With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

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Rep. Kline optimistic on education reform, calls torture report 'purely partisan'

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: December 15, 2014 - 3:56 PM

Fresh off the close of the 2014 Congressional session, Minnesota Rep. John Kline said Monday that he expects more legislation to smoothly pass in Washington with a Republican-led House and Senate next year, including initiatives for education reform.

Kline, a Republican representing Minnesota’s Second District, sat down with reporters before taking a holiday break.  The veteran Congressman was optimistic about 2015, saying a new GOP majority in the session will likely bring a sea change by allowing more bills to the floor.

“The Republicans are determined to overuse the term ‘Regular Order,’ Kline said. “I expect to see a very different process where legislation will move, contrary to the past six years.”

‘Purely Partisan’
He called last week’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report that alleging torture against alleged terrorists “purely partisan.”

“This is created by Senate Democrat staffers to criticize the CIA and previous administration,” Kline said. “There may be things that are true concerning torture, and maybe not, but I don’t like a one-party report. There’s not one Republican drop of ink in that report.”

Torture, he said, “Should not be a partisan issue. We should not give (this report) objective credibility.”

Education reform
Kline, who cruised to a seventh term last month, will continue chairing the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Along with his Senate counterpart Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Kline said his first priority is replacing No Child Left Behind and reducing the role of the federal government in K-12 education. Whatever the new act is called, the name “No Child Left Behind” is history.

 “You can count on that,” he said.

Key components for reform will be reallocating money to fund special education, which he said is currently underfunded by half. Kline said they’ve set an ambitious timeline, getting the bill through committee by February and ideally passing it by summer. Beyond that, he said, the presidential campaigns begin their full swing, making it more difficult to pass legislation.

In higher education, Kline also said they’d like to simplify student loans and grants, while creating transparency about the true costs of college.

While Kline said he has a good working relationship with Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, he didn’t’ pull punches when referring to President Obama.

“I just think this White House is more inept and less functional than anything I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

Kline and GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen were the only two members of the entire Minnesota delegation who supported the continuing resolution to fund the federal government, which passed the House last week and the Senate over the weekend. Kline said he would rather vote on each of the appropriations bills separately, rather than a giant omnibus that funded all but the Department of Homeland Security through Sept. 30.

Kline said he had little opposition to the bill, other than that he believes Department of Defense cuts were too deep given the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Kline disagrees with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, saying “I think we’re going to have to show a greater presence on the ground at some point.”

Eye toward the future
Kline declined to say whether he would consider running for an eighth term in two years.
“Anybody can step away anytime,” he said, adding that at this point he has no plans to leave his seat.

Kline also said it too early to say which Republican he would back for a presidential run, and acknowledged the field would likely be large. Generally speaking, he said he would prefer the executive experience of a governor over a candidate who serves as Senator.

Primary problems
Turning an eye toward Minnesota, Kline mulled over why it’s so hard for Republican candidates to win statewide races.
“Dare I say Minneapolis?” he said, noting that GOP candidates who fare well outstate are often beaten in the metro. Kline said that a late primary process does candidates no favors when they must spend the duration of the summer facing off against one another instead of their Democratic opponents.

Delegation members get last minute victories before Congress' end

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: December 11, 2014 - 1:40 PM

WASHINGTON -- Amid the big debates this week to keep the federal government running, three Minnesota Democrats were relishing smaller victories in the final hours of the 113th Congress. 

Rep. Betty McCollum got her Global Food Security Act passed late Wednesday. Rep. Keith Ellison got the Federal Housing Finance Agency to agree to $700 million a year to create affordable rental housing units. And Rep. Tim Walz was hoping the Senate would pass his veterans suicide prevention bill and send it to the president's desk. 

-McCollum's bipartisan Global Food Security Act, introduced by Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, directs the president to develop a strategy to improve nutrition and strengthen agricultural development with an eye on international aid. Minnesota's biggest food companies, including Cargill and General Mills, were supporters.

-The Federal Housing Finance Agency committed to more than $700 million more to construct affordable rental housing. Ellison's office had been pushing the federal agency to shift resources after learning there was at least an 8 million unit shortage across the country.

-Walz was working across the chamber Thursday to get the Senate to pass his Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, named after a Marine who committed suicide after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. The House passed the measure earlier this week. The Senate moved to pass it through a manuever called unanimous consent. It was unclear whether that maneuver would work before Congress left town at the end of this week. White House officials said the president would sign the bill if it hit his desk.

Rep. Collin Peterson among few Dems supporting measure condeming president's executive action

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: December 4, 2014 - 5:54 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Collin Peterson was among only three Democrats Thursday who supported a symbolic vote banning the executive branch from deferring deportation of undocumented immigrants -- a direct aim at President Barack Obama's November executive order on immigration.

The vote was not attached to any measure to fund the federal government to the chagrin of some Republicans including Rep. Michele Bachmann. She skipped the vote Thursday. Republican Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen both supported the measure. The Dems all voted against it.

"I just disagreed with the way the president handled it," Peterson said, a couple hours after the vote. "I just think it's going to poison the well so we won't get anything else done."

He noted Thursday's measure was "imperfect" and "mostly symbolic."

Peterson, who was a Republican target last month in his Republican-leaning Seventh Congressional District, takes pride in brokering deals with the other side of the aisle to accomplish legislation.

He often notes the farm bill, which he nursed for years, picked up votes from both GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

"I don't think this (immigration) should be done with executive orders,"  he said. "Especially when it caused commotion on the other side. I think it's going to make it very difficult to get anything else done."

Rep. Keith Ellison the lone Minnesota vote against tax extenders

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: December 3, 2014 - 5:43 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Keith Ellison was the only Minnesota House member Wednesday to vote against extending for one year more than 50 expired tax credits for special interests, individuals and businesses.

The tax-extenders package, which gives breaks for 2014, costs $44 billion a year and isn't "paid for" which means it contributes to the national debt. It includes a range of boons for both liberals and conservatives including tax breaks for state and local sales taxes paid and breaks for renewable fuels, wind production and medical research. The measure overwhelmingly passed the House Wednesday and heads to the Senate for a vote next week.

Ellison, a Democrat from Minneapolis, said in a statement Wednesday night he voted against it because it helps corporate America more than working America.

"The bill passed today does little for working families, but lots for corporations already booking big profits," he said.

Bachmann urges Congress to defund Obama's immigration action

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: December 3, 2014 - 12:38 PM

WASHINGTON -- Calling President Barack Obama "lawless," Rep. Michele Bachmann said Wednesday that he had forgotten the voters' mandate a month ago and urged her colleagues to support a spending bill that would defund the implementation of his executive action on immigration reform.

"I want to know, have members of this body in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate forgotten the message that the American people loud and clear and unmistakably on Nov. 4?" Bachmann said. "Secure our borders, keep our families safe, uphold the laws of the land ... We stand in solidarity with the American worker and the American people and we are going to uphold ... the laws of the land."

The retiring congresswoman from the Sixth Congressional District shared a microphone outside the Capitol Wednesday with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, among others. The gatherings had the trappings of a small Tea Party rally, with several people dressed in period clothing and carrying "Don't Tread on Me" flags.

Bachmann's message arrives at a time House and Senate leaders are trying to hammer out a plan to fund the federal government through next September. Senate Democrats are hoping for a "clean" spending bill that doesn't defund any aspect of the federal government, which technically runs out of money Dec. 11. GOP House Speaker John Boehner earlier this week indicated support for a clean bill, as well, but he vowed they would take a closer look at the president's executive action on immigration next year.

Cruz urged Congress to use its "power of the purse" to defund the president's plan. Several people stood by and yelled "monarchy!" in chorus and said they think Obama has overstepped his bounds. 

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