Optimism fades for Minnesota lawmakers in Congress

Published 3:41 pm Saturday, April 4, 2015

By Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio News

The good times lasted less than three months.

Minnesota congressional lawmakers from both parties seemed surprisingly optimistic in January after the GOP won the U.S. House and Senate. Some DFLers even believed a new role as the minority in both houses might better position them to work with Republicans.

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Not anymore. Minnesota Democrats and Republicans say the Washington political system, aided by some high profile legislative missteps, is reverting to form.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar

“There has been some progress, but it’s certainly been slower than I would like,” said Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Klobuchar had been among the most upbeat at the start of the session. But now an anti-sex trafficking bill she hoped to pass with Republicans has tied up the Senate after Klobuchar’s office missed an abortion-related provision inserted into the bill by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

It’s put Klobuchar and Democrats in the awkward position of filibustering their own bill, hoping Republicans will back down.

Third District GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen worked on a companion bill in the House without the abortion language and says he’s frustrated.

“I think we can get some more things done,” he said. “I think the trafficking bills that are hung up in the Senate right now, the easiest thing is just to move the House bills — I think that will happen.”

Klobuchar believes the 2016 presidential race is also dampening the hope for bipartisan harmony. As many as four Republican senators could run for president in 2016 and their campaigns are spilling into congressional debates and contributing to the stalled confirmation vote of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, she noted.

Minnesota 2nd District Republican John Kline expected a smooth ride to pass a conservative bill to replace the No Child Left Behind education law with just Republican support. But the bill was pulled from the floor while it was being debated when GOP leaders realized they didn’t have the votes to pass it.

Kline blamed a conservative blog that he says spread misinformation about the bill among new lawmakers. He’s been reaching out to them and hopes for a vote this month.

“I am disappointed that I misjudged the state of understanding of a number of my colleagues that they could be persuaded by this blog that went viral,” Kline said. “Now that they understand, we’re in a lot better position, but we’ll see.”

The House did pass a Homeland Security funding bill, but only after a months-long standoff over immigration. When Speaker John Boehner couldn’t pass a version of the bill favored by Tea Party Republicans, he got the help of Democrats to pass a version that let President Obama’s executive actions on immigration remain in place.

Republican control isn’t working, says 5th District Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison. “They’re not good at governing, they can’t pass anything, and important things that Americans need are just going unaddressed,” he said.

Lawmakers say they are proud of a recent bipartisan vote in the House to rewrite the formula used to pay doctors under Medicare and extend a health insurance program for children. Some see it as a potential template for the next year and a half.

Kline acknowledges that so long as President Obama is in the White House, Republicans will need some measure of Democratic support for their bills.

“We have to recognize,” he said, “that if you’re going to get legislation to the president’s desk that he’s going to sign, at the end of the process somewhere, it’s bipartisan legislation.”