The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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State, national news

January 1, 2014

Delegation pessimistic about 2014 Congress

Washington — Dysfunctional. Broken. Do-nothing. Those are a few of the more polite adjectives slung at Congress, which has set a record for passing the fewest laws in decades — just 57 by the middle of the session.

In a year in which public approval of Congress plummeted, members of Minnesota's delegation say the year on Capitol Hill was unproductive.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 5th District, calls the current Congress one of the "most dismal" in history.

"When we have acted, it was basically to stop an ongoing crisis or to avert one," he said.

Ellison points to episodes such as last year's fiscal cliff - - resolved only around the stroke of midnight at New Year's -- and the partial government shutdown and debt ceiling increase.

As members of the minority party in the Republican-controlled House, Ellison and his Democratic colleagues have had little chance to influence legislation.

From the other side of the aisle, the session didn't look as bad.

"We got some things done," said U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican who represents Minnesota's 2nd District.

Among the successes of this year's session of Congress, Kline cited a bill he helped shepherd that overhauls the federal student loan program.

"We've actually been pretty busy, and we have got some things all the way across the finish line and signed into law and some through the House and ready to go for Senate action," Kline said.

However, many of the bills passed by Republicans in the House wind up facing veto threats from the White House and vows from Senate Democrats to ignore the legislation.

The difficulty of finding consensus in divided government is at the heart of many complaints about 2013.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, hopes lawmakers use the budget deal passed this month to build wide bipartisan support in both chambers.

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