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Area reps look for elusive common ground

Congressmen Jim Ramstad and Maartin Sabo kept it civil at St. Stehen Lutheran’s June forum in bloomi

They’re slugging it out in Washington, D.C., and at the statehouse in St. Paul. Battle lines are drawn and partisans are giving no quarter. In the process, points are being scored but a lot of needed legislation isn’t getting passed.
In the midst of the flying rhetoric, one Twin Cities Lutheran congregation decided to try to find ways to get to “common ground.” St. Ste-phen Lutheran Church, 84th and France, Bloomington, Minnesota, hosted on June 6 the first in what is intended to be a series of respectful dialogues. On deck for this first round were two metro area U.S. congressmen, Republican Jim Ramstad and Democrat Martin Sabo.
If the program planners wanted civility, they asked the right pair. Ramstad and Sabo are good friends, both native North Dakotans, and both concerned about gridlock in congress.
Addressing a group of over 250 in St. Stephen Church’s worship center, Ramstad approached the assigned topic, “Ending Poverty,” saying, “We need to address problems facing our nation in a bipartisan way. Poverty is a key issue. Both Republicans and Democrats need a great big dose of civility.” He told the group, most of whom were his constituents, “I opposed proposed Medicare cuts favored by President Bush. I also opposed cuts for affordable housing.”
Taking issue with Sabo’s position, Ramstad said, “I believe the best anti-poverty tool is a good job.” He said Minnesota has 8,000 homeless people and he wants to help them find self-sufficiency.
Sabo said, “When I was growing up, ‘poor’ and ‘elderly’ were synonymous. That has changed.” He credited the social security program and other social programs for rescuing millions of poor people in the U.S. He said, “When it comes to addressing poverty, I think it’s hard to find a good substitute for money.” He identified the stability of families and education as critical related issues.
During the question period both men were asked whether recent tax cuts for wealthy Amer-icans were wise policy. Said Ramstad, “But for the tax cuts to stimulate the economy we would have lost two million more jobs. Alan Greenspan and I agree about that.”
But Sabo responded, “We were heading for paying off the deficit until the Republi-can tax cuts began to phase in. I was amazed how little tax cuts and massive spending did to create new jobs.”
One questioner wanted to know whether the federal government should require companies to live up to their obligations to retired people whose pensions they’ve de-cided not to fund.
Said Sabo, “There is a pension guarantee fund into which companies pay premiums. We may have to raise the level of the premiums.”
Ramstad said, “The fund won’t cover 100% of what was promised. If the airlines default, Ford and General Motors could be close behind. Then we’d be facing a debacle. We need to guarantee payment of as much of what was promised as is possible.”
Concerning universal health care, Sabo said it would cost money but it would probably save more than it costs. “Nixon tried a plan. It was defeated. Clinton tried again. It didn’t happen.”
He praised Minnesota Care, calling it a unique program. “Minnesota’s percentage of uninsured for health care is the lowest in the nation. It would be a tragedy to scale it back. If anything, it should be expanded.”
Ramstad described a plan President Bush had put forth for refundable tax credits allowing individuals to buy basic health coverage. “It would get people out of emergency rooms,” he said, adding, “I wish the president would spend a third of the time he spends talking about social security to promote a health care plan for all.”
Showing his independent streak, Ramstad took issue with the current administration on importing drugs from Canada. “He’s just wrong about that,” he said. “There’s no danger in it, and no excuse for not doing it.”
Sabo challenged Bush’s approach to health care, saying, “He wants coverage through individual plans. That’s too expensive. We need a group-plan approach.”
Both men admitted the current growing deficit is a problem. Ramstad said a growing economy will help reduce it, but Sabo said, “It’s projected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future.”
In a moment of levity, the moderator, retired ELCA Bishop Lowell Erdahl said, “You two can just call me Lowell.” Ramstad, reflecting his Roman Catholic piety, said, “If my mother heard me addressing a bishop by his first name, she’d roll over in her grave.” Said Sabo, “I was raised in the Lutheran Free Church. If my mother heard me address a pastor as ‘bishop,’ she’d roll over in her grave!”
For more information, visit www.CommonGroundMN.org.