St. Paul, Minn. — Less than a day after a stinging defeat that saw her party lose control of the Senate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., could still find policy priorities she thinks she can work jointly with Republicans when they take control of the Senate in 2015.
Among them are subjects that have eluded a search for common ground in past years, including trade, hunger and climate change.
She spoke Wednesday at the conference "Faith, Food & the Environment: The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader" at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. The Nov. 5-7 gathering was sponsored by a dozen groups, including Catholic Rural Life, the university and several of its departments, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and several state Farmers Unions.
Klobuchar, Minnesota's senior senator, said she had stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before talking to reporters about the upcoming change of command in the Senate, but noted that in between interviews, she had spoken by phone to six Republican senators identifying policy priorities on which both parties can work jointly.
Calling her remarks "my first policy speech since the midterm elections," Klobuchar, a Catholic, pointed to one past joint success: "We were able to pull off the farm bill, which was an amazing feat. But there's so much that can be done internationally."
She recalled Norman Borlaug, a World Food Prize winner from more than 40 years ago who helped precipitate India's "green revolution" by developing more nutritious and hardier hybrids of staple crops, like rice, to feed the subcontinent's burgeoning population. But people need to be "working to produce twice as much food to feed 9 billion people by 2050," Klobuchar said.
Even while acknowledging the world's needs, "we still see hunger at home," she added. She pointed to work on the farm bill that cut allocations for home heating yet maintained Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding "in a strong way."
On climate change, Klobuchar said the United States passed up three opportunities already this century to make a dent in the issue.
The first was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Congress "could have done more in building a grid run by renewable energy," instead of remaining dependent on oil imported from countries hostile to the United States and its interests.
A second missed opportunity by Congress was in not mandating a "national renewable electricity standard," she said, adding that 30 percent of Minnesota's electricity comes from renewable sources.
The third failure was in not enacting "cap and trade." Such a regulatory system sets a limit, or a "cap," on what pollutants companies can emit, and companies that easily meet the limit can sell, or "trade," unused "credits" to those companies that are struggling to comply.
"No one really understood what it was," Klobuchar said, and "we ended up with nothing."
On the trade front, U.S. policy in Africa should be oriented to helping the continent feed its own people rather that continuous dependence on food aid from wealthier nations, Klobuchar said.
She spoke of a visit she made to Ethiopia and other African nations in August with three other female senators. They went to a plant that made baby food, but the product was unappetizing. General Mills was enlisted in the cause, and with the food company's help, the baby food plant was soon making baby food that was not only tastier but more nutritious.
Klobuchar also spoke of her conversation with a woman who is considered a leader in her village because she took it upon herself to improve maternal health in the town.
The woman is a widow with three young children. She has to walk an hour and a half each day to fetch clean water, and she has "a few rows of crops" she tends, according to Klobuchar, who nonetheless held her up as a standard for her fellow members of Congress, often criticized for legislation-paralyzing gridlock.
When Klobuchar asked the woman what challenges she faced, she said the woman replied, "I have no challenges because I'm a leader."