Capitol catchall: Beyond Sotomayor


Healthcare reform and the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor dominated headlines this week, but many of Minnesota’s congressional representatives have been busy working on a slew of issues from food-borne illness and hydrocephalus to highway funding and aid to Liberia.

Rep. James Oberstar’s push for an increase in federal highway spending has the support the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a group that says it wants a gas tax hike to pay for it. “Just damn do it,” Chamber President Thomas Donohue told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Oberstar says any new stimulus package should go to transportation only. “If there is going to be a second stimulus, it’s going to be highways or nothing else,” Oberstar said.

A man was ticketed for “honking for peace” outside of the office of Rep. John Kline in Burnsville. A peace vigil there encouraged passersby to beep in support, but Burnsville police were fed up with the noise.

Kline also fixed his congressional website.

Rep. Betty McCollum held a health care rally at the State Capitol on Monday and on Tuesday took to the phones, hosting a conference call for reporters on fixing Medicare reimbursement for Minnesota.

Rep. Keith Ellison got a lengthy write-up in the Washington Post on Thursday. On being known as the first Muslim in Congres, he told the Post, “I don’t get tired of talking about it. But my struggle is to maintain a certain amount of breadth. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as only understanding Muslim things, all things Islamic.”

Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Ellison suggested we can all learn from the participation of American Muslims. “Political engagement of the Muslim community is higher than I have ever seen it. The Muslim community has learned the lesson that if you want things to change for you in America, you have to be involved in the process.”

Ellison also announced a $400,000 green jobs initiative to be based in Minneapolis’ north side.

Rep. Michele Bachmann introduced legislation to cut the U.S. Census down to four questions.

Bachmann also introduced a resolution designating September as National Hydrocephalus Awareness Month, urging more attention to the often debilitating condition.

Rep. Tim Walz is sponsoring a bill to stop members of Congress from “insider trading.” The “Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act” is moving through committees and would ban Congress members from profiting from inside information gained in Congress. Walz is also pushing a pair of wind energy bills.

Rep. Erik Paulsen earned praise from Minnesota’s Liberian community for working to secure aid to that country.

The freshman Congress member is also accepting applications for pages.

A bill to beef up the Food and Drug Administration’s role in food safety issues faces opposition by Big Ag — and Rep. Collin Peterson. “I’m a little skeptical of the FDA to have the knowledge base to be on the farm,” he said. “It’s just not a sensible thing. They just don’t have the people do to this, and the people they do have don’t understand.”

Food safety advocates say a panel on the bill in Peterson’s House Agriculture Committee was stacked — of 11 witnesses, only one represented consumers and victims of food-borne illness.

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