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Oberstar funding bill faces roadblocks

ST. PAUL - Numerous reports out of Washington indicate that U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar will have a tough time getting his transportation funding bill passed this year.

But one new story indicates the bill is on the right path: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backs it.

"I am a proponent for bringing up a full transportation bill, which is a great jobs bill..." Roll Call newspaper quotes Pelosi as saying.

That may be just what Oberstar needs in light of other opposition.

The Minnesota Democrat who leads the House transportation committee last month unveiled a $500 billion transportation bill in hopes that it would pass by fall.

Michele Fuetsch reports in the publication Transport Topics: "With the White House standing in his path and a pair of well-placed senators lining up with the administration, the guessing game in Washington is how long House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar can keep his six-year highway reauthorization bill alive in Congress."

And Fuetsch does not even get into what could be the biggest obstacle, a House Ways and Means Committee that is so busy with climate-change, financial regulation and health-care bills that it may not have time for the Oberstar bill.

"Oberstar is not going to win this game," Joshua Schank, director of transportation research for the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Fuetsch.

President Barack Obama wants to extend the current transportation policy for 18 months. Oberstar says a delay would produce so much uncertainty that highway construction programs, in particular, would be delayed while transportation officials await the new bill.

Not Obama's dogs

President Barack Obama is finding his Portuguese water dog, named Bo, is a better pal than Blue Dogs.

The fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, Democratic U.S. representatives who do not follow the party line on many money votes, opposed Obama more than House Democrats overall in the first half of 2009, a study by the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics blog shows. But it was just 5.4 percentage points less than overall Democratic votes.

Reps. Collin Peterson of western Minnesota, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota are among the Blue Dogs, a 52-member organization that Peterson helped start.

Sandlin sides with Obama just 73 percent of the time, while Peterson agreed with Obama on 81 percent of votes. Pomeroy was much more friendly with the new president, voting with him 92 percent of the time.

Reservations get aid

Northern Minnesota Indian reservations will share in $90 million of federal economic surplus money to improve their drinking water and sewage services.

Upper Midwest reservations will get $1.6 million to improve sewer systems. They include $460,730 for work on the White Earth reservation, $229,170 for Fond Du Lac and $125,000 for Mille Lacs.

Slightly more money will be allocated to improving drinking water systems, including $920,800 for Bois Forte and $180,200 for Leech Lake.

"This investment is win-win," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. "Addressing long-standing water issues in tribal communities is also going to bring in new jobs and new opportunities -- helping them get through the economic downturn and build a lasting foundation for prosperity."

To be eligible, the water projects needed to be ready for immediate construction.

Brod out of race

State Rep. Laura Brod, citing health concerns, is out of the Minnesota governor's race, for now at least.

In a letter on her Facebook page, Brod said she has received concerning health news, without being specific, but said she expects better news after treatment.

The New Prague Republican was exploring a governor run, but she and her family decided during the holiday weekend that "right now is not the right time to begin a campaign for governor."

There will be no shortage of governor candidates. It is quite possible a dozen or more will be running by summer's end.

Pawlenty who?

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has lots to do if he is to become part of the GOP presidential front-running pact, a new Rasmussen Reports poll shows.

The survey of likely Republican voters across the country showed that just 1 percent picked Pawlenty as their favorite presidential candidate.

Last year's popular candidate Mitt Romney pulled in 25 percent support, followed closely by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with 24 percent. A couple of points back was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich received support from 14 percent of the Republicans surveyed.

Even more telling, 28 percent of Republicans said they did not know enough about Pawlenty to say if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. Most of those surveyed knew what they thought of Romney, Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich. Palin received the most favorable marks.

Adding perspective

For those who follow politics, it seems as though new Minnesota U.S. Sen. Al Franken was the big news in recent days.

News organizations big and small wrote about the ex-comedian's rise to power.

Glenn Thrush of penned this on Franken's first Senate vote: "Even before he lost that new senator smell, Al Franken bucked the Obama administration -- joining other Democrats in rejecting the White House plan to scrap $6 million funding to protect buses from terrorists."

But bucking President Barack Obama did not hold a candle to Tuesday's really big story - Michael Jackson's memorial service.

A quick check of Google News hits the morning after Franken was sworn in showed a respectable 9,004 stories about the new senator. At the same time, Jackson was mentioned in 253,675 stories. And to put it all in perspective, Obama himself was in 240,636 news accounts.

Beilke suggested

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., wants to name a new Alexandria, Minn., Veterans' Affairs outpatient clinic after a man killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Peterson introduced legislation to name the clinic after Alexandria native Max J. Beilke.

Beilke, a 1950 Alexandria High School graduate, served 22 years in the Army and then was deputy chief of the Army's Retirement Services.

The clinic is to open in September.

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.