The bank bailout debate has stoked the acrimony between Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and his Democratic challenger, Al Franken, not that they needed any more ammunition in their virtually tied Minnesota battle.
The two have sparred on Franken’s insistence that the plan freeze home foreclosures and allow bankruptcy judges to reset mortgages on primary residences, which Coleman contends would lead to higher interest rates, according to an Associated Press report.
The Franken for Senate Web site ties Coleman to President George Bush’s policies, saying: “How much have Norm Coleman and George Bush’s giveaways to the special interests cost us?
Franken’s site tallies $17 billion in tax breaks to oil companies, as well as $40 billion to companies “that ship our jobs overseas, $300 billion to the drug companies — Coleman and Bush have increased the national debt to over $9 trillion, and Coleman wants to spend a trillion more to privatize Social Security.
“Norm Coleman has stuck with George Bush . . . and stuck it to Minnesota.
“If we’ve learned anything during the Bush-Coleman era, it’s that when we hand over tax dollars to these folks, we’d better get a receipt. Al Franken has a plan that makes sure Minnesota homeowners aren’t left holding a $700 billion bill to fix Wall Street’s mistake.”
For his part, Coleman has chosen a more upbeat, positive approach to the financial proposal, which some describe as a bailout and others, a rescue.
“If the plan is done right, it’s very clear to say that the taxpayers can expect that the investment that they make will be protected,” Coleman says. “This really is a time for statesmanship and leadership and not partisan bickering.”
The latter dig at Franken’s statesmanship — or lack of it — has been a recurring theme in the Coleman offensive in this fight, which now stands at a dead heat in the polls.
Meanwhile, funnyman Franken couldn’t resist a humorous hook as he begged for cash from MoveOn.org supporters. MoveOn.org sent a letter to supporters Sunday pleading for money for the Democratic candidates.
“It’s not enough to merely win this election,” Franken says. “We’ve got to win big. Great — I can tell from your nodding head that you agree. Now, let's make it happen — by helping three champs win tight, crucial races: Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Larry Kissell of North Carolina, and, ahem, Al Franken of Minnesota.
“I’m not asking for $700 billion — just $10, $25, or whatever you can spare.”
As refreshing as it is to have the two political scrappers wrestle with a real issue like the bailout, the clash of two strong personalities remains the prime focus of the battle royal.
Most recently, the Coleman campaign has been bashing a quirky Franken ad in which the comedian and former “Saturday Night Live” regular pokes fun at his own history of politically incorrect vitriol: “As Angry Al Franken continues his campaign of deception — trying to cover for his failure to pay taxes in at least 18 states for five years and unwillingness to let his CPA give honest and truthful answers about Franken’s questionable business activities, his campaign launched a new ad campaign attacking its own candidate’s jokes about rape.
Cullen Sheehan, campaign manager for Coleman for Senate, said, “While Minnesotans have known and said for quite awhile that Al Franken’s jokes about drugging and raping women are outrageous and indefensible, it’s good to know that Franken’s campaign is finally acknowledging that its own candidate should be ashamed for his comedy routines.
As Democrats and Republicans work together to solve the financial crisis, Sheehan said, “Franken reminded us of his 30-year career of attacks, partisanship and vulgar comedy is yet another example of Al Franken not being capable of finding common ground to the challenges facing our nation.”
For his part, Franken has been traveling the state pounding home the message, among others, that Coleman, who was chairman of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations from 2003 to 2007, failed to investigate profiteering in the Iraq war.
“Norm Coleman was the Senate's oversight czar, and he did nothing while at least $15 billion in taxpayer money went missing,” Franken said recently, according to a report in the Star Tribune.
Franken contends that Coleman did not convene hearings on waste and fraud during the war, “at the bidding of the White House.”
But in the rapid-fire quid pro quo that has been a hallmark of this political battle, Coleman’s campaign fired back with high-profile investigations the committee initiated during Coleman’s tenure, including: Exposing corruption in the United Nations Oil-for-Food program. Investigators with Coleman's committee discovered more widespread profiteering by the executed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime than initially thought. Several investigations centered on identifying federal contractors who weren't paying taxes owed to the federal government, including: about 27,000 Defense Department contractors that owed about $3 billion in unpaid taxes; about 33,000 federal contractors for civilian agencies that owed $3.3 billion in unpaid taxes; and about 3,800 contractors for the General Services Administration that owed $1.4 billion in unpaid taxes. An audit found that Defense Department officials spent up to $60 million in taxpayer funds on first-class airline tickets, despite government travel guidelines restricting the use of premium tickets.
The stage is set for the candidates to spar freely during in their forthcoming debates.
Franken, Coleman and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley will meet for their first fall debate in two weeks, followed by four others before the Nov. 4 election.
The first debate will take place Oct. 5 in Rochester, followed by one in the Twin Cities on Oct. 11 and one in Duluth on Oct. 16.
The fourth debate, on Oct. 24, will be telecast on Twin Cities Public Television. Minnesota Public Radio will broadcast the final debate, on Nov. 2, from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
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