Noem, Varilek clash on taxes, MedicarePIERRE (AP) — South Dakota's middle class — and who best understands their plight and is best equipped to address their hopes and fears — was front and center Thursday during a spirited debate between candidates for the state's lone U.S. House seat.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota's middle class — and who best understands their plight and is best equipped to address their hopes and fears — was front and center Thursday during a spirited debate between candidates for the state's lone U.S. House seat.
Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem said her challenger, Matt Varilek, is out of touch with people in the rural state and charged that he supports raising taxes on the middle class, cutting Medicare funding to support President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, and imposing a tax on energy that would cripple the economy.
Varilek accused Noem of abandoning middle-class South Dakotans by supporting tax policies that he said protect the wealthy, backing changes to Medicare that he argued would hurt many retirees, and failing to get a new farm bill passed.
The candidates for the state's lone seat in the U.S. House clashed on many issues in Thursday night's debate, which was televised statewide by South Dakota Public Broadcasting.
They frequently accused one another of making false claims in the campaign.
Noem, 40, a former state lawmaker from Castlewood, said her background as a farmer and small-business owner gives her insight into how federal laws and regulations affect South Dakotans as she serves as South Dakota's only House member.
"We need to have that one voice in the House of Representatives be a fighter, be someone who cares passionately about it, who's one of us, who's lived a normal, everyday life like everybody else here in South Dakota," Noem said.
"I'm that person," she added.
Varilek, 37, of Sioux Falls, a former member of Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson's staff, said he grew up in a low-income family and worked to get through college.
"When I talk about being a voice for the middle-class families and working people, for me that's not a position, but my passion because of the life I've lived and who we are in this state full of middle-class people," Varilek said.
Noem repeated her claim that Varilek supports Obama's tax and health care policies, which she said would hurt people in the heavily Republican state.
The Republican congresswoman said the president's health care plan robs $716 billion from Medicare to pay for other parts of the health overhaul. She said she supports a plan that would give retirees a choice of traditional Medicare or subsidized private health insurance.
Varilek said the $716 billion represents planned savings in Medicare that would not harm benefits, and he said Noem has voted for a proposal that would privatize the health care plan for retired people, forcing them to pay an average of $6,400 a year more for health care.
Some of the sharpest exchanges came in discussions of tax policy, as Varilek criticized Noem for supporting tax plans he said that would protect millionaires and oil companies.
"We've got someone standing up for the Donald Trumps, Warren Buffetts and Paris Hiltons of the world," the Democrat said.
Varilek said he supports ending Bush-era tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000 a year. A combination of those tax increases and spending cuts could cut the deficit while preserving crucial education programs, he said.
Noem said she opposes any tax increases until the tax system is overhauled to rid it of loopholes and exemptions. Varilek's support for a tax increase on those earning more than $250,000 would hit many small businesses, causing them to cut 2,200 jobs in South Dakota, she said.
Noem said Varilek has supported a plan to tax excess energy that would devastate South Dakota businesses and farms.
Varilek scoffed at the charge, saying: "The problem is this attack is false."
Varilek repeated his allegations that Noem has failed in her two years in the House to break congressional gridlock and get a farm bill passed. He has criticized her for missing many meetings of the House Agriculture Committee.
Noem said she has a 99 percent voting record in committees and attended many meetings that Varilek has accused her of skipping.
"It's just simply a smear campaign," she said.