by T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol reporter
Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar believes civility and openness in Washington — a greater bipartisan spirit some view voters are demanding and the recent shooting in Arizona making more imperative — may become a standard of doing business.
“I think the tone has changed. And it’s a combination of things,” said Klobuchar recently to the ECM Editorial Board.
Klobuchar points to the success of the recent lame duck session, the repeal of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell and the passage of other important legislation, as an indication of the loosening of the partisan grip.
“I’ve always maintained that any one party, either side, if the they spend the next two years throwing darts and playing politics, it’s going to be at their own peril,” said Klobuchar of inciting the displeasure of voters.
In this political climate, political courage is less defined by outspokenness than the willingness to stand by another with whom you share differences, she explained.
Notes Senate rules changes
Klobuchar views recent rules changes in the Senate as promising.
The “secret hold,” a practice in which a senator can secretly block a bill or nomination for a certain time without their name becoming known to the public, has been done away with, she noted.
In the future, if a senator wants to hold up a bill or nomination, they’ll have to make clear their objections to the American public, explained Klobuchar.
“The minute you start shedding light on it in public, suddenly the holds are released,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar and fellow reformers did not get all the rules changes they wanted — they wanted filibuster rules changed but failed — but the senator depicts developments as promising.
On the hot button issue of earmarks — lawmakers quietly nestling into big bills projects for their districts — Klobuchar argues it’s a mistake to forbid lawmakers for pushing for projects in their districts.
They don’t want to “completely abandon the idea of local representatives advocating for their constituents,” said Klobuchar.
“Because basically what you do now, you transfer all the power to the executive branch and the (federal) agencies,” she said. Over the next two years the question of earmarks can be further explored, she explained.
Landmark legislation will stand, says Klobuchar
Commenting on the recently passed federal health care bill that some Republicans and conservatives hope to have thrown out in court, Klobuchar believes the landmark legislation will survive judicial scrutiny. “I think in the end it will be upheld as constitutional,” Klobuchar said.
From the start she has said the health care bill needs further tweaking, she explained.
“The hope is that we can look at this less as having a political fight about it for two years instead of looking programmatically at — ‘OK here’s are things we need to change,’” she said.
Minnesota Republicans at the State Capitol have expressed worry that the deficit-wracked federal government will be unable to fully fund its health care obligations under the new federal law.
“That does happen sometimes,” Klobuchar said of federal money going away.
“But I think the response from (Democratic Gov. Mark) Dayton and others who looked closely at this for the effect it has on our state, is that we’d be turning away literally hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don’t want to do that to our state,” she said.
“And if something changed, the state would have to adopt to that change,” said Klobuchar. “But why would you turn away the money now,” she asked.
Good ideas in federal budget commission report
On the issue of the federal budget, Klobuchar points to the recent federal budget commission report as containing good ideas on addressing the federal budget.
She expressed interest in Social Security reform, but argued the debate needs to be kept in perspective.
“It gets all messed up when people think of about that (Social Security reform) as part of the deficit reduction. You have to think that as part of putting the money back into social security so it remains solvent longer,” Klobuchar said.
“And I think that’s worth talking about. But it should run on a separate track,” she said.
Klobuchar looks to pursuing ways of making America more competitive. She mentions incentives for students to concentrate on math and science, and the need to take other steps in securing the country’s economic future.
The senator recently sponsored a forum at the University of Minnesota focusing on competitiveness.