The Senate Women and the Middle Class

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Last night the women of the U.S. Senate met for the first time. All 16 (14 present and two new members) were supposed to be in attendance. But Sens. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, were tied up on a military construction appropriation matter on the Senate floor and didn't make it. Sen.-elect Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, skipped freshman orientation entirely to make good on a promise to her family: She had pledged to take a family vacation as soon as the election was over to reward her kin for a year on the campaign trail. But the other 13 female senators were present and accounted for.

I interviewed incoming Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar about the senators' main topic of conversation for the evening: how to boost the morale and finances of what's being referred to as America's vanishing middle class. Here's an excerpt:

What are the women of the Senate planning for middle-class Americans?

Klobuchar: Minnesota people are really concerned about how Washington has been working almost against the middle class. So what I'm really interested in and what my state is very interested in is doing things to help people pay for college with tuition and student loans. Helping to make healthcare more affordable, including negotiating with the drug companies for prescription drugs for Medicare patients. Doing something about energy independence; we are a state that brought the world the post-it note and the pacemaker. Energy is our next frontier. So we've got wind turbines and ethanol and all kinds of things going on. We're very interested in investing in the farmers and workers in the Midwest instead of the oil cartels in the Mideast. And finally, the people in our state want to see a change of course in Iraq. And the best thing that we believe we can do for our troops is not only give them the equipment they need but also get the policy right.

Do you expect the Senate to move with the House to change the alternative minimum tax, which is squeezing middle-class married couples?

Klobuchar: Well, Democrats in the Senate are very focused on the middle class and how we can even the playing field, and part of that is the alternative minimum tax hike that is expanding more and more to covering families than it was intended to cover in the first place. So that needs to be changed. And we need more fiscal responsibility. Look at the pork-barrel spending. That needs to change, as well as closing down some of these tax shelters for multibillionaires. People want to see change out here and that's what we're doing, and so far it's going well.