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Rick Nolan headed to Washington for new member orientation

WASHINGTON — Congressman-elect Rick Nolan was on the road at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, catching a plane to Washington for this week’s new member orientation for the 113th Congress.

Nolan is not, technically, a “new member,” since he served three terms in the 1970s and 80s, but he’ll nonetheless join in this week’s festivities: meeting with House and committee leadership, attending receptions, getting together with the Minnesota delegation, taking a "class photo" with other new members — and finding a place to live when he’s in town.

“We’ll keep our home up in Crow Wing County where we’ve been all our lives,” he said in a Monday morning call with reporters.  “I’m just going to find a room right close by the Capitol where I can stay when Congress is in session.”

Nolan said he plans to ask Democratic leadership for seats on two major committees, Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure, so he can begin working on issues local to the 8th District as soon as the new Congress convenes next year (Jim Oberstar, the Democratic predecessor to defeated Rep. Chip Cravaack, chaired the Transportation Committee at the end of his tenure). Nolan repeated his pledge that the first few bills he plans to sponsor will focus on election issues, like a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, introducing a publicly-funded election system and limiting the length of federal campaigns.

It’s unlikely such proposals will gain traction, especially in a Republican-controlled House like the one that will convene next year. But Nolan said last week’s election — in which President Obama was reelected and Republicans lost two seats in the Senate and a handful in the House, though they kept the majority — should send a message to Congress that voters are looking for compromise between the parties.

“There has always been talk about collaboration and compromise and working together,” he said, “but if there was one message that really came through loud and clear in this past election contest, it was that people are tired of hearing politicians talk about it. They really want to see some bipartisanship and some cooperation.”

Nolan comes to Washington a day before Congress returns for a session expected to focus on preventing the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a year-end slate of spending cuts and tax increases that would stunt economic growth unless it’s avoided. To do that, lawmakers are looking to cobble together a significant deficit reduction package — no easy task for the lame duck session of a Congress marked by partisanship and gridlock.

Though Nolan won’t be in town to deal with the cliff, he offered up his recommendations for how Congress should proceed: Any final deal should lead to a balanced budget, include both revenue and spending cuts and help stimulate the middle class and create jobs. To do that, Nolan said Congress should use military spending overseas to finance government projects at home.

“That’s money there that I think we can shift, a portion of it can go toward balancing the budget and a portion of it can go toward rebuilding American infrastructure,” he said.

The new Congress convenes in January, and if Nolan has his way, it won't be his last. The 68-year-old told MPR that he wants to spend up to 10 years in Congress, "health permitting and voters accommodating."

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.

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