By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
NORTH MANKATO —
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped at several southern Minnesota businesses Tuesday, saying she is looking for advice on what Washington can do to help entrepreneurs succeed.
Klobuchar said she already knows what's near the top of many business owners' wish list -- a more stable, functional federal government.
"My focus is talking to them about what we could do to make things easier," the second-term Democrat said during a visit to Angie's Kettle Corn in North Mankato. "Clearly some consistency on the federal level in terms of rules and regulations -- but also bringing the federal debt down in a reasonable way so businesses feel comfortable to invest again -- is going to be very important."
There has been consistency the past four years, but not a comfortable one, as congressional Republicans have repeatedly butted heads with a Democratic White House, especially over how to reduce the federal deficit.
An attempt to force agreement -- automatic spending cuts and tax hikes starting Jan. 1 if a deal wasn't done -- brought America to the edge of the "fiscal cliff" at the end of 2012. Congress stepped back from the brink at the last minute but failed to get the grand bargain envisioned when the cliff was created more than a year ago.
Individuals earning less than $400,000 were spared tax hikes in a deal cobbled together by Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitch McConnell, leader of the minority Senate Republicans. But the spending cuts were delayed for two months, about the same time Congress will need to agree on boosting the nation's debt ceiling to avoid another economic emergency.
"I think that big deal still has to happen," Klobuchar said of a more ambitious effort to overcome the partisan stand-off and make substantial reductions in projected deficits. "... We need to do this, but we need to do it in the right way, which means a measured approach over 10 years."
Spending cuts are a necessary part of the deal, including cuts to some weapons systems, but they need to be targeted and implemented at a rate that doesn't damage a fragile economic recovery, she said.
A grand bargain should include additional revenue, as well, according to Klobuchar, who mentioned ending subsidies to oil companies and other tax loopholes that don't promote job growth.
''Those are some of the most profitable companies in the country," she said of oil companies. "Why are we still subsidizing oil when we stopped subsidizing ethanol? That makes absolutely no sense."
Allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices provided through Medicare -- currently prohibited -- would save billions of dollars, she said.
Fresh off a 35-percentage point re-election victory, Klobuchar said a significant deficit-reduction deal -- rather than more gridlock followed by short-term fixes -- is possible before the nation returns to the precipice in two months. Her guarded optimism comes in part from what she hopes lawmakers are hearing from the public.
"I think the American people are demanding more from their elected representatives,
"she said. "Look at the last election -- the people who adhered to rigid ideologies, a number of them lost. The message is out there loud and clear, and I hope when (lawmakers) are home they're hearing people complain about 'Why didn't the House pass the farm bill? What is wrong with you? Why didn't we do a bigger compromise?'"
Klobuchar also advises the White House to allow Senate Democrats and Republicans to carry the ball for a while, noting the bipartisan votes on several major bills in that chamber.
"So hopefully the model going forward will have the Senate negotiating more because we have a group in the middle that would like to get this big bargain done, get this thing done," she said.
The makeshift bill to avert the fiscal cliff, which Klobuchar conceded was "ugly", was a Senate creation. But she said that chamber was given only days to craft legislation after talks between President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner collapsed.
"The deal fell apart when the Speaker walked and the Senate was left kind of holding the bag for the last five days," she said. "And it was hard to get the grand bargain done in five days."