by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Things seem to be working well for Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Polls shows the former Hennepin County attorney with double-digit leads over her Republican opponent, state Rep. Kurt Bills of Rosemount.
The Bills campaign has pocket change — some $68,000 cash in hand, it’s been reported — compared to the Klobuchar war chest of about $4.9 million.
Klobuchar trounced Republican 6th District Congressman Mark Kennedy six years ago, taking about 58 percent of the vote, to become the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota.
With high approval ratings, Klobuchar, 52, has had her named bandied about nationally as a potential presidential candidate.
She has repeatedly knocked down speculation.
“I love my job,” Klobuchar said.
“I love representing Minnesota. And that’s all I’m focused on right now,” Klobuchar said at DFL State Party convention this summer.
DFL State Party Chairman Ken Martin believes having Klobuchar near the top of the ticket helps Minnesota Democrats.
“I think there’s tremendous coattails for Senator Klobuchar,” said Martin, who has described the senior senator as a “workhorse.”
Klobuchar depicts herself as a get-it-done, Minnesota-first, bipartisan kind of senator.
She heralded reaching across the aisle to work with Republican 6th District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to find a solution for the vexing Stillwater bridge.
“Stalled out for 30 years,” Klobuchar said to the ECM Editorial Board.
Klobuchar routinely drops bills with bipartisan support in the legislative hopper.
Two-thirds of her legislation has had Republican cosponsors, according to the Klobuchar campaign.
Klobuchar cites her work on behalf of veterans — she was at the State Capitol earlier this fall to witness the awarding of a Purple Heart to a Monticello soldier that her office helped facilitate — synthetic drug legislation, swimming pool safety legislation, efforts at preserving jobs placed at risk by auto companies threatening to close local car dealerships, as accomplishments of her first term.
“I don’t create them (jobs), they do,” she said of the private sector.
Klobuchar visits all 87 Minnesota counties every year.
Ideas for some of her bills come from listening to the residents she meets in her travels, she has explained.
Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute political science professor, believes Klobuchar has “perfected the art” of constituency service — obtaining passports, arranging overseas adoptions, things lending themselves to a get-the-job-done persona, he explained this summer.
Klobuchar is a loyal Democrat, he noted.
But her non-ideological approach tends to lessen her political side, Jacobs explained.
Klobuchar herself beckons to her former role as Hennepin County attorney as training for keeping partisanship in check.
You simply cannot be partisan and succeed at that job, she explained.
Klobuchar has lined up with Republicans such as Bachmann and Republican 3rd District Congressman Erik Paulsen in opposing a tax on medical device manufactures, such as Medtronic, included in the federal Affordable Care Act, according to media reports.
In general, Klobuchar, who voted for the act, views so-called Obamacare as a work in progress.
“After we get out this radioactive election time, there’s good reasons and ways to make things better and reform things,” Klobuchar said to the ECM Editorial Board.
“This law is a beginning, not an end, and I believe that improvements still need to be made,” she said in a statement following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
Although Klobuchar hails the Affordable Care Act as addressing such issues as denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and solving other health care problems, some long engaged in the health care debate have expressed surprise over the perceived flabbiness of Klobuchar’s defense of the landmark legislation.
Former Republican U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, founder and current chair of the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas, views Democrats from President Barack Obama to Klobuchar to U.S. Sen. Al Franken in the past as “totally” failing to defend the legislation.
Indeed, he’s been astounded by the silence of the Democrats, Durenberger explained earlier this year.
But Klobuchar, in speaking with the editorial board, described the law as complicated and difficult to explain.
At the U.S. Senate state fair debate in August, Bills repeatedly cited the number of days the Senate has gone without passing a budget as evidence of gridlock and Klobuchar’s perceived lack of leadership. Klobuchar argues the bipartisanly-reached Budget Control Act provides a framework for future budget negotiations.
In voting for the act, she has voted for trillions in spending cuts, Klobuchar said of the act that could kick-in automatic spending cuts on Jan. 1 unless the president and lawmakers craft a budget agreement.
Klobuchar insists lawmakers are serious in addressing the federal budget deficits.
She speaks of a gang of 45 Republican and Democratic senators — “In my old job, gangs were bad,” she quipped to the editorial board — who meet every month to examine ways of addressing the deficit.
“I cannot tell you how devoted they are to getting something done,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar looks for a “balanced way” to address the massive budget deficits.
For instance, she supports continuing the Bush tax cuts for middle class taxpayers but allowing them to elapse for those earning over $250,000 and return to the tax rates in effect during the Clinton Administration.
Configuring the Bush tax cuts in this manner will capture about $700 billion over 10 years, Klobuchar said.
A tax-cut deal should include comprehensive tax reform, she argues.
Specifically, Klobuchar looks to closing tax loopholes as part of a reform package.
Klobuchar cites the Simpson-Bowles report as containing useful ideas, some she likes, others not, on addressing the federal budget.
Simpson-Bowles calls for a blend of spending cuts and tax hikes, such as a federal gas tax increase, in addressing the federal budget.
The daughter of former Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar — Klobuchar’s mother Rose Klobuchar passed away a few years ago — Klobuchar is known for a sense of humor, sometimes self-depreciating.
Franken theorizes that Klobuchar learned the rhythms of humor from her father.
But Klobuchar said she learned less about humor than gained a sense that the odds get stacked up against some people and they need help.
“Don’t take yourself so seriously all the time,” Klobuchar said her father’s joyful approach to living also taught her.
“And that’s one of the problems with some politicians,” Klobuchar said earlier this year.
Klobuchar and husband John Bessler have a daughter, Abigail, who is 17 and a high school senior.
At the state fair debate, Klobuchar depicted Bills’ economic agenda as out of the mainstream.
She also criticized the Republican for failing to pass anything in his single term in the House.
For his part, Bills has styled the millions in campaign funding Klobuchar has amassed as disgusting and a weapon to frighten away challengers.