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.
Incoming U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer will serve on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs Committees in the U.S. House, his campaign announced Tuesday.
"I'm very excited to serve the Sixth District on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees. The work of a representative is to advocate for their district, something I expect to be very busy doing with these assignments," Emmer said in a statement. "I’m looking forward to meeting my committee members and working together to serve our constituents."
Next year, Emmer will replace retiring U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in representing Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District. Bachmann served on the Financial Services Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Minnesota has long had representation on the Agriculture Committee. Seventh District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has chaired it and, more recently, served as it's ranking Democrat. This year both U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan and Tim Walz serve on the committee as well.
Photo: U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer on election night with his wife, Jacquie//Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
WASHINGTON -- The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America on Friday backed Democratic Rep. Tim Walz to be the highest ranking Democrat on the House Veteran's Affairs Committee.
Walz sought the endorsement from the IAVA -- known to be the more brash, younger veterans service organization, outspoken on VA systemic failures and veterans suicide.
"Mr. Walz, having served for 24 years in the Army National Guard, is the highest ranking enlisted service member to ever serve in Congress, and his military experience has and will continue to significantly enhance the caucus’s contributions to this Committee," the organization said, in a statement. "He has been intimately involved in helping pass legislation to improve care to wounded veterans, to help veterans seeking employment after they leave service, and to eliminate the red tape."
Walz faces a tough battle in his bid to be ranking member of the VA committee primarily because seniority politics often rule in these situations. He is running against the committee's most senior Democrat, Florida Rep. Corinne Brown, who has been on the committee for 22 years and is supported by Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
Walz, who served in the Army National Guard in active duty during the recent wars, is stressing service and experience in a legion of lobbying calls and meetings he's having with his colleagues this week on Capitol Hill.
He said in an interview Thursday that there is an opportunity to transform the VA from the top bottom strategically.
"I'm trying to make the case that the problem with the VA was that it was simply putting one foot in front of the other without a strategic plan," he said. "I'm making the case that the hard day-to-day issues ... including veterans suicide ... can be solved if we build coalitions with providers."
Walz, who has served on the committee since 2007, has been outspoken on veterans suicide and on behalf of those suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The committee vote will be held with secret ballots among the Democratic caucus should be held in the next week or two.
WASHINGTON -- Fresh off a re-election win, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz is taking on the party establishment in asking for support to be the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Seniority is a big factor in leading committees in Congress, which means Walz's quest will be an uphill battle. Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi is backing the most senior Democrat on the committee, Florida Rep. Corinne Brown.
Walz, a 50-year-old retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard who just won his fifth term, says he has a keen idea and track record of understanding what veterans need. He has served on the VA committee since 2007 and said the current system was "in crisis."
In a letter Walz sent to fellow House Dems late last week, he said caring for men and women in uniform and their families "has been my number one priority since being elected to the House of Representatives."
Walz cited fighting the scourge of veteran suicide, ensuring veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins receive appropriate care and benefits, and enhancing mental health services to veterans suffering from PTSD as accomplishments.
"Our VA system is in crisis and now, more than ever, Democrats need a strong, respected voice to address these problems head on," he wrote.
Walz's office said Monday the congressman was unavailable for an interview on this topic. Members of Congress return Wednesday to finish work through December before the new Congress starts January.
Walz's primary opponent, Rep. Brown, has served on the VA committee for 22 years.
In a competing letter she also wrote to fellow Dems last week, Brown cited bringing a new VA outpatient clinic to her district and bringing "tens of millions of dollars in funding for the Gainesville VA Medical Center" as reason she should be chosen over Walz.
If selected, Brown would be the first African-American to serve as ranking member of the committee, she said in the letter.
Members vote on committee leadership posts in the next couple weeks.
In a letter sent to Democrats on Monday, Pelosi said seniority should not be the only factor in choosing leaders.
"There was enormous respect for the senior Member, but our colleagues viewed seniority as a consideration not a determination," she wrote.
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