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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Tax bill makes strange alliances

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ST. PAUL -- The most significant federal tax bill in years passed Congress, and produced strange political bedfellows.

Who would have imagined that conservative Tea Party star U.S. Rep. Michele Bachman would side with liberals Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum against a tax measure? It may have been just a little less of a surprise that conservative John Kline and liberal Jim Oberstar sided.

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Minnesota's senators, both Democrats, voted for the bill keeping the Bush-era tax cuts in place, although they held their noses while doing so. The House delegation split, and definitely not along party lines.

Voting for the Republican-President Barack Obama compromise were Republicans Kline and Erik Paulsen as well as Democrats Tim Walz, Collin Peterson and Oberstar.

The House approved the bill 277-148 after senators voted 81-19 in favor of it.

One of the problems Bachmann saw in the bill was reinstatement of the estate tax, which many call a "death tax" because survivors must pay.

Bachmann Tweeted: "I voted against restoring the death tax, increasing deficit and blowing a bigger hole in the Social Security trust fund."

"A lot of people are unhappy that the president punted on first down, and I'm one of them," Sen. Al Franken wrote to supporters, adding that the vote was the hardest he has taken. "Extending the Bush tax breaks for the super-wealthy will explode our deficit over the next two years without doing anything to help our economy."

Pawlenty first

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty appears nearing an announcement that he will run for president, but badly trails other better-known potential GOP candidates in the polls.

However, he is first in something.

Craig Robinson, founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, reports his first Christmas card from a potential 2012 presidential candidate came from Pawlenty.

The governor plans Iowa stops on his book tour next month. Iowa, of course, holds the first presidential caucuses.

Pawlenty's book, "Courage to Stand: An American Story," goes on sale Jan. 11. He plans a book tour and by spring is due to announce his presidential decision.

The hardcover of his book is on pre-sale at Amazon.com for $17.18, with an audiobook for $19,79.

Kline vs. Obama

Bloomberg News reports that incoming U.S. House Education Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., "is considering measures to block an Obama administration plan to tighten for-profit colleges' access to student aid."

Kline, who serves the southern Twin Cities and areas to the south, will be Minnesota's highest-ranking congressmen when the House convenes next month.

Bloomberg says the U.S. Education Department proposes limiting profit-making colleges' federal student aid more than that received by public colleges. Kline said that he would rather see colleges disclose graduation rates and other information.

"At the very least, you need to push this thing back," Kline said of the proposal.

At issue is whether for-profit schools are improperly recruiting students and misusing government funds. Kline said that gaining information would be better than punishment.

Dayton hires Wattson

Long-time Minnesota Senate attorney Peter Wattson will be Mark Dayton's general counsel when he becomes governor Jan. 3.

Wattson is nationally known as a redistricting expert, something that will come in handy next year as legislators and Dayton redraw legislative and congressional district lines.

"His experience will serve our state well, as we address its significant fiscal challenges," Dayton said. "Mr. Wattson has worked for the Senate Finance Committee since 1975 and has extensive experience drafting appropriations and bonding bills."

Wattson began his Senate work in 1971.

Prospects dim

The Washington-based news operation Politico reports that Minneapolis and Cleveland are "all but out of the running" for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

The choice apparently has been narrowed to St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C.

"The party seems to be leaning against Minneapolis largely because Republicans held their 2008 convention in St. Paul," reporter Molly Ball writes.

No recount estimate

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said he still does not know how much the governor's race recount cost.

Because Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer finished within half a percent of each other, the state will pick up the tab for local and state expenses.

While machine counts on election night are pretty accurate, Ritchie said, a hand count is even better because a machine cannot look at each ballot and determine voters' intentions.

"This is a 152-year-old process," Ritchie said. "It makes you proud to be a Minnesotan."

Republicans beg to differ. Their leaders accuse Ritchie of botching the election and they promise further investigations.

In the meantime, even Ritchie said election laws can be tweaked. For instance, he is in favor of lowering the automatic recount threshold to a quarter of a percent.

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