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WASHINGTON – Will Minnesota Republicans John Kline and Erik Paulsen join the Tea Party’s push for a government shutdown over health care? Will Minnesota Democrats Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson write President Obama a blank check?
Those are the partisan talking points emanating from the national political parties as Minnesotans contemplate doing without an array of federal services if a government funding deal isn’t done by Monday night.
Even as the Senate moved forward Wednesday with a temporary spending bill, politicians and their allies on both sides of the health care battle are taking advantage of the budget stalemate to rally their supporters, score political points and raise campaign cash for 2014.
The partisan frenzy was fueled by a rare filibuster-like overnight speech by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican Tea Party hero from Texas.
The standoff comes even as other senators, including Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, have downplayed the possibility of a government shutdown over GOP efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature health care law.
Even without a temporary government funding deal, federal authorities say the mail and Social Security checks could be delivered. So would “essential” services such as medical care at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center.
Minnesota has less of a federal footprint than most other states, but Democrats warn that a government shutdown could delay military paychecks and some Social Security benefits. A shutdown would also be felt by fall visitors to Minnesota’s five national parks and recreation areas.
Those hit most directly could be the state’s 18,359 federal workers, many of whom could be ordered off the job.
“Some of these people live paycheck to paycheck, so try telling your landlord that you don’t have money to pay your rent,” said Jane Nygaard, a retired Department of Veterans Affairs nurse and national vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees’s 8th District, which covers Minnesota.
The state impact could be lessened by exemptions on “essential” government workers, such as air traffic controllers, prison guards and border patrol agents. According to Nygaard, more than half of the federal workforce is considered essential.
In past shutdowns, lawmakers have voted to reimburse workers’ pay. But there is no guarantee, especially in the current polarized Congress. “The majority of federal workers will be expected to work, and not get paid,” said Nygaard, who went without pay in the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s.
Large federal contractors, including the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, also are keeping an eye on the flow of research dollars from Washington. But officials say the impact would only be felt in a protracted shutdown.
Racing to 2014
Whether or not a shutdown can be averted by Monday’s deadline — which also marks the beginning of the enrollment period under Obamacare, as it’s known — both sides in Congress are hoping to salvage some political dividends.
That includes setting the stage for potentially competitive races in next year’s congressional elections in Minnesota. Democrats have exploited Republican divisions by pressuring GOP lawmakers on whether to keep the government open without conditions.
In Minnesota, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has attacked Kline and Paulsen, suburban Republicans in swing districts.
Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has targeted Nolan and Peterson, Democrats who represent rural northern and western Minnesota districts. The GOP attacks link Nolan and Peterson to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Obama’s “unrestrained power to waste money and borrow from China.”
But with the clock ticking, the fight has come down to the Republicans’ efforts to defund Obamacare, either as part of the government funding measure that comes due on Monday or as part of the debt-limit debate looming in mid-October.
With Obama and the Democratic-led Senate dead set against defunding the controversial health care law to keep the government open, House Republicans likely will have to decide over the weekend whether they will vote for a temporary funding measure without strings attached.
Both Kline and Paulsen backed spending and debt-limit measures in 2011 that averted showdowns and financial crises. Like other Republicans in Congress, Kline has said he has no interest in shutting down the government, pointing to last week’s House vote that fully funded the government while defunding Obamacare.
But Democrats argue that tying the 2010 health care law to a broader funding agreement essentially holds government operations hostage. They also have sought to highlight Kline’s recent comments suggesting that the budget standoff might be a good time to reform entitlements, such as raising the Social Security retirement age.
But that idea also has been raised in the past by Klobuchar and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, the two most prominent Democrats in Minnesota.
Franken, who faces re-election next year, also has used the current standoff to engage supporters. His campaign sent out an e-mail this week directing people to his website to sign a petition calling a shutdown “a dumb thing to do.”
Franken’s pitch reflects a broader onslaught of fundraising efforts tied to the standoff. The DCCC sent out a fundraising e-mail in Pelosi’s name with an appeal to “fight back against Republican obstruction.” That came as the National Republican Committee sent out a fundraising e-mail asking supporters to “stand” with Cruz in his “fight to defund Obamacare.”
Democrats have all but dared the GOP to raise the stakes on a government shutdown, noting that Republicans paid a heavy price when it happened during the Clinton administration.
“I believe there will be an agreement and I think we can do it without any of these extraneous partisan poison pills,” Klobuchar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Klobuchar also invoked the $1.3 billion in additional borrowing costs wrought from the nation’s downgraded credit rating after the last debt-limit battle in 2011. “This is money taxpayers have to pay,” she said. “This is affecting families and real people. And that’s why I think in the end this gamesmanship has to end.”
Follow Kevin Diaz on Twitter at StribDiaz.