Debt crisis shows split; Minnesota, North Dakota lawmakers have own views
WASHINGTON -- Congress remains staunchly divided over how to tackle the nation's debt crisis, and not even North Dakota and Minnesota federal lawmakers agree on a solution.
Facing an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit, members of Congress have yet to compromise on legislation that would prevent - or at least delay - a likely financial catastrophe.
Many proposals have been offered, but none has enough support to pass both houses of Congress - and time is running out.
Lawmakers from North Dakota and Minnesota have their own views, but some favor the only bipartisan proposal that has been offered.
It helps that one of the locals had a hand in forming that plan.
North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad has been involved in intense negotiations for months as one of the "Gang of Six" senators - three Republicans and three Democrats - who crafted the proposal.
Conrad advocated again on Monday for the gang's plan, which he says is similar to the suggestions offered by the president's fiscal commission late last year. Conrad was also a member of that group.
Minnesota Democrats Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Collin Peterson both said they also support the "Gang of Six" plan.
The gang's plan cuts the national deficit by nearly $4 trillion in 10 years through spending cuts, caps on new spending and reforms to the tax code, discretionary spending and entitlement programs.
Such reforms could lead to tax increases, which Republicans oppose.
Peterson, who represents western Minnesota, said the plan is "the best idea," and "it's the only one that treats agriculture fair" in terms of required spending cuts.
"It actually does something substantial and it's balanced, which is what we need," Peterson said.
Klobuchar said she likes that the plan "contains a mix of spending cuts and closing loopholes."
"We simply must put our nation on a fiscally responsible path," she said.
Other members of Congress are either undecided or prefer one of several other proposals on the table.
North Dakota Republican Rep. Rick Berg continues to back the "Cut, Cap and Balance" Act, which passed the GOP-run House last week but was dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-led Senate.
The plan requires Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution before the debt limit can be increased. It also calls for tough spending reforms and no tax increases.
Berg said Tuesday he stands by the "Cut, Cap and Balance" plan - which he co-sponsored - but he's reviewing the dueling proposals unveiled Monday by House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"We need a plan that makes significant spending cuts and reforms and works to balance the budget," Berg said, adding he opposes any effort to raise taxes.
North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven and Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken said Tuesday they haven't yet decided to back a particular plan.
Franken said he wants to see a "common sense, balanced approach" that includes spending cuts and new revenue coming "from the people who can afford it."
"Whatever compromise we reach must include shared sacrifice, especially from rich corporations and the nation's wealthiest few," Franken said. "We can't cut the deficit solely on the backs of middle-class families."
Hoeven also wants a "comprehensive plan" that cuts the debt, avoids a default, and promotes economic growth and reforms, but doesn't raise taxes.
"We need to exercise fiscal restraint and at the same time, build a legal tax and regulatory environment that will stimulate economic growth and create jobs," he said.
Political in-fighting has mired any chance at compromise, as Republicans and Democrats trade blame for why negotiations have repeatedly collapsed.
Echoing Republican talking points, Berg spoke of "two schools of thought in Washington."
"One urges more spending, higher taxes, and more debt placed on our children and grandchildren," he said. "The other affirms that the only way to get our nation back on track is by reining in the out-of-control government spending and balancing the budget."
Peterson accused House Republican leadership of being more concerned about their political futures in the 2012 election than with finding a solution to the current debt crisis.
"There's no reaching out to some of us who would potentially be allies," said Peterson, a conservative Democrat. "They're sticking to their principles and they're sticking to them right off the cliff."
Conrad said "deeply held differences" have prevented compromise, but he he's still confident Congress will take action before Aug. 2.
"Everybody's going to have to retreat from their fixed position," Conrad said. "Both sides have to be willing to give a little ground in order to strengthen the country's position overall."
Kristen M. Daum is a reports for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.