Parallels between budget impasse in Minn., Washington DCby Brett Neely, Minnesota Public Radio
Washington DC — There were no budget negotiations to end the state shutdown here in Minnesota today.
But in Washington, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Congressional leaders from both parties to try to forge a deal on raising the nation's debt ceiling. They said it was a productive meeting and that talks would continue on Sunday.
The budget debates in Minnesota and at the national level are very similar.
St. Paul and Washington DC are more than 1,000 miles apart. But there's little distance between Minnesota and Washington politicians when it comes to dealing with how to close budget gaps.
"To get there, I believe we need a balanced approach," said President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
By balanced, he means spending cuts and revenue increases, which sounds a lot like Gov. Mark Dayton's preferred approach to the budget.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also sounds a lot like his Minnesota colleagues.
"Frankly, we don't think the voters sent a wave of Republicans to Washington last November because they wanted us to raise taxes," said McConnell.
Minnesota's shutdown even was discussed on the floor of the U.S. House this week when U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota DFLer, made this speech.
"In Congress and in Minnesota, Republicans use the same playbook," said McCollum. "First create a crisis, put jobs at risk and the economy in peril, and then ignore the needs of middle class families. And then fight to protect the interests of millionaires and billionaires."
The debates are similar enough that members of Minnesota's congressional delegation are even taking heat for the state government shutdown. Over the July 4 weekend, Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack was at a parade in Brainerd.
"There were a few people that were shouting out, 'Hey, you guys should be back to work,'" Cravaack said. "And I said, 'I'm on the federal side, but we'll probably be having that conversation in about a month.'"
Both in Minnesota and in Washington, Republicans like Cravaack say spending cuts, not tax increases, should be used to balance the budget.
It's a line former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has also embraced on the campaign trail.
"Both in Washington DC and in St. Paul, the Democrats continue their thirst for more spending and more taxes," said Pawlenty. "That's not the right direction in Minnesota, and it's not the right direction for our country."
Pawlenty has even started airing campaign ads touting his performance during Minnesota's past government shutdown in 2005.
Another Minnesotan who remembers that shutdown is Keith Ellison. Today he's a Democrat in Congress representing Minneapolis, but six years ago he was a member of the Minnesota House.
"The feeling is very similar," said Ellison.
Then, as now, the question was how to find more revenue, said Ellison -- and more importantly, how to engage in the verbal gymnastics that made that revenue palatable to Republicans.
"We used to laugh about the difference between a tax and a fee," he said. "Republicans were more comfortable with fees and didn't like taxes. So it all boiled down to whether the three-letter word started with an F or a T for them."
While no one is playing that particular word game this time around, Democrats in Washington want a budget deal to include extra revenue from closing tax loopholes, and Republicans are mostly against raising more money that way.
There is one important difference between the debate in St. Paul and Washington, says Nicholas Johnson, who follows state budgets at the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Minnesota has to balance its budget every year, Washington doesn't.
"At the federal level, this is almost entirely a manufactured crisis," he said. "In other words, the federal government does not have to do anything about the budget gap right now."
But politically, Johnson says, the pressure is on for a budget fix now. Republicans have largely won the debate over minimal tax increases compared to the level of cuts that are on the table, he says.
"The current Republican Party, both at the federal level and in many states, has gotten very good at saying no," said Johnson. "The question is, can they say yes to a compromise that is largely in their favor?"
While talks to end the standoff may be stalled in Minnesota, negotiations in Washington appear to be picking up steam as the August 2 deadline approaches. If the debt ceiling isn't raised by then, the federal government won't be able to pay all of its bills.
- All Things Considered, 07/07/2011, 5:35 p.m.