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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press
North Dakota Republican U.S. House candidate Shane Goettle, one of five people who are running for the GOP House endorsement next year, speaks during a debate on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011, at Valley City State University in Valley City, N.D. Other candidates, from left, are West Fargo state Rep. Kim Koppelman; Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk; Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer; and Fargo state Rep. Bette Grande. North Dakota GOP convention delegates will choose their favored House candidate during the party's convention in Bismarck in March 2012.

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Five Republican candidates for North Dakota's lone seat in the U.S. House argued about raising the federal debt ceiling and which federal agency should be abolished during their first debate Wednesday night.

Former North Dakota Commerce Department director Shane Goettle, Fargo state Rep. Bette Grande, Public Service Commissioners Kevin Cramer and Brian Kalk, and West Fargo state Rep. Kim Koppelman met on a theater stage at Valley City State University.

Asked which federal agency they would eliminate if they had power to do so, Cramer, Grande and Koppelman named the Department of Education, while Kalk favored abolishing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Goettle did not name an agency but said he supported consolidating federal programs and eliminating White House policy "czar" positions.

Koppelman, Grande and Kalk said they opposed Congress' decision last summer to raise the federal debt ceiling, while Cramer and Goettle argued that some sort of deal had been necessary to head off the consequences of a federal debt default.

The five candidates were critical of a new federal health care law, supported by President Barack Obama and approved by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010, with all but Cramer saying they would vote to repeal it.

Cramer did not say he supported outright repeal, although he called the legislation "a bad idea" and "a lack of freedom." The federal measure, Cramer said, was prompted by soaring health costs and serious problems in the nation's health-care system.

"We have a problem to solve," Cramer said. "It got out of hand. People were upset."

About 100 people attended the debate. It was moderated by conservative Fargo radio talk host Chris Berg.

North Dakota Republican convention delegates will choose their favored U.S. House candidate at their state convention in March in Bismarck.

They're battling to take the place of incumbent Republican Rep. Rick Berg, who is running for the U.S. Senate.