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Cali Owings, Published August 26 2013

ND delegation stresses bipartisan problem-solving at summit with state chamber

FARGO – North Dakota’s congressional delegation discussed several ongoing pieces of federal legislation with the state’s business leaders during a panel Monday night.

The discussion was the capstone event for a policy summit hosted by the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce at the Holiday Inn. Members of the chamber discussed energy policy, health care and immigration throughout the day before the panel featuring Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp, and Rep. Kevin Cramer.

The delegation started the conversation by emphasizing bipartisan problem-solving. They pointed to policy issues on which they had worked together to pass legislation in Congress that represented North Dakota.

Democrat Heitkamp said Congress needs to change the attitude that problems are “so insurmountable” that a solution will never be reached, because it creates uncertainty for businesses.

Hoeven, a Republican, pointed to business leaders and other community members as those that can spread bipartisanship, compromise and pragmatic solutions.

“Folks like you need to be involved in helping elected officials recapture that,” Hoeven said.

All three North Dakota legislators agreed on several issues and seemed frustrated by the lack of progress in Congress with health care, immigration, energy policy and, very recently, the farm bill.

The Senate was able to pass its version of the farm bill, but a farm bill failed in the House largely due to disagreements over the food stamp program, which is traditionally bundled with other agriculture and food policy measures. It’s expected to be one of the big items on the agenda when Congress reconvenes in September.

“It will be discouraging and demoralizing, not only to farmer, but to the American people, if we can’t get that done,” Heitkamp said.

On immigration, Republican Cramer pointed to Fargo-Moorhead businesses such as Microsoft’s large campus in Fargo as a reason why Congress needs to approve more H1-B visas for skilled and educated workers. Heitkamp mentioned an anticipated workforce shortage in the state as a reason to allow more immigration for laborers.

Finally, they turned to the nation’s energy policy and the energy climate, which the chamber and lawmakers viewed with concern.

For Heitkamp, a big point of concern is the push to eliminate the use of fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal and natural gas, and efforts to block the transport of those fuels.

She acknowledged her fellow senator is an example of someone who has been leading the charge on the Keystone XL pipeline and other energy issues.

Hoeven claimed one-size-fits-all approaches on energy from the federal level won’t work in most states. He said it is important to empower states to create their own comprehensive energy plans moving forward.

“Give them the opportunity… I think we would be energy independent in five years,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599