MOORHEAD, Minn. - Rep. Collin Peterson and his challenger Dave Hughes clashed over the Republican tax cuts' role in driving up the federal budget deficit, negotiations over the new farm bill and health care in a debate Friday, Oct. 19, on Minnesota Public Radio.
The race is a replay of the 2016 election matchup, in which Peterson, a Democrat, beat Hughes, his Republican challenger, by 16,637 votes.
Hughes argued that his support of Trump's agenda makes him more in tune with the conservative voters of Minnesota's 7th Congressional District. Peterson, who is seeking his 15th term, countered that he has risen to the top of the House Agriculture Committee and has been named the most bipartisan member of Congress, which he said is key to ending gridlock and passing legislation backed by both major parties.
The two candidates disagreed over Trump's trade tariffs, which have sparked retaliatory tariffs that have hit farmers and manufacturers.
Farmers support Trump's tariffs, Hughes said. Although farmers are suffering short-term pain, they see the need to apply pressure against countries including China to obtain fair trade.
"They get it," Hughes said. "They understand what the president is trying to accomplish," adding, however, that the trade disputes must be resolved by this spring.
"I don't see any upside for agriculture in what's being done in China," Peterson said. "I don't see it. I hope I'm wrong. I don't see an upside. I see a downside."
Peterson took aim at the GOP tax cuts, which he said have ballooned the federal deficit, contrary to Republicans' promises.
"We were told, 'Don't worry, it's going to pay for itself,'" Peterson said, though he added that he supported dropping the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Large families will be hurt by the changes in the tax law, he said.
Hughes, a retired Air Force pilot and flight instructor from Karlstad, Minn., said he would have voted for the GOP tax cut.
"I would absolutely voted for it and I'm ready for round two," he said.
When the debate moderator asked him about the impact on the deficit, Hughes said, "I'm absolutely worried about the deficit," adding that budget cuts are needed to bring the budget into balance.
"We've got to rein in spending," Hughes said. "Spending is the key to it."
Peterson, who said he has consistently supported balanced budget amendments, said Congress has shown no resolve on budgetary discipline. "Nobody ever wants to cut spending," he said.
Still, Peterson added, congressional Republican leaders have said they want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to address the deficit he said was caused by tax cuts.
"That's the last thing we should do in this economy," Peterson said.
The GOP has no plan to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits, but does want to end dual payouts, such as receiving disability and unemployment payments at the same time, Hughes said.
Bipartisan consensus is needed to make major changes in Congress, said Peterson, who disputed Hughes' assertion that members of the GOP don't want to cut benefits.
"There are people talking about changing benefits," Peterson said. "Those things are on the table."