P-B Endorsement: 2nd Congressional District: Kline vs. Obermueller vs. Overby
The last two years have been plagued by gridlock in Washington, lowering public approval of Congress to just 20 percent, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll released Sunday.
It's one of the worst ratings heading into a midterm election since the Watergate era in 1974. The three candidates for the 2nd Congressional District addressed the gridlock issue directly.
"One of my great frustrations is that we can pass legislation in the House," said incumbent John Kline, a Republican from Burnsville, "but that the Senate won't even take it up."
"The biggest problem out there is gridlock," said Mike Obermueller, a Democrat from Eagan. "We need people out there who understand building communities and rebuilding the middle class."
"People don't feel like they're being represented," said Paula Overby, an Independence Party candidate from Eagan, pointing to another poll, which found 88 percent of independent voters were dissatisfied with Congress.
Kline, 67, has represented Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, which covers the south Twin Cities metro area and includes parts of Goodhue, Wabasha, Rice, Carver, Scott and Le Sueur counties, for 12 years. A retired Marine, Kline chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Obermueller, 41, an attorney who represented District 38B in the Minnesota Legislature from 2009 to 2011, is making his second bid to unseat Kline. In 2012, Obermueller lost by eight percentage points, which was the toughest race any Democrat has given Kline since he was elected in 2002.
Overby, 59, who works as a quality assurance analyst, is believed to be the first transgender candidate from Minnesota to run for Congress. Overby was a Democratic activist who briefly challenged Obermueller for the DFL endorsement before joining the Independence Party.
"I don't have to win to make a difference," said Overby, who is focusing her candidacy on reforming the campaign finance system, which she says empowers corporations and the wealthy.
If the candidates can agree on one thing, it's that the economy needs to improve.
"We do not have a healthy economy despite what you have heard recently. We have lowest labor participation rate since Jimmy Carter was president," Kline said, dismissing the gradually sinking national unemployment rate that's now at 5.9 percent. "People are dejected. They've dropped out."
Kline advocates a multipronged economic plan of stepping up domestic energy production, simplifying the federal tax code, streamlining regulations that cause uncertainty among business owners and reforming the education system.
Obermueller doesn't come across as a typical Democrat, calling for decreasing the corporate income tax to broaden the tax base. Overall, he's critical of the incumbent's priorities.
"Kline is a top-down kind of guy. He wants to give huge tax breaks to folks at the top and hope that it eventually works its way down," he said. "I don't believe that model works. I believe we need to grow from the middle out. I believe the race turns on economics."
Obermueller's economic strategy focuses on college affordability, improving the Affordable Care Act and equalizing women's economic security. "We need to have working-class families with money in their pockets," he said. "You'll get more demand by having a stronger, bigger middle class. They are the real job creators."
Kline cites his work on the House Education Committee as evidence he can work in a bipartisan manner, pointing to the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a measure that streamlined 47 federal job-training programs to 32.
He also pointed to legislation that tied student loan rates to 10-year Treasury notes, stabilizing Stafford Subsidized Student Loans that had doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The loans are now at 4.6 percent.
Obermueller disagrees with Kline's approach, saying a better solution would allow people to refinance student loans. "You can refinance your home loan, you can refinance your car loan, but you can't refinance your student debt? And there's absolutely no reason for it," Obermueller said.
Not surprisingly, they differ on the Affordable Care Act, with Obermueller seeing it as "certainly not perfect, but it is having a big impact in terms of coverage." Obermueller predicted it will grow in popularity with both parties eventually taking credit for it. "Right now, it's a political hot potato," he said. "I don't think it should be. I think we should work to improve it, but repealing it is not an option."
As a preface to his position on health-care reform, Kline said: "By far the best way to approach it was to repeal whole Affordable Care Act before it was implemented and replace it with some other reforms." Kline listed some of the frequent Republican talking points, such as increasing competition among private insurers across state lines, creating coverage pools for people with pre-existing conditions and providing incentives for health savings accounts.
"Now that it's being implemented, it gets a lot trickier to do," Kline said. "It doesn't mean that we have to accept it just as it is. It means we have to go in and change much of the Affordable Care Act."
The Post-Bulletin's Editorial Board found the statement disingenuous. To "change much of the Affordable Care Act" is a euphemism for repealing the four-year law. Even if the Republicans control the House and the Senate, they won't have strong enough majorities to override a presidential veto. President Barack Obama, who has vetoed just two bills during his nearly six years in office, will not allow his signature legislation to be dismantled like a game of Jenga.
Two years ago, we endorsed Kline, believing his seniority and leadership would help Congress avoid the "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and sequestration that would impose mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts.
So what happened? Congress passed a series of temporary measures to postpone a decision on the debt limit. Finally, the federal government partially shut down for the first 16 days of October 2013, largely because of the Republican-controlled House tried to derail the Affordable Care Act and demand concessions on the budget.
"They shut the government down for 16 days as a political stunt to show them how much they don't like it," Obermueller said.
As much as Kline wants to point to the obstinacy of the Senate Democrats, the House Republicans are just as much to blame. Sending Kline back to Washington would be rewarding him for failure.
That's why the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board is endorsing Mike Obermueller for the 2nd Congressional District. When Obermueller served in the Minnesota Legislature, he was chosen to carry the omnibus state economic development bill, a rare honor for a freshman representative. Obermueller credits his moderate reputation for helping recruit Republican co-authors on that bill and for helping him win a state House seat once held by Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who later became Minnesota's governor.
"Most people are most enthused for a fight out there as opposed to the end game and the solution," Obermueller said. "We have to have people who can actually move forward on these important topics, so laying out actual plans, having vigorous debate and building coalitions around it is really the most important thing."
We agree with Mike Obermueller, and we recommend him to be the next representative for the 2nd Congressional District.
The Post-Bulletin Editorial Board endorsements are offered to provide one view of candidates for local, regional and statewide offices.
We encourage you to do your own research as well as you get ready to vote.
To find out more about the candidates running for Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District, visit their websites:
• John Kline:
• Mike Obermueller:
• Paula Overby
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