare and Social Security:
Heitkamp is most concerned about premium support or providing a voucher for medicare. Everyone under 55 will be handed a voucher and there are real problems in making this system solvent. Berg talks about 12 years of solvency for medicare but studies show that its truly only four years if you repeal the Affordable Care Act. For Heitkamp the system can be improved by negotiating prescription drug prices, giving fraud and abuse out, and taking a look at what we can do to promote wellness. As an anecdote, Heitkamp highlights her work in fighting tobacco companies to show how she has the best interests of north dakotans are heart and will work to promote the wellness of the citizenry. She believes that health care is too important to play politics with the policy and the numbers; we do not need to privatize the system like Berg suggests (Olien).
In rebuttal Berg says Heitkamp is wrong about the 4 year stance and needs to check her facts, thus becoming combative. He says that in 12 years medicare will be bankrupt, but there are two proposals; Obamacare, which takes money out of medicare, will set up an unelected board that will make decisions for seniors or the other alternative is that there is no change for those who are near retirement age but there will be a change for those who are under age 55. For those who have to change their plan there is premium support, which provides citizens with two options at no cost and if you want additional coverage you can pay for it (Olien).
The moderator then asked the candidates about their stance on the Affordable Care Act:
Berg openly stated that he will vote to repeal Obamacare, this is the one clear distinction in this case; he believes that Obamacare is simply a 1.7 trillion dollar take over of the health care industry. The problem with this act is simply that it creates a board of unelected officials and fundamentally puts government between doctors and their patients. He shares an anecdote about a conversation with his wife who is a family practice doctor in order to show his personal connection to the issue. He also stipulates that this bill creates economic uncertainty. Berg supported the Frontier Amendment in 2003 when it was first proposed, but he is not in favor of Obamacare. He states that the act is 2,700 pages long, and that the five things Heitkamp wants to maintain are only ten pages out of those 2,700. Thus proving that it is not worth it to amend this act since it will be an uphill battle (Olien).
Heitkamp stated that as a nation it is integral that we keep preexisting conditions in medical care, it is critical we eliminate the lifetime cap, it is important that we close the doughnut hole, and it is essential that we keep kids on health insurance policies; as this is all part of the healthcare reform. Paying our providers what they’re due is in the frontier states amendment; it is a provision in the affordable care act that equalizes medicare payments back to our producers and back to our providers so we are not all paying the cost of medicare; an issue Heitkamp feels very strongly about. She highlights that Berg voted against this amendment and still does. Berg is telling the public that he will repeal Obamacare because it is a good political slogan; while Heitkamp is willing to work on fixing the affordable care act. She believes there is no reason not to amend it, people should not play politics with our health care (Olien).
Heitkamp has a great plan for Western North Dakota which addresses the issue of infrastructure; her plan would take the money that the federal government is earning from royalties and invest it in infrastructure. The state needs affordable housing, better water systems and better roads so that they can balance agricultural industry with oil industry. Heitkamp stipulates that Berg walked away from making these needed changed (Olien).
Berg believes that we need to support energy as a nation. As a country we need national energy independence, but the problem is that the Senate majority leader Reid, who is against energy, is a hard opponent to defeat. Berg is against regulations that have shut down coal industry, but Reid is for them, thus he stipulates that the problem stems from those in Congress (Olien).
In her closing Heitkamp states that she wants to put partisanship aside, and make a real difference for North Dakota and the Nation. Berg closed by saying he wants to fix North Dakota for the future generations. His goal is to stop washington from incurring too much debt, to stop federal influence in state affairs, and to bring the North Dakotan way to Washing in order to change America
The Outcome of the Debate:
Neither candidate truly stood out as an excellent debater, but it seemed as if Heitkamp won. She managed to rattle Berg and attack him with facts and evidence based upon political decisions he had made in the House. Berg, in response, was forced to become combative and attack back in a less tactful manner. He never truly instigated an attack against Heitkamp and did not bringing up a new topic that would make her appear worse in the public eye; he merely rebuffed things she had said in the debate and attempted to twist her stance against her. Further Berg often slammed his hands on the table while trying to make a point. While this gesticulation punctuated what he was saying it also came across as aggressive and slightly hostile. Meanwhile Heitkamp’s demeanor remained relatively professional and cordial throughout the debate.