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Minnesotans cross party lines in a day of unusual alliances

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ
  • Star Tribune
  • January 23, 2013 - 9:49 PM

WASHINGTON - Sometimes, it takes more than one side to kick the can down the road.

Several Minnesotans broke party ranks Wednesday, as a rare bipartisan House majority went along with a Republican plan to extend the government's debt ceiling for four months, putting off a threatened fiscal crisis until the middle of May.

In a day of unusual alliances, conservative Republican Michele Bachmann joined liberal Democrats Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum in voting against the measure, which passed 285-144.

Meanwhile, rural Minnesota DFLers Collin Peterson, Tim Walz and Rick Nolan were among 86 Democrats who joined 199 Republicans in the majority.

The debt deal proposed by House Speaker John Boehner leaves the $16.4 trillion ceiling where it is, but allows continued borrowing to take place until a new May 18 deadline. The extension doesn't force the immediate spending cuts Republicans sought. But it was dubbed the "No Budget, No Pay Act," because it threatens to withhold House and Senate members' paychecks if they don't approve their budgets by April 15.

"The principle of 'No Budget, No Pay' is simple," said Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen. "If you don't do your job, you don't get paid." Fellow Republican John Kline also sided with the GOP majority.

The White House and Democratic leaders in the Senate have indicated they will go along with the deal, which was opposed by Bachmann and 32 other Republicans. Several national Tea Party groups have lobbied against it on the grounds that it does not tie a debt limit agreement to dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. "Giving the president four months of unlimited borrowing authority without a cap on spending is something I cannot support," Bachmann said.

GOP leaders said the deal gives them time to wrest deep savings in new budget talks, backed up by the automatic spending cuts scheduled for the beginning of March under the terms of the New Year's Day fiscal cliff agreement. Another fiscal pressure point arrives March 27, when current government spending authority expires, creating the possibility of a government shutdown.

In voting with the GOP majority, Peterson, Walz and Nolan went against their own party leaders, who had sought to defeat the proposed debt limit delay. Many House Democrats have resisted making the debt limit a bargaining chip in budget deliberations, and 111 of them voted against the deal. Many of those who supported it were from rural or swing districts.

Nolan, while voting yes, warned that "government by crisis management must end."

Other Minnesota Democrats who split from the party were trying to thread the needle between brinkmanship and fiscal responsibility.

"I'm disappointed that we were not presented with a long-term solution that would give certainty to the world economy," Walz said. But he added, "we must pay bills we already owe, which is why I supported this short-term measure that will allow us to do just that."

Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.

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