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Wisconsin Senate Debate: Tommy Thompson, Tammy Baldwin Open To Filibuster Reform

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Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) clashed with Republican Tommy Thompson Friday night in the first Wisconsin Senate debate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) clashed with Republican Tommy Thompson Friday night in the first Wisconsin Senate debate. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON -- The Republican and Democratic candidates for Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seat found a rare area of agreement in Friday's night debate: a willingness to make it easier for legislation to pass the Senate.

Most legislation needs just 51 votes to pass the U.S. Senate. But senators in the minority party have in recent years frequently invoked the threat of a filibuster -- when 60 votes would be needed to force any substantive vote.

"The 60 percent rule in the U.S. Senate should be done away with," said Republican Tommy Thompson, competing for the seat of retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D). "Being able to put a cloture vote in, being able to put a mark in so that somebody doesn't get approved, those are yesterday's procedures. All those procedures in the United States Senate should be modernized so that 52 percent, 51 percent, 50 percent of the people in the Senate can make policy and move this country forward."

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) agreed that "there ought to be real reform in the Senate," although she did not go as far as Thompson in specifically calling for an end to the filibuster. She did, however, say that "members of Congress shouldn't get paid if they don't pass a budget."

In an interview with The Huffington Post in June, Baldwin expressed an openness to reforming the filibuster.

"I've been following a number of the suggestions that have been offered up by a number of senators seeking reform and think that a number of those options are very sensible," Baldwin said then. "I don’t want to ever preclude the U.S. Senate from being able to have thoughtful and comprehensive debates on weighty matters. But I think there is a way where you could reduce the number of votes required to bring a measure forward the longer it’s been pending in the Senate."

Both candidates also called for the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan, with Baldwin arguing that it would help pay down the national debt.

But beyond that, the two candidates agreed on little and offered starkly different policy prescriptions.

"I think it's important we have a balanced approach to moving our economy forward, as well as paying down our national debt," Baldwin said. "It's why I believe we should get out of Afghanistan and end corporate subsidies to big oil ... It's why we should get rid of Tommy Thompson's sweetheart deal for the drug companies that cost us so dearly."

Baldwin said she believes the U.S. tax system is unfair, and she called for ending loopholes and deductions that encourage the outsourcing of jobs, as well as the rule on "carried interest" that allows hedge fund managers to receive compensation at a tax rate far less than ordinary income.

"That's why we see the presidential candidate on the Republican side paying such low taxes," Baldwin said, taking a dig at GOP nominee Mitt Romney. "We have to get rid of them to be fair for America."

Thompson argued that the national debt could be paid down without raising any taxes, and he reiterated his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act. Thompson served as President George W. Bush's Health and Human Services secretary.

When asked whether there was anything in Obamacare worth maintaining, Thompson replied, "No. ... We have to do away with the Affordable Care Act, then we can put in things like making sure that the individuals are going to be able to be covered. Pre-existing illness can be taken care of."

Democrats have been hammering Thompson recently for telling a Tea Party group in June that he wants to "do away with the Medicare and Medicaid."

Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and one of the state's best-known political figures, has been lagging behind Baldwin recently in polls.

The candidates are set to face off in two more debates before the election.

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