U.S. Rep. John Kline visited the State Capitol Monday to express his concerns about mandatory federal budget cuts, which he rates as a "better than even" chance due to the standoff in Washington.
Kline referred to the so-called sequestration process as "mindless cuts" that will take effect next month unless Congress and President Obama agree on an alternative. "Minnesotans will feel it, because it cuts across the board," he said, estimating that up to 4,000 jobs could be endangered.
Kline, a Republican from Lakeville who represents Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, said he wants cuts of equal or greater value, but prioritized so that good programs are rewarded and unsuccessful expenditures are cut or eliminated. As it stands now, military and non-military cuts would each total about $55 billion per year from now through 2021,
"The cuts are mindless cuts -- Republicans and Democrats would like to have an alternative to sequestration," he said. "We don't want sequestration, because these cuts are not prioritized cuts." He said the GOP is seeking "meaningful entitlement reform" as part of the package.
On other topics, Kline, who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, responded to criticism of for-profit colleges by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. He says for-profit colleges are "doing a remarkably good job. Over half of our nurses now, that enter the field, come from the for-profit sector."
Swanson has been critical of the recruitment practices of for-profit colleges. Kline said he is skeptical of such criticism and said it is important for students at all colleges "to have the information they need to make a decision."
And he said he hopes to "be playing a role" in finding a strong candidate to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in 2014. "We would like to have, obviously a good challenger in every race, and it would certainly include that one."
Asked whether he would be interested in the position himself, Kline, who is in his sixth term in Congress, said, "I will make a decision on whatever I'm doing sometime in the summer -- it's too early to say."
Kline has called a hearing for Wednesday on school safety in the wake of the massacre of 6- and 7-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December. He cited the city of Jordan's plan to move police officers into schools, but said he wants to hear from experts before coming up with his own plan.
As for teachers carrying weapons, he said, "I think it's important for each state and each district to decide that...." Asked his own opinion, he said, "I would rather have an armed teacher than a gunman go wild," but it should be a local decision.
Kline, who is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, said some gun-control bills are "non-starters," and believes the nation's previous attempt to ban assault weapons was unsuccessful. "I don't think there's any chance that Diane Feinstein's bill, for example, which is sort of an enhanced assault weapons ban, has any chance of passing," he said of the California Senator's gun-control plan.
He said "enhanced" background checks that would catch more people with severe mental illness might have some success this year.