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Rep. Betty McCollum blames Tea Party for nation’s political gridlock

Rep. Betty McCollum meets with a constituent after the event.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Rep. Betty McCollum meets with a constituent after the event.

Mary Leary, a small business owner from Mendota Heights, isn’t much concerned with the volatility currently gripping Wall Street. The partisanship and structural gridlock in national American politics are what’s on her mind.

She was one of more than 100 who gathered in St. Paul Tuesday night for Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s town hall meeting.

“It’s more of the gridlock that has become really, really bad,” Leary said as she waited to see McCollum, a politician she admires. “It’s lethal.”

Constituents worried about rollercoaster stock markets, near government default, a potentially broken political system and mounting federal debt flocked to St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul to hear from McCollum and state lawmakers about their thoughts on how these crises can be fixed.

McCollum targets Tea Party
McCollum’s message was full of anger and blame for the Tea Party minority that she says has held national American politics hostage since the 2010 election. Most in attendance seemed to agree, with the exception of a few loud detractors.

“These Tea Party Republican policies are creating insecurity in our communities, they’re disrupting a fragile economic recovery … and they’re threatening to pull our economy back to recession,” the 4th District Democratic congresswoman said.

“It’s a difficult time in Washington and in Minnesota, and with so much uncertainty, I want you to know where I stand,” she said. “I want to put people back to work, and, yes, I want those workers to have rights. I want people who have worked all their lives to be able to retire with dignity and security. I want their grandchildren to have access to good schools that will help prepare them for a lifetime of success.”

Questions ranged from an impassioned “Who do the Tea Partiers think they are?’ to “What is going to happen to my Social Security and Medicare benefits?” Local issues surfaced, too, with the likes of “What are you and the federal government doing to help businesses on the Central Corridor Light Rail line?”

Wes Davey of St. Paul, a veteran whose family has served a total of four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, had one of the most passionate questions for McCollum: When are the troops coming home, and when is military spending going to be reined in?

Douglas Bass brought a sign featuring a Margaret Thatcher quotation.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Douglas Bass brought a sign featuring a Margaret Thatcher quotation.

He pointed to the more than 30 U.S. troops killed on Saturday and other servicemen and women who have suffered to fight for their country while the American public hasn’t shared the burden with tax increases to fund the effort.

McCollum, an advocate of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointed to defense cuts she’s sponsored. “Between doing that and [adding] some revenues, we can bring ourselves into balance pretty quickly,” she said. “So I do agree with you — it’s time to bring our troops home.”

After the event, Davey said he felt good about the session: “I got a chance to publicly tell Betty, who’s a professional friend of mine because of what I do, I got a chance to publicly tell her how I feel. People need to hear what I have to say. I need people in my own hometown to hear this news.”

Tea Party advocates in minority at meeting
But the calls from McCollum and her colleagues for tax hikes, applauded by most, were often met with low jeers from several in the audience. During perhaps the most emotional moment of the evening — while McCollum was calling the Tea Party “a new radical movement that is willing to break the established rules” — a man began jumping over seats and clambering over attendees to get out of the room.

“You seem to be ignoring their agenda,” he shouted at McCollum. “I’m leaving.”

His departure brought cheers.

Others, though, like Douglas Bass, chose to speak to McCollum after the event in a more subdued tone.

Bass — who carried a sign that read, “One man’s Tea Partier is another man’s freedom fighter” — recognized that he was in the minority at the meeting, especially compared with the high-profile 2009 town hall meetings that often focused on objections to federal health care reform.

He said he was also struck by the attendees’ “genuine bewilderment as to why the electorate has rejected them to the extent that it has,” which surfaced in many of the questions.

“I wish that the Tea Party could get a better rap than they got tonight,” he said after the nearly two-hour meeting. “The Tea Party has been maligned in so many ways since its creation. It’s been called extremists, they’ve been called racists, they’ve been called violent, they’ve had violence done against them, so what they’re saying now is just more of the same. It just means another election to win, another chance to put in your two cents.”

McCollum also noted the importance of the 2012 elections. Several constituents essentially asked her, “What happened to President Barack Obama — once a progressive champion — during the recent debt ceiling negotiations?”

A man who identified himself as John from St. Paul called the debt deal “more of a capitulation than a compromise” from Obama’s end, echoing what seems to be a feeling among many of the nation’s progressives who helped elect the president in 2008.

The notion, aired at the Netroots Nation conference for liberal activists in Minneapolis in June, seems to have continued growing since serious wrangling over the debt ceiling began.

McCollum, who voted against the deal, called the compromise “a prisoner’s dilemma” and said Obama took the responsibility to avert a debilitating default because he didn’t have the votes to pass “clean” debt ceiling legislation or include revenue increases in the deal.

“The president needs reinforcements,” McCollum said after the meeting, recognizing the Tea Party takeover. “Elections have consequences, and we’ll have to see what happens in the next election.”

“I have to admit, it was really amazing,” McCollum said of the event. “We knew we’d get a good turnout, but the turnout was over the top … People came because they’re frustrated, they’re concerned — in some cases, as you heard, they’re angry — and gravely disappointed at what they see happening in Washington and here in Minnesota, and that is people not buckling down and working together to get the job done right.”

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Bill Toppson on 08/10/2011 - 10:44 am.

    It is frustrating that the press reports the Congressional debt ceiling stalemate has caused the US credit rating to drop from AAA to AA. This mistake allows the blame to be misplaced. Fact is the increase in the debt ratio to GNP is the cause. Our debt is now greater than our gross national product. (that is why Obama is arguing over the incluson of the $2 trillion in the computation) I am not a Tea Party member but I understand their concern. Our US finacial situation is a bit like taking out a $1 million mortgage on a house appraised at $500,000. That is what caused the rating downgrade. I am an advocate for raising taxes on the highest income earners. But I understand that raising tax rates will not allow us to escape our budget problems. The US is getting to the point where there is just not enough money in the system. And US companies that are taxed can always move offshore. The Tea Party raises some points that no one wants to disccuss. We all know that we can’t keep taxing and spending as we have in the past and still compete in the world economy.

  2. Submitted by Sally Paulsen on 08/10/2011 - 11:05 am.

    Every politician in this nation had better start to look in the mirror before pointing fingers, casting stones or however they choose to blame whomever it is for THEIR OWN failure to balance a budget, enact legistation and keep a government running.

    Rep. McCollum’s no vote on the debt-ceiling was a cop out. She knew it was going to pass, so she made a personal statement. Did she vote for her constitutents?

    I’m done with baseless rhetoric. I will look at who is financing re-election campaigns and their parties before I cast my vote.

    Corporations, super PACS, special interests and their big money from BOTH Democrats and Republicans are what is causing the politicial gridlock in the US right now – not the Tea Party. If you don’t believe it, ask who spent $30 million for recall elections in Wisconsin. Ask who spent $50 million in the MN US Senate race in 2010. Ask who will be spending millions in the marriage amendment debate in MN in 2012.

    Rep. McCollum continues to pat herself on the back for her meaningless tripe on military bands and NASCAR. When she challenges the government contractors who bilk the US out of billions for hammers and toilet seats, then maybe I’ll pat her on the back.

    Until then, she is a part of the problem. She is influeneced by the dangling shiny dollars of special interests like any true politician. She is influenced by a political ideology that funnels her vote into a social agenda.

    Look in the mirror and quit pointing the blame toward anyone or anything else.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/10/2011 - 11:24 am.

    I’m glad someone in an elected position from Minnesota is speaking out.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 08/10/2011 - 11:36 am.

    “Fact is the increase in the debt ratio to GNP is the cause. Our debt is now greater than our gross national product.”

    Do you think this might have something to do with the fact the country’s been in a recession for the past two and a half years? Or with the fact that the banks and corporations are sitting on the boatloads of taxpayer money and haven’t invested in jobs” or that maybe that’s because it’s part of a GOP plan to make Obama a “one term president”? Until Obama became President, the right’s position was “deficits don’t matter”. That’s when it comes to financing foreign wars and tax cuts for the rich.

    We have a jobs and employment crisis from inadequate aggregate demand, not a debt crisis.

  5. Submitted by Howard Salute on 08/10/2011 - 11:51 am.

    I support politicians who can come together for the good of the country. In my opinion,Bachmann, McCollum. Ellison and Cravaack represent extremist views that continue the political problem in Washington. They should be replaced.

  6. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 08/10/2011 - 12:02 pm.

    Who? Tell us.
    The Tea Party is causing the gridlock because they are backed and supported by special interests like Koch oil, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and huge corporations. The Democrats do not have the resources of the Tea Party people The unions cannot match the fundng of the business, banks, financial community, big oil, big agriculture. The unions did contribute heavily to McCollum. Good for them. She backs them, the workers of America.
    She did not cop out or whatever you said about her no vote on the debt ceiling fiasco. She voted her conscience, and as a Democrat, that was a difficult vote.
    McCollum is one of our best representatives in Congress. She is a woman of integrity and reason, as well as compassion.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/10/2011 - 12:04 pm.

    Bill (#1): the debt was downgraded because US political leaders were seriously holding positions of “no new taxes” in a period of historically low tax rates, and defaulting on government responsibilities with a
    “no debt ceiling increase”. These were responsibilities that Congress has agreed to undertake just a few months go. It was obvious to S&P (and most Americans) that the will to work out a balanced solution is sadly lacking in the House.

    It was also clear that despite the “cut, cap and balance” rhetoric in the House, they had no actual intent to propose a budget with $700 billion in cuts next year as called by the “cut” of the proposal, or set up a budget with a tax increase and permanent cuts as required under the “cap” to manage expenditures and revenue at 18% of GDP, or actually deliver a “balanced budget” amendment in the next half-dozen years.

    So why wouldn’t S&P begin to think that all of the posturing was just that, posturing?

  8. Submitted by David Stovall on 08/10/2011 - 12:25 pm.

    Keep blaming that “minority” tea party and diffuse the truth. Recent election results say differently. It is more than just the Tea Party.

  9. Submitted by Madeline Anderson on 08/10/2011 - 12:29 pm.

    McCollum is the problem. A lock-step Democratic vote only concerned about her own reelection.

  10. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 08/10/2011 - 01:05 pm.

    Betty McCollum votes her conscience, even when it goes against what the party wants. The Democrats were trying to get enough votes to end the standoff. Obama wanted an end to it. It was a tough vote for her and I admire her no end for her integrity, truth telling, and courage.
    If you can provide any evidence about her voting “lock step” I’d be interested in hearing it.

  11. Submitted by John Ferman on 08/10/2011 - 01:23 pm.

    It is important to DFL strategy to undrstand the T-Party core agenda. I think it is crafted to bring our government to its knees to a point at which 3/4s of the States will call for a Constitutional Convention at which the entire Constitution will be written. The T-Party’s constitution will re-establish the government of the Colonies, in other words to restore the total power and control of the Aristocracy, wherin the average working Joe and Jane will be allowed to live if worthy and subject to their Master. Of course, many average Joe T-Partiers will fall by the wayside, but that is the price of aristocratic progress.

  12. Submitted by Arito Moerair on 08/10/2011 - 02:05 pm.

    The person with that sign says it all. It just says everything about the state of our politics. How do you argue with that? How do you convince someone with a viewpoint that is so ridiculous, hyperbolic, irrelevant, non-sequitur, strawman?

    The answer is, you don’t. There is simply no way to work with someone who has such a completely left-field system of beliefs. The only thing we can do is figure out how to marginalize and ultimately defeat these troglodytes. Unfortunately, due to many factors, I’m not sure that’s possible.

    Many politicians keep saying that America’s best days are ahead. I have not believed that since at least as far back as 9/11. I was 21 years old in 1999, which was a difficult but ultimately very rewarding time in my life, and I believe that year may have been the peak of the American empire. Nothing that has happened since then has convinced me otherwise. I don’t see how our best days are ahead; in fact, I see dark clouds overhead and pitch black in the distance. It is people like the ones holding that sign that are dragging us into the night.

  13. Submitted by Mike Naas on 08/10/2011 - 06:08 pm.

    Open Letter to Representative Betty McCollum
    Dear Rep. McCollum,
    I live in your district. You represent me, kind of, but in fact you do not represent me at all You just don’t get it. The tea party movement is nothing more than a grass roots group of concerned citizens who want fiscally responsible government focused on constitutional-based government. The tea party citizens are people that live and work in your district, and are stepping forward to take a stand against out-of-control government spending that is destroying the American prosperity and economic freedoms we have enjoyed for generations. Your criticism about the tea party citizens is nothing more than you saying exactly the same hostile and inappropriate insults to your next door neighbor who has the same desire for a government that is much more fiscally responsible. I’m glad you made these mean and inappropriate statements about the citizens in your district that are either tea party supporters or are thinking about becoming a tea party supporter. Now we all know how far you will go to raise more taxes and spend more money without regard to the bloated government that has been build in Minnesota beyond our ability to pay for it. Your beliefs and practices are socialistic and, if continued, will move our society into socialistic government tyranny where our economic freedom is gone due to over spending. Your policies and beliefs will drive us into bankruptcy just like Greece, Italy, and many other countries who are experiencing economic collapse due to one thing … government over spending. I wish you understood why these economies are collapsing and could connect the dots to your own beliefs, public statements, and voting record. Minnesota will be far better off if you were not re-elected, because you just don’t get it.

  14. Submitted by Annie Grandy on 08/10/2011 - 08:46 pm.

    Representative McCollum is an intelligent, hard working and dedicated Congressperson. I do agree that more substantive cost cutting bills would reflect her concern for her constituents more accurately. But what is a Democrat to do?

    Democrats don’t have a 30 year old ‘bill mill’ like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) funded by wealthy corporations holding meetings to train legislators in the wording and selling of bills written by those corporations. (Didn’t you wonder why all the bills coming out of Republican dominated legislatures and Congess sounded so similar?)

    Democrats listen to their constituents and try to independently develop legislation to meet the needs of those constituents.

    Thank you Representative McCollum. Keep working, keep trying and keep having townhall meetings and listening to your constituents. (I have yet to locate or read about an open townhall meeting being held by a MN Republican.)

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/10/2011 - 09:13 pm.

    Both political parties need to put their “wing-nuts” back in the box. Competitive redistricting is the solution to this problem.

  16. Submitted by Annie Grandy on 08/10/2011 - 09:16 pm.

    Mr. Douglas Bass, you don’t look as if you make $250,000 or more per year. I’m sure those who do appreciate you representing their cause as they laugh all the way to their McMansions in their gated communities, driving their BMW’s or Mercedes wearing their Ferragamo shoes and Armani suits after delivering their children to expensive private schools. Mr. Bass, you fight hard for them. They need it.
    I just know that you have a huge retirement plan, a comprehensive health care plan, a long term care plan and will never need the safety net that has been in place in this country for years providing humanitarian services to those who need them.
    May I respectfully suggest, Mr. Bass, that you stop driving on the roads, never call the police, never need a fireperson, privately educate any children or grandchildren you might have and refuse Social Security and Medicare when you become eligible. Your wealthy friends will thank you. Actually, I will thank you, too, as an example of honest integrity. Until then…

  17. Submitted by Roger Forsberg on 08/15/2011 - 02:46 pm.

    May we trust — to be scrupulously fair — that the Hon Rep McCollum will then attribute any gains in the national stock markets or any improvement in the economy to the selfless efforts & exertions of herself & to the wise political stewardship of the Democratic Party?

    < <"What happened to President Barack Obama — once a progressive champion — during the recent debt ceiling negotiations?">>

    Is it possible — is it at all conceivable — that the President has finally comprehended the immensity of the financial abyss in whose direction the country continues to stagger, and decided that he needed to part ways with his liberal/progressive companions on this issue? Or is the country’s indebtedness of $14 trillion (& rising quickly) so insignificant as to be waved off as trivial?

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