WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is poised to clear payment-reform legislation backed by Minnesota U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat in a suburban swing district that has been targeted by his administration over the past year.
Craig’s bill, which was approved by the House on Wednesday in a voice vote, is the first by any of Minnesota’s four freshman representatives to get to the president’s desk. The Republican-run Senate already has approved a companion bill to her Payment Integrity Information Act of 2019, which would rein in improper payments from government agencies to contractors.
Backed by leaders in both parties, the legislation represents a rare wisp of bipartisanship in a polarized Congress. Craig voted to impeach Trump in December and called his State of the Union speech this week “very partisan.” Meanwhile her district was singled out by Vice President Mike Pence in a visit to a Lakeville business last October ahead of Trump’s campaign rally in Minneapolis. Trump also stopped in the district last April for a business roundtable in Burnsville.
“I represent a district that requires me to listen to everyone,” Craig told the Star Tribune. “I can’t shut out anyone.”
Republicans held Craig’s district for years, with former Reps. John Kline and Jason Lewis before Craig unseated Lewis, a rising GOP star, in 2018. The administration’s two visits in 2019 were a sure sign that the south metro district remains one of Minnesota’s most competitive in 2020.
Still, Craig expects the president to let her legislation become law, whether by his signature or simply forgoing a veto.
She won the backing of Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, one of the House’s staunchest conservatives, who signed up as a co-sponsor of the bill. “The president is Republican,” Craig said. “The Senate is Republican. So if I don’t work with them, nothing gets done.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that federal agencies made $151 billion in improper payments in 2018. The majority of those were from Medicare, Medicaid and the earned income tax credit. Over the past decade, improper payments totaled $1.4 trillion. Craig believes legislative intervention was clearly needed.
The bill puts controls in place in agencies with the most improper payments, she said. It also steps up efforts to detect shortcomings in government accounting practices. And an interagency working group will share strategies and best practices to try to stop future improper payments before they occur.
The bill includes no criminal enforcement mechanism, but Craig expects the new law to reduce improper payments.
Even as she reaches across the aisle to Republicans, Craig still embraces Democratic positions on major issues.
The former St. Jude Medical executive said she didn’t support the Republican 2017 tax-cut plan because it “didn’t prioritize the middle class.” She argued that the permanent corporate tax-rate cut from 35 to 21% left loopholes in place that drove the effective tax rate below 21% for many corporations. Meanwhile, more modest tax-rate cuts to individuals are set to expire after 2025.
While she stands with her party, Craig said she looks for chances to find common ground with Republicans. Next up is a reinsurance bill designed to reduce premiums in the individual health insurance market that is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature health reform bill.
Craig said she modeled the legislation after a program passed by Republicans in Minnesota.
Still, she said she “spent months trying to get a Republican on my reinsurance bill,” because of the hyperpartisanship of Washington. She said GOP representatives could “get their heads cut off for trying to stabilize the ACA.”
In the end, Craig persuaded Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry to co-sponsor her federal reinsurance bill, which protects insurers from high claims.
In the current political climate, she explained, it takes hard work to win “little victories on big issues.”
Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432