WASHINGTON, D.C. – The economic forecast may be downright dismal, but Minnesota’s Congressional delegation is increasingly well positioned to make the most out of a bad situation and the billions of dollars that will be up for grabs as part of Obama’s stimulus package.
In addition to two powerful chairmanships on the House Agriculture and Transportation Committees – held by Democrats Collin Peterson and Jim Oberstar, respectively – Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from St. Paul, will remain on the much-coveted House Appropriations Committee.
Even Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican from the Third District and the state’s newest member of Congress, is doing well for himself. On Monday, he accepted a plum appointment on the House Financial Services Committee, which lords over a wide variety of important areas including banking, housing, credit cards, real estate and insurance issues.
Republican subcommittee appointments and Democratic committee appointments are likely to be made sometime after next week’s inauguration.
Shaping stimulus plan
Although Paulsen won’t have as much pull as some of the more senior Democratic members of the Minnesota delegation, he will still be able to help shape important pieces of the stimulus package along with the two other Minnesotans on House Financial Services – Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democrat Rep. Keith Ellison.
“Almost no state is better positioned than Minnesota to work its will [this legislative session],” said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. “Minnesota stands to do very well during this legislative process, particularly during the opening weeks, when literally hundreds of billions of dollars will be set to be programmed.”
That weighty responsibility kept Oberstar, Minnesota’s long-serving Democrat from the Iron Range, working on the economic recovery package in Washington, D.C., last weekend – at the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) – instead of embarking on his annual pilgrimage to International Falls, located in the northern reaches of the Eighth District.
As chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Oberstar is already helping to structure the stimulus legislation. Last week, he proposed an $85 billion transportation plan that would allocate money to areas including highways and bridges, passenger rail, and airports.
“Oberstar is Minnesota’s sugar daddy,” Jacobs said. “In addition to his dominance on transportation issues, Minnesota will also be benefiting from Peterson’s chairmanship.”
Open Senate position
Both Presdident-elect Barack Obama and Congress have promised that renewable energy will be a priority this session and the Agriculture Committee is playing a key role in that area with ongoing discussions and input to the Appropriations Committee on the stimulus package.
Of course, prime positions in the House may simply not be enough in a session that is already proving to be extraordinary. At a time when almost every other state is hurting for money, the competition over resources will likely be ferocious.
“Nearly every other state in the country is in a kind of economic intensive care,” Jacobs said. “Not only will all other states be vying for more money, but on the Senate side, Minnesota has one junior senator and an open position still up in the air.”
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar currently sits on four committees, but has only been in the Senate since 2007 and so does not hold any key leadership positions yet.
In addition to Minnesota’s Senate situation, there is no guarantee that any congressionally appropriated funds will actually make it into the increasingly shallow pockets of ordinary Minnesotans. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has already promised to veto anything with too many strings attached.
“So Jim Oberstar can do his magic in Washington, but it may not be embraced in Minnesota,” Jacobs said.
Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that U.S. Rep. John Kline is a member of the Financial Services Committee.