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What it looks like when Congress does its job


Fri, Nov 27th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

If you've ever wondered what members of Congress do to earn their keep, the current health-care debate on Capitol Hill should give you a good idea. This complex legislation, placed on the congressional agenda by President Obama but shaped by the intense give-and-take of the legislative process, is a perfect window into our democracy.

Its sheer ambition - to remake one of the key drivers of our economy and to make health care both more affordable and more accessible to Americans - means that it will leave hardly a person, business or organization untouched. The stakes are huge, from corporations' profitability, to how doctors practice, to the heart of families' pocketbooks. That is why so many ordinary Americans and so many lobbying groups - from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to small businesses to health insurers to AARP and, of course, the American Medical Association - are intent on having their say in what is taking place on Capitol Hill.

It's impossible to avoid the debate. Advertisements crowd the airwaves. Demonstrators gather on the Hill or at lawmakers' town-hall meetings. A torrent of interviews, speeches, editorials and op-eds appears every day. Over coffee at their local diner, around the dinner table, at VFW and Lions Club meetings, Americans argue over the so-called "public option," mandatory health insurance, and other particulars. You can only imagine how intense things have gotten on Capitol Hill, the epicenter of it all.

In this super-heated atmosphere, 535 members of Congress have to sort out what to do. The answers might seem obvious when you're shooting the breeze with friends, but it's not so simple when you're in Congress. For no matter what you might believe is the right approach, many of your colleagues will think differently, and some number of them will be dead set against what you want to do.

Moreover, as a member you're listening daily to lobbyists and constituents - many of whom, such as doctors and insurance agents and small-business owners - have a direct interest in what Congress produces. Sorting through their various points of view, assessing the conflicting fiscal analyses, trying to cut through the heated rhetoric, gauging the substantive merits of different proposals as well as their political impact: it all amounts to a full-time job in an institution that doesn't allow the luxury of devoting full time to any single issue.

As a measure of this importance moves toward completion, .....
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Daily newspapers, once the backbone of the free press, on life support

Fri, Nov 20th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

Are daily newspapers, including the New York Times and many others large and small around the county, going to survive in this digital age? I still prefer paging through and reading a newspaper that is physically in my hands. However, in this electr ..... 
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Whatever their tone, we need town hall meetings

Fri, Nov 13th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

Years ago, when I was still in Congress, I pulled up one day to address a public meeting in a remote and very rural part of Indiana. The sheriff, a friend of mine, met me outside the small volunteer firehouse where I was to speak. "The Ku Klux Klan ..... 
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My biggest fan

Fri, Nov 13th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

I seem to have one dedicated reader. He sends me anonymous letters that brighten my day. I would like to respond, but he has no return address or name attribution in his letters mailed from Rochester. He appears, from the state of the handwriting, t ..... 
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Great white birds and hope for a troubled world

Fri, Nov 6th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

To brighten an overcast, cold and windy November, try a short trip to the eastern edge of Houston County along the Mississippi River where you may join hundreds of people observing the spectacular tundra swan migration. The best places to watch the ..... 
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One moment, please...

Fri, Nov 6th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

Publisher of the Fillmore County Journal, cell phone number 507-251-5297

On some occasions, I have a variety of subjects to cover in my weekly column. This week, there happens to be two thoughts relating to Harmony, Lanesboro, Preston and Rus ..... 
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Health Care & Confusion

Fri, Oct 30th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

I admit that I am confused by the overwhelming assault on the senses regarding the health care debate in Congress. One can't read the newspaper or watch TV without seeing some reference to some aspect of health care. The consensus is that changes ne ..... 
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It's time to govern the flow of political money

Fri, Oct 30th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

There was a time when I believed that the best way to curtail the impact of money flowing into our political system was to monitor it. Make sure that campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures were reported quickly and accurately, I reasoned, ..... 
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Journal Writing Project

Fri, Oct 30th, 2009
Posted in Commentary



I can still remember my first day of high school, walking into the gym with all the upperclassmen. The thing that sticks out the most in my mind that day in the gym was our principal, Mr. Olstad, saying that "high school flies by." I was thi ..... 
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