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Published October 11, 2010, 08:55 AM

Pomeroy: ND energy, ag lose clout if he's beaten

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's agricultural and energy interests would lose influence if he's beaten in his race for a 10th term in the U.S. House, Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy said Monday in a debate with Republican challenger Rick Berg.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has supported farm legislation that is favorable to North Dakota, while the House GOP leader, Ohio Republican John Boehner, has fought it, Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy said he has used his spot on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee to support tax breaks for ethanol production and oppose attempts to regulate fracking, an oil production technique widely used in western North Dakota.

Berg said Democratic control of Congress has led to explosive growth in the national debt, approval of costly and intrusive health care legislation and bailouts of the bank and auto industries.

"Seniority is OK. However, if you're going down the wrong path, seniority doesn't work," said Berg, a Fargo property developer and longtime North Dakota state lawmaker.

Berg and Pomeroy's debate, held Monday at a Fargo hotel and broadcast live on radio, was sponsored by the North Dakota Associated Press Broadcasters Association. They are meeting again Friday in Bismarck in a live televised debate sponsored by KFYR-TV of Bismarck and KVLY-TV of Fargo.

Berg called the federal health care legislation, which Pomeroy supported, the pivotal issue in the race between the two men. He argued it will make health insurance more costly in North Dakota and lower the quality of health care in the state.

Pomeroy said a number of North Dakota medical groups favored the legislation and that it would result in higher Medicare payments for state hospitals and health care providers that are needed to keep them in business.

Berg said Pomeroy had avoided holding public town hall meetings to discuss the health care legislation. "There is no other bill or issue that defines this campaign more than this one," he said.

"Clearly, my opponent is going to say, 'We have all these doctor groups supporting it, and the reason they support it is the frontier amendment.' More money. I understand that," Berg said.

However, the legislation "is going to drive up insurance costs for both the group plans and individual plans," Berg said. "Long term, it's going to reduce access, it's going to lower the quality of health care."

Pomeroy said it was "a shameful insult" to medical professionals to imply they backed the federal health care measure for their own gain.

"They stood up for this bill because they want to make sure people have the coverage they need when they need it, that if they're too poor to buy (an insurance policy), they're going to get help," Pomeroy said.

Asked when he had been willing to buck the House's Democratic leadership, Pomeroy referred to his opposition to a House "cap and trade" energy bill that proposed establishing a system for utilities to trade carbon dioxide emission rights.

Berg has been critical of Pomeroy for voting often with Pelosi, and Pomeroy referred to the House speaker on Monday as "not my favorite person."

However, it makes sense for him to vote with Pelosi on some issues, such as farm legislation, Pomeroy said. Boehner, who visited Fargo last month to raise money for Berg, should have visited some farms in the region to get a better understanding of agriculture, Pomeroy said.

Berg said he would be willing to work with Democrats on issues important to North Dakota and that he would help pay to bring Pelosi to North Dakota.

"I'd love it if you brought your leader into Fargo. I haven't seen Speaker Pelosi here," Berg said to Pomeroy, as member of the debate audience laughed. "You ain't gonna, either," Pomeroy replied.

Berg said he did not support efforts in Congress to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Pomeroy, who has voted against lifting the policy, said he wanted to await a Department of Defense study of the issue.

Berg said he wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan once the nation's government has stabilized, and that he disagreed with President Barack Obama's setting a July 2011 date to begin pulling out.

Pomeroy said he supported Gen. David Petraeus' efforts to combat the Afghan Taliban insurgency, but said: "We're not seeing civil society systems jell there in ways we'd hoped."

"We've got to be prepared to accept some hard realities if our experts tell us we are pursuing a futile course," Pomeroy said.

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