WASHINGTON -- Less than 12 hours after President Barack Obama touted an idea to provide free community college to some students, the chairman of the House Education Committee had a message: No new federal programs.
Republican Rep. John Kline, who represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District and is at the helm of the Education Committee, said he wasn't interested in taking on the president's proposal to make community college free. Kline said he didn't agree with the how the White House planned to pay for it -- by increasing capital gains taxes -- and he didn't think a new federal program was the way to move forward.
In his annual address to both chambers of Congress, Obama proposed free community colleges to students on track to graduate and who had good grades. He said higher education was in the nation's interest and helped strengthen the middle class.
"Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy without a load of debt," Obama said.
But Kline noted existing Pell grants and federal financial aid packages were available for low-income students. In Minnesota, 130,048 people were undergraduates at community and technical colleges. Of those 63 percent sought financial aid and about 35 percent were eligible for Pell grants. The average community college tuition in Minnesota is $5,370 a year.
Kline called the idea too lofty and rhetorically questioned why the president stopped at community colleges. "Why not say all college is free?" he said, in a press gathering in his office Wednesday morning.
Kline said his first priority is getting a No Child Left Behind overhaul to the House floor within the next eight weeks. He said he is optimistic, with a Republican-controlled Senate this time, that they could find common ground and send a bill to President Obama this year.
The chairman also noted he wants to reauthorize the higher education act, but that "we can't just create a new program that we can't pay for."
WASHINGTON -- From students to college presidents to business leaders, Minnesota members are bringing a diverse set of guests to tomorrow night's State of the Union address.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar will bring Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State) President Peggy Kennedy.
Sen. Al Franken will bring University of Minnesota Student Body President Joelle Stangler
Rep. Tim Walz, D, First Congressional District will bring Army Ranger Sgt. Thomas Block. He is a Minnesota native and was named Army Times Soldier of the Year for 2014.
Rep. John Kline, R, Second Congressional District -- Staffers did not respond to requests for comment on his guest.
Rep. Erik Paulsen, R, Third Congressional District will bring Minneapolis Police Sergeant Grant Snyder. He is a leader in the Minnesota law enforcement community in combating sex trafficking.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D, Fourth Congressional District will bring Matt Kramer, the president and CEO of the St Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D, Fifth Congressional District will bring Veronica Mendez, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha’s (CTUL) Co-Director.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R, Sixth Congressional District will bring Brenton Hayden, who was named "Young Entrepreneur of the Year" and started his own business at 20 years-old. He is from central Minnesota.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D, Seventh Congressional District gave his extra ticket to North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp so she could bring a couple from her state. The two were among the first responders to a school bus-train crash site last year and helped rescue kids.
Rep. Rick Nolan, D, Eighth Congressional District will bring Sophie Cerkvenik of Britt, Minnesota. Sophie is the daughter of a lobbyist and a senior at Virginia High School.
WASHINGTON - Some of Minnesota's U.S.. House delegation crossed party lines to support a bill to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline Friday.
The Republican-sponsored legislation drew yes votes as expected from Minnesota's GOP representatives John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer. But a majority of the state's five Democratic representatives - Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson - also vote yes. They were among 28 House Democrats who supported the bill, which passed 266-153.
In interviews with the Star Tribune, all three said they preferred to ship heavy crude oil squeezed from the tar sands of Canada by pipeline rather than by rail.
But Walz said the pipeline issue should not foreclose a push for more renewable energy sources.
"When you get mired in these issues that become political litmus tests instead of broader-based solutions, it causes you problems," he said. "What I've always said about Keystone is that the people selling it as pushing your gas prices going down are selling you a bill of goods. But those who say if we don't build Keystone, we will not get tar sands crude - that's not going to happen."
With some tar sands oil already being extracted and much more to come, "the question now is what is the safest way to move it," Nolan said.
Peterson had earlier predicted that President Obama would veto the Keystone bill if it passed the House and Senate. The president renewed that veto threat this week.
"I don't know if there will be enough votes to override a veto," Peterson said.
Democrats Betty McCollum of St. Paul and Keith Ellison of Minneapolis opposed the Keystone XL.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
LAKEVILLE -- Despite Bill Maher, GOP Rep. John Kline feels good.
Kline canvassed neighborhoods here Saturday with state Senate candidate Jon Koznick saying he felt good about his odds of beating Democrat Mike Obermueller.
Kline's 2nd Congressional District was targeted by HBO liberal television host Bill Maher in his "flip a district" contest. Maher targeted Kline's conservative votes and that the bulk of his campaign contributions come from for-profit colleges. Kline is chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
"At a time of frustration and gridlock, I've been able to deliver and get legislation passed. People really like that message because they are frustrated with what they think is gridlock. People have more mistrust in their government than maybe any other time in my lifetime," Kline said, over burgers after canvassing. "I feel like I've been able to convey to them that they can trust me."
Maher visited Northfield in October to tout his "flip a district" contest and why he wanted Kline out. He hasn't been back to Minnesota for any public appearances.
Kline said over the weekend Maher's effort "seems to have fizzled."
"It may have worked in reverse because it turns out I've run into a lot of people who do not like Bill Maher," he said.
Obermueller's message is that Kline is too conservative for the district, which narrowly supported President Barack Obama in 2012. He says Kline's partisanship is to blame for the gridlock in Congress.
"You can't give Congressman Kline a pass on the problems he and his Republican colleagues have caused in Washington DC. Voters have 100% control over their own representation, and they can choose a better representative in November," an Obermueller spokesman said, in a statement.