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Capitol Chatter: Campaign turns to seeking fiscal cliff votes

ST. PAUL - The White House acts as if the campaign continues.

Now, however, instead of public votes, President Barack Obama is looking for congressional votes to support his plans to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

While Obama met with Americans who support his plan to stop all income tax increases except on wealthy Americans, the White House sent information to every state promoting his side of the issue.

For instance, the White House said, a typical Minnesota family of four earning $86,000 annually could see its income taxes rise $2,200 if Congress and Obama do not agree on a plan to stop the tax hikes.

Those tax increases will kick in Jan. 1 without action. Technically, tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush end then, but to a taxpayer, it would be a tax increase.

Obama wants to allow taxes to rise again on people who make at least $250,000, but remain at current levels for others. Republicans generally want existing taxes to remain for all taxpayers, saying that would help businesses afford to expand.

The president's fiscal cliff campaign folks say 98 percent of Minnesota families who make less than $250,000 a year and would not see an income tax increase under his plan.

Without legislation to keep middle-class taxes static, the White House warns that Minnesota's economy will slow and Minnesotans could spend nearly $3.6 billion less in 2013.

Unless Congress and Obama act by year's end, not only are the Bush tax cuts due to expire, but automatic federal budget cuts take place. The combination, called the fiscal cliff, is predicted to throw the economy into recession.

Bonding bill coming?

Democrats are poised to take control of the Minnesota Legislature in a little more than a month, so expectations are high among those who want state money.

Perhaps no segment of Minnesota is more excited than those who want money to build public works projects, things such as new state trails or city civic centers. They see Democratic legislative control, plus Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, giving them an opening they have not seen for more than two decades.

Dayton's office says a public works bill funded by the state selling bonds (similar to taking out a loan) is possible in 2013, a year that normally would be reserved for passing a state budget. But if it happens, it more likely would be a quarter to half of the $2 billion range some rumors project.

Some recent bonding bills have reached near $1 billion.

Many Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legislative leaders lean toward a 2013 bonding bill, but are considering several factors: whether going after so much spending could be perceived by voters as overreaching, if they can get needed Republican votes to pass such a bill and how to factor in an expected state budget deficit and federal fiscal woes.

An early look at the state budget condition comes Wednesday, when officials release a budget forecast to give lawmakers and the governor an idea about how much will be available to spend. However, State Economist Tom Stinson and Dayton warn that Wednesday's numbers may not be much help because whatever happens on the federal budget could have huge ramifications in Minnesota.

Red Lake loves Obama

Michael Meuers wonders if any community supported President Barack Obama more than his.

Almost 98 percent of voters on the northwestern Minnesota Red Lake American Indian reservation favored Obama on Nov. 6.

"In the traditional community of Ponemah, Obama scored with 99.23 percent of the vote," Meuers said. "Romney got one vote (Libertarian, two)."

The news was not all bright for Democrats, Meuers said tongue in cheek: "Unfortunately, other DFLers, Collin Peterson, Amy Klobuchar, Roger Erickson and Rod Skoe only got 93 to 96 percent of the vote. We apologize for that and will keep working at it. We're trying to locate and persuade those Republicans, but they must have a good hiding place."

Meuers helped create Red Lake Political Education Committee in 1996 and is its only non-Indian member.

"Bottom line, I believe Red Lake Nation to be the most dependable community of its size in the state and perhaps the country as far as Democrat reliability," he said.

'Farmers need bill'

The U.S. House has not passed a farm bill, so U.S. Sen. Al Franken told Senate leaders they should include a version they passed in any fiscal cliff legislation.

Congress is meeting in a lame duck session, mostly to figure out how to avoid the fiscal cliff, a combination of higher taxes and automatic federal budget cuts due to begin Jan. 1.

Franken, D-Minn., said rural Minnesotans should not be forgotten.

"Minnesota's farmers, livestock producers and rural entrepreneurs support one in five jobs in our state, and they need a new farm bill so they can plan for next year," Franken said. "The Senate has passed a comprehensive farm bill that will give our farmers the stability they need, but the House simply hasn't taken action."

Existing farm law has expired. The House and Senate agree on basics of a new five-year farm package, centered on improving crop insurance for farmers who experience losses, but House leaders say they do not have enough votes to pass it.

Several farm-state members of Congress say a farm bill should be folded into fiscal cliff legislation, in part because the Senate-passed bill saves $23 billion over a decade.

Klobuchar considered

The Politico news organization says Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is among U.S. senators being considered to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the main group coordinating the party's Senate election campaigns.

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado was offered the job, but delayed making a decision, "insisting that it was too early to think about 2014," Politico reported.

Klobuchar's name is being floated as an option after she smashed GOP challenger Kurt Bills in her re-election campaign. She also is discussed as a potential presidential candidate.

New carp fight

New federal legislation is being promoted as a way to battle the spread of Asian carp into Minnesota waters.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is among supporters of an effort to create a coordinated federal response and allow federal officials to work more effectively with state and local entities.

"The spread of Asian carp in Minnesota's waterways would prove disastrous for Minnesota's fishing and boating industries, which depend on the health of the state's waterways and contribute billions of dollars to our economy," Franken said.

The carp eat so much food that they can drive away native species.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.