Minn. delegation mirrors Congressional budget divideby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
Washington — Negotiations are underway between the Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate to finish a bill to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.
But the House wants much deeper cuts than the Senate, and they have less than two weeks to reach a deal.
The divisions between the two houses of Congress are reflected in Minnesota's delegation. Like the chambers, the state's voices in Washington are largely split along party lines.
Last month, House Republicans passed a measure to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in September. It includes $61 billion worth of immediate cuts they argue are necessary to begin closing the nation's trillion dollar budget deficits.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Mankato, worries the cuts will hurt his southern Minnesota district by cutting off valuable research dollars.
"There's a cut to soybean genomics, a program I've championed that can make us more competitive and the soybean growers know that we're on the cusp of some breakthroughs," Walz said.
Minnesota would also lose more than $23 million worth of school funding and $84 million worth of Pell Grants for the state's college students, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The cuts would also affect health centers and transportation projects across Minnesota.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken said the Republican bill would also cut federal money for job training.
"That is exactly the wrong thing to do right now," said Franken, a Democrat. "In Minnesota we already have 3,000 people waiting in line to access these services and as a result, jobs are going unfilled."
This week, the House and Senate agreed to $4 billion dollars worth of cuts to keep the government open for two more weeks. Most of the cuts were to programs President Barack Obama said he didn't want or weren't effective. The White House has suggested the Senate should consider another $6.5 billion worth of cuts.
That's not nearly enough, said U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Lakeville.
"The almost trivial suggestions that they're making are hardly worth the negotiation," he said.
Kline said most House Republicans aren't interested in splitting the difference with the Senate.
"I think there's going to be pretty strong insistence that the Senate come to us and not the other way around," he said.
He added that most Republicans will have a hard time supporting a bill that doesn't include measures to defund the new health care law.
But U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Eden Prairie, said he's not wedded to $61 billion in cuts, and wants to hear what Senate Democrats propose.
"Right now they've offered zero, essentially," Paulsen said. "If they offered 20-30 billion, I think that would be a really good starting point for actual conversation and negotiation."
The bill by House Republicans focused almost all of its cuts on non-defense discretionary spending. It's the part of the budget that does not include Social Security, Medicare, defense or homeland security, and makes up less than 20 percent of total federal spending.
Franken said that's the wrong spending to cut.
"What leads to prosperity, what always has and always will, are education and infrastructure and innovation and those are the things we can't cut," he said.
Instead of those cuts, Franken would like to see the government negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs bought by Medicare, subsidies for oil and gas companies cut and a tax hike on millionaires.
Paulsen, who sits on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, suggest some openness to looking beyond the non-defense part of the budget for cuts.
"I think every dollar's got to be on the table, including defense spending and everything else," he said. "I think that's the conversation we need to have."
One thing members of both parties seem to agree on — even as they blame each other for the delays — is that a series of stopgap spending measures doesn't make much sense. Once they finally finish work on this year's budget, they'll start on next year's.
- All Things Considered, 03/04/2011, 5:20 p.m.