(Austin Daily Herald)
By Mike Rose
Congressman Tim Walz-D, talks about how he continues to work, despite Washington D.C. being shut down due to the recent successive snow storms pummeling the area.
Tim Walz was in Austin Wednesday — not a rare occurrence for the congressman who represents southern Minnesota, but one that was somewhat unexpected because of what President Barack Obama has dubbed “snowmaggeddon” in the nation’s capital.
The second-term representative would normally have flown to Washington, D.C., on Monday, but the U.S. House of Representatives postponed all votes until Feb. 22 in the wake of two large snowstorms to hit the city since the weekend. Upwards of three feet has already fallen in the capital area in the past several days, helping make 2009-2010 the snowiest season ever in Washington.
Walz said he’s seen some minor weather problems affect Congress’ schedule before, and he dealt with a suspicious package threat last summer that forced three office buildings full of representatives and their staffs to be evacuated. But he’s never seen Washington debilitated like this.
“This is as bad as I’ve heard about,” Walz said.
However, the time off is somewhat of a blessing in disguise for the congressman. Walz said next week was scheduled as a “district week,” in which he gets to travel across southern Minnesota and meet constituents. Because of the storms, that time essentially has been doubled.
“I don’t know many members (of Congress) who wouldn’t want to be back in their districts,” Walz said. “It’s extra time. It’s good.”
But that doesn’t mean the weather hasn’t come without its share of inconveniences. Walz said this time in early February — shortly after the president’s State of the Union Address — is pivotal in congressional budget discussions.
There’s also the potential problem of coordinating staffs that may be scattered because of the snow. Walz said he’s lucky in that regard because a bulk of his 15-person staff, including his chief of staff, are located in Minnesota and are with him currently. But Walz said the majority of most congressional staffs reside in Washington, which could present problems right now if a representative or senator was elsewhere.
“It could be really disruptive,” Walz said.
The Minnesota representative is also lucky he’s not stuck in Washington because of sleeping arrangements — Walz, who usually travels back to the First District on weekends, said he sleeps on an air mattress in his D.C. office during the week.
He was able to leave Washington early last Friday before the first wave of snow really picked up, but if he hadn’t, it would have meant an extended stay on the air mattress or a trip to a nearby hotel.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar has had a different experience with the recent storms. The senior senator from Minnesota flew into Washington’s Dulles International Airport on Sunday and has been there since.
Speaking from her home in Virginia Wednesday, Klobuchar, a Plymouth, Minn., native, said the blizzard outside her window would be rough even on Minnesotans.
“It’s pretty bad,” she said of the conditions.
Bad enough to essentially shut down the Senate on Wednesday and postpone votes and hearings. But unlike the House, the Senate is not completely shut down for the next week plus — Klobuchar said she expected things to pick up again on Thursday and Friday. This will likely include work on a bipartisan jobs bill that is being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Klobuchar said she’s kept busy with staff meetings from her office, though she’s altered her travel plans somewhat and has taken the metro rail line the last few days. She said snow plows aren’t nearly as prevalent as they are in Minnesota, meaning bad roads have largely remained that way.
“They usually wait for (snow) to melt,” the senator said of Washington street crews.
The storms have also had an affect on Klobuchar’s family. She said her 14-year-old daughter Abigail hasn’t had school since last Thursday, and could be off for even longer.
“We think she’s going to have six snow days,” Klobuchar said.
The senator said she wondered if her daughter’s school would make up the days at the end of the school year, but Abigail had a clever solution.
“She told her friends, ‘It can be declared a natural disaster by Congress,’” Klobuchar said with a laugh.
While mom and her colleagues might not push to declare the bad weather a natural disaster, the snow certainly has had a wide-ranging affect on the area, shutting down not only government and schools, but also professional sporting events, airports, and dozens of other buildings and services. And the social media sphere has been abuzz over the storms, with Twitter users dubbing the weather “snowpocalypse” and “snowsteria,” among other names, in addition to Obama’s “snowmaggeddon.”
Walz, a native Nebraskan, said Midwesterners often tease Washington, D.C., folks for how they react to even the smallest snowfalls. But this week, he said, the commotion is justified.
“This was actually a real snowfall out there,” Walz said.