MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a heavy favorite for re-election, says she would use a second term to try to help steer the Senate out of perpetual gridlock on major issues.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Klobuchar both criticized and defended Congress, calling out unnamed colleagues for "dysfunctional talk on TV" but also claiming there are 62 to 75 senators "who are willing to buck the partisanship" to cut the national debt, stabilize the U.S. economy and create jobs.
"It has to happen, because we are facing a lot of major challenges in this country," Klobuchar said in a wide-ranging interview this week.
Klobuchar led her main challenger, GOP state Rep. Kurt Bills, by nearly 30 points in a recent statewide poll that confirmed her sizeable advantages in money and name recognition. Bills, who hasn't yet aired a TV ad, has tried to make up some of the ground by tagging the Democratic incumbent with Congress' bad reputation — something Klobuchar herself joked about in a recent tweet comparing Congress' popularity with NFL replacement referees.
Klobuchar's fellow Democrats in such states as Missouri, Montana and Ohio are locked in tough reelection fights. Similarly intense campaigns are underway for open seats in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Virginia, Massachusetts and Indiana as Republicans try to overturn a slim Democratic majority.
Regardless of which party controls the chamber, neither is likely to have the 60 seats that would really break gridlock. Klobuchar said that would create a bigger incentive than ever for senators who want to cross party lines, even on seemingly intractable differences over what spending might be cut and what taxes might be raised to make a dent in the national debt.
The $16 trillion national debt could be reduced by about $4 trillion in the first few months of 2013 with just a few steps, Klobuchar said. She would let Bush-era tax cuts lapse on yearly income above $250,000 and cut federal spending by about $2 trillion on top of $1.2 trillion in planned cuts that were part of a 2011 package approved by Congress.
Klobuchar said some of those additional cuts could come in the areas of defense spending, closing tax loopholes that benefit oil and ethanol producers and other corporations, and negotiating lower prices with drug companies that serve Medicare patients.
Klobuchar said some Democrats would resist this approach.
"I will say there are some people in my party, I have heard them say it behind closed doors, who just say we don't want to deal with this," she said.
In her first term, Klobuchar teamed up with Senate Republican colleagues on bills aimed at boosting agricultural producers, making government reforms and benefiting veterans. She touts her work with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., on the bill, sponsored by Klobuchar, for federal money to build a new St. Croix River bridge in Stillwater.
Bills' campaign and other Republicans have criticized Klobuchar as too cautious, preferring smaller policy initiatives over the big challenges.
Klobuchar said if reelected, her focus in 2013 would be on big issues, the debt reduction efforts and passing a federal farm bill that passed the Senate but has been stalled in the House. She said stabilizing the economy would give breathing space to pursue legislation aimed at boosting exports, encouraging American innovation and invention, and investing in job training and re-training — policies she said would goose the stagnant job market.
"There really are senators, some of them saying it behind closed doors, who say things like, 'I didn't give up everything in my life to come here just to fight every day," Klobuchar said. "There are people that want very badly to move forward for this country."