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Heitkamp bemoans Senate gridlock

BISMARCK -- North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Monday there is something wrong with the process in Washington when three Senators can keep Congress from passing a budget.

"We need to get back to regular order," she said. "The rules of the U.S. Senate are not working for America."

Heitkamp's reference to the ongoing issue between the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives and Democratic-controlled Senate was part of a list of issues facing the country she laid out during a 25-minute address to the Bismarck Lions Club.

Heitkamp, the state's sole Democratic official in Washington, only expects the battle between the House and Senate to continue when they return from their fall recess break, expecting little movement on key issues such as the federal farm bill and budget.

"It's not that we don't get along, we sometimes have fundamental disagreements on how the country should move forward," she said about the two main political parties.

Heitkamp is spending her recess break traveling the state talking and meeting with officials mainly about energy, banking, housing and what the next phase of healthcare reform is going to be.

She will meet Wednesday with the director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and area bankers.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven also is traveling around the state during the recess break. He will meet today with Bismarck area agriculture leaders, the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and bankers to discuss the farm bill and business-related issues.

Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer will continue his weekly town hall radio show on Wednesday's, take part in a Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce forum and two ribbons cutting ceremonies in Minot later this month.

On Monday, Heitkamp stressed to the 35 mostly retired club members the need for the federal government to find a balance between lowering the cost of health care while maintaining sound investments for future generations as the country looks for ways to reduce its $16.7 trillion debt.

She was asked if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, will survive attempts to strip away some of its key provisions. Heitkamp said it will for at least the next three years as President Barack Obama won't allow sweeping changes to his policy and carries the power to veto any legislation.

But her largest concern isn't the partisan-bickering over the issue, but connecting the cost of health care with the patient.

"If we're worrying about the deficit, you have to be thinking about health care costs," she said as audience members voiced their disapproval of the high costs for some recent hospital visits.

Heitkamp said health care costs are what will push the countries debt higher if something isn't done.

But right now, with Congress at odds over the budget, little will get done. She pointed out the country is spending more than it is taking in and borrowing $0.40 of every dollar. "It's a formula for failure," she said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.