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 -- Rep.-elect Tom Emmer is staffing his DC and Minnesota offices with Bachmann-ites.
Emmer, a Republican taking over representation of the Sixth Congressional District after Rep. Michele Bachmann's departure, announced Tuesday that seven of the 13 new staffers hired for his offices were previously working for the congresswoman.
"These individuals offer impressive backgrounds, years of experience, and strong Minnesota ties that will be vital to best serving my constituents," said Emmer, in a statement.
The congressman gets sworn in, along with the rest of the 114th Congress, next week.
Among his new hires:
Robert Boland, senior adviser in Washington, D.C. Previously, Boland served as chief of staff and legislative director to Bachmann.
Jason Frye, legislative director. Previously, Frye was a military legislative assistant to Bachmann.
Mikayla Hall, deputy communications director. She was previously Bachmann's press secretary.
Kevin Wysocki, senior legislative assistant. Wysocki was Bachmann's senior legislative assistant and worked himself up from an internship.
Barbara Harper, constituent services director. She worked in this same role for Bachmann for the past eight years.
Montgomery Pace, scheduler. Pace was an intern last year in Bachmann's office.
Caitlin Fontaine, staff assistant. Fontaine was an intern in Bachmann's office last year.
Additional hires include Becky Alery, who was a spox for GOP Senate candidate Mike McFadden, who lost to Sen. Al Franken in November. Alery is the communications director and will be based in D.C. Karen Miller, deputy district director in Emmer's Minnesota office.
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.
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.