By Joe Spear
The Free Press
A month or so into a new Congress and Rep. Tim Walz says he feels like there's a different, more positive vibe going on.
"I feel better. There's a sense that a fever's broken. There's more bipartisan activity than I've seen in a long time," says the Mankato Democrat.
Walz says the lame duck session was "incredibly frustrating for everybody," but notes there are a lot of new members in the House. There are 49 new Democrats and 35 new Republicans, making up almost 20 percent of the total membership.
Congress appears to be multi-tasking and getting things done, he says.
For the bipartisanship, we might look at last week's votes. Walz, for example, voted in favor of a Republican bill that demands the president specify when the federal budget will be balanced and his plans for doing so.
Walz conceded it was a "make-a-point" type of bill, but added: "Actually, the point's pretty good." The U.S. Code requires the president to release a budget by the first Monday in February and the Obama administration missed that deadline.
Walz was the only Democrat in the Minnesota delegation to vote in favor of that bill. He also voted in favor of a Democratic bill to replace the Republican budget demand bill with a plan for changing the automatic budget cuts scheduled to take place under the sequestration plan.
The bill would have averted what some call the massive cuts of sequestration with a plan for cuts and revenue increases. In that case, Walz was joined by all the other Democrats in the Minnesota delegation.
He also voted with Republicans a few weeks ago in their debt-ceiling plan that extended the debt ceiling until May 19 but also would impound House and Senate members paychecks if they did not produce a budget resolution by the required April 15 deadline. Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, who votes more often than Walz with Republicans, was the only other Democrat in the Minnesota delegation to vote in favor.
Walz also says he supports the eight Democratic senators who joined with Senate Republicans to urge Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project now that Nebraska has signed off on some of the earlier environmental concerns.
He backs the project and says he's always been pragmatic about it. In 2011, he voted against an election-fueled push by Republicans to speed up the approval. He favored making sure all the due diligence on the environment was taken care of before supporting it, but now he believes that is largely the case.
There are a lot of pipelines criss-crossing the country, he says, and he didn't see this one as much different.
And the gun control measures to come before Congress this year also will likely have some bipartisan support both pro and con. After the Newtown, Conn., shootings Walz said he was "deeply disappointed" in the response by the National Rifle Association, which essentially advocated having armed guards at schools.
Walz says he hasn't heard from the NRA since then, but the debate continues to be polarizing.
"I'm a little disappointed. It's another one of those cases to divide us a little more. We certainly have common goals."
He plans to listen to all proposals because that's what he thinks his constituents want him to do. He says he favors proposals that are "politically possible" and plans that will make a difference.
That might be improving background checks or putting more funding in the national background check system that he says he has argued for years was underfunded.
But he also thinks there should be a "loud voice" for preserving the Second Amendment. And if new rules make it tough for granddad to pass down a shotgun to his heirs, that shouldn't be regarded as insignificant.
"It's not something to be dismissed. That's not a small thing."
In the end, says Walz, "It's about personal liberties. It's about getting it right."
A new, more bipartisan Congress would be another example of "getting it right."
Joe Spear is editor of The Free Press. Contact him at 344-6382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.