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Most Upper Midwest senators favor budget deal

Two Upper Midwest Republicans broke from their colleagues early Friday to oppose a budget deal that is headed to President Barack Obama's desk.

Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin opposed the bill that passed 64-35 after the House also approved the measure.

Many of the "yes" votes came after House, Senate and White House leaders agreed moments before the House vote that $3 billion would be restored to the crop insurance program.

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., had called a crop insurance cut a "deal breaker" when he talked to reporters this week. But with the insurance deal, he joined a majority of South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin senators in backing the measure.

Hoeven was not convinced.

"It does not include the savings and reforms we need to address the deficit and debt," Hoeven said. "This agreement suspends the debt ceiling and will allow our debt to exceed $19 trillion by 2017. We need to do more to get the deficit and debt under control."

Johnson did not like the deal that was struck or how it was reached.

"Surely we can do much better than this terrible deal that resulted from a dysfunctional process..." the Wisconsin Republican said. "This deal makes changes across federal programs - in agriculture, health care, Social Security, taxes. The people's business deserves transparency. This back-room process does not permit it."

The deal gives Obama a fiscal roadmap for the rest of his presidency. The bill lifted the threat of a default on government debt through the end of his presidency and provided a budget blueprint easing strict spending caps through September 2017.

Obama will sign the bill into law as soon as he receives it, the White House said.

Without action by Congress, the Treasury Department would have exhausted the last of its borrowing capacity Tuesday, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and risked default on U.S. obligations within days that would roil global financial markets.

Lawmakers still need to allocate the money among thousands of budget line items. They face a Dec. 11 deadline, when existing spending authority by government agencies expires.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said that she hopes the bipartisan spirit in which the bill passed Friday continues.

"Minnesotans expect Democrats and Republicans to work together to strengthen our economy and invest in our country's future, and this bipartisan agreement does just that," Klobuchar said. "It also prevents another needless government shutdown and avoids a default on our nation's debts, while taking other important steps like protecting seniors from increases in Medicare premiums."

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said that the budget deal restores funding to both defense and domestic programs "while ensuring that the U.S. stays current on its financial obligations."

Franken said he is concerned about some of the bill, but "it's far better than the alternative: underinvesting in our future and letting our country go into a catastrophic default for the first time in history."

Several Upper Midwest senators and congressmen talked about crop insurance, which negotiators had cut $3 billion. However, a last minute deal - which needs to be ratified in the spending bill due Dec. 11 - restores the money.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said senators "received assurances from Senate and House leadership that they will work to reverse harsh cuts to crop insurance in this deal so the critical safety net program continues to support farmers and keep intact the 2014 farm bill - which many of us diligently worked on for over a year."

Like other senators, Heitkamp pledged to improve the federal budget. "It isn't a perfect deal, but this compromise protects our economy and gives some needed certainty to American families and businesses over the next two years."

Hoeven said the bill contains both good points, even though bad aspects convinced him to vote against it.

"It balances the budget in 10 years, and strikes a balance on funding national priorities, like defense and safety net programs for our seniors and those in need without raising taxes," Hoeven said.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said Republicans are to blame for taking the country to within days of a government shutdown.

"This bipartisan budget agreement is far from perfect but it can provide some much needed certainty for our economy by preventing the ongoing Republican threats of a government default and shutdown," Baldwin said.

She said that by Dec. 11, she hopes Congress can remove tax code provisions that help the country's richest residents.

This story contains information from Reuters news service.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.