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McCain's Hudson audience ranged from local 'royalty' to widows

Off-shore drilling, nuclear energy, the cost of health care, illegal immigration and the value of cooperation were among the topics as Sen. John McCain met with several hundred women Friday morning.

The event, hosted by J& L Steel Erectors in Hudson's St. Croix Business Park, was billed as a "women only" event limited to 500 people. But a sprinkling of men attended, and when the 500 seats were filled, at least 100 latecomers stood in back.

"I learn more, gain more, from these encounters than you do," said McCain, 71, of his question-and-answer sessions. "It's the most fun and informative thing I've ever done in my life."

McCain, accompanied by his wife Cindy, fielded about a dozen questions, all but one from women in an audience that ranged from little girls clutching teddy bears and dolls to a contingent of local "royalty" wearing tiaras to business leaders to white-haired retirees.

"You put your finger on the problem," McCain told a woman who complained that because Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates haven't increased in over a decade, higher costs are shifted to other patients.

"It's not the quality of health care in Wisconsin or America that's the problem, it's the cost of health care," said McCain. He is proposing reforming the tax code to offer every family a $5,000 "direct refundable tax credit" to offset the cost of insurance. Under the proposal, a family could choose an insurance provider and the money would be sent to the provider.

McCain also praised and supported fitness programs, led by athletes, to help encourage American school children to get in shape.

"Our borders are broken," agreed McCain, saying that Congress has skirted its responsibility for the problem of illegal immigration. In 1986 the federal government granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and promised to secure its borders, but it didn't follow through and today there are an estimated 12 million illegal aliens, said McCain.

He suggested developing "tamper-proof biometric devices" to serve as temporary work visas for aliens. Anyone who employed a worker without that documentation should be prosecuted to the extent of the law, said McCain.

"That will help dry up the movement of people -- if they know when they get here, they can't get a job."

As a partial answer to energy costs and shortages, McCain is proposing building 45 new nuclear power plants, which he said would create 700,000 new jobs.

"Americans are smart," said McCain. "They know what we have to do, and they know nuclear power is safe."

In response to a question about permitting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, McCain said he would first support off-shore drilling.

Every year, said McCain, the United States sends "$700 billion of our money overseas to countries that don't like us very much."

That's dangerous, he said, suggesting instead an increased reliance on wind, solar, hydro and nuclear power to make the country independent of foreign oil.

She's tired of hearing about a plethora of crises, said a Minnesotan, who had driven from Minneapolis and at 5:40 a.m. was the first person in the parking lot for the town meeting.

"What can you tell me that will help me vote for you?" she asked, adding that she is tired of seeing money spent on a war when there are so many things that need fixing at home.

"What it really comes down to is what Americans want us to do," responded McCain.

He said fixing the Social Security system, unfunded Medicare liabilities and high fuel prices aren't partisan issues.

"My point is I have a proven record of reaching across the aisle," said McCain. "Sometimes I have not succeeded ... but at least we sat down together."

Also, said McCain, he proved that he puts his country, his friends and fellow soldiers ahead of self interest when he refused an early release offer from a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

"I had the opportunity to not put my country first, and I have not done that," he said.

His goal is to get America moving again, said McCain of his economic policies.

The role of government, he said, is to unleash the energy of the American people.

"Senator Obama wants to raise your taxes. I won't," said McCain. "When you raise taxes in a bad economy, you eliminate jobs, and I'm not going to let that happen."

Government has grown by 60 percent in the last eight years, said McCain, promising a "stem to stern review of government."

"I will veto every single bill with wasteful spending," he promised.

"I have never asked for or received a single pork barrel program for my state," said McCain, who has represented Arizona in Congress since 1982.

People don't want more government, McCain told his audience.

"All you've ever asked of government it that it stand on your side, not in your way," he said.