WASHINGTON – Amid falling steel prices that have led to the closure of two Iron Range taconite plants, members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation and the Dayton Administration on Friday pushed the Obama Administration to act on what they described as illegal trade practices.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith met with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman at the White House on Friday morning.

The discussion centered on legislation that would shorten the amount of time it takes to determine whether foreign companies are exporting products to the U.S. at a loss, according to Klobuchar.

“I think the more we can show strength in changing our laws as a country, the more quickly some of these foreign governments will see that we mean business and hopefully we can get the plants opening again,” said Klobuchar.

Earlier this month, U.S. Steel announced that it was temporarily idling its Keetac plant on the Iron Range and laying off 412 workers. Last month, Magnetation announced it was closing an Iron Range plant and laying off nearly 50 people.

The lawmakers and the steel industry blame unfair foreign competition for the industry’s woes, in particular cheap imports from Asia and Australia.

“American steel companies are being irreparably harmed by illegal trade practices,” said U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi to members of Congress on Thursday.

But the industry’s problems are also compounded by the strong dollar, which makes imports much cheaper, and a strong U.S. economy in which demand for steel continues to grow.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk announced DFL budget targets that emphasize education spending and increase reserves. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate released a budget outline Friday that would spend nearly $43 billion over the next two years and provide more than $200 million in tax cuts.

They described their proposal as charting the middle ground between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and House Republicans. But most of the numbers track closer to Dayton.

With a projected $1.9 billion surplus to work with, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said $555 million would be spent on public schools, colleges and universities.

Bakk said a big difference in the Senate plan is that it puts $250 million into the state’s rainy day account.

“Everyone would like to spend more money,” Bakk said. “Everybody would like to have a tax cut. But really the state budget is critically important to the delivery of all the services that our state and local governments provide, and making sure that stability is there going forward is just really, really critical.”

The Senate DFL target number for tax relief is similar to the governor’s but far smaller House Republicans, who are proposing $2 billion in unspecified cuts.

Bakk said more restraint is needed to avoid repeating fiscal mistakes of the past.

The House GOP budget outline, unveiled earlier this week, is about $3 billion smaller than the plan Gov. Dayton released in January and updated last week.

Senate Republicans quickly criticized the DFL targets.

Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that Democrats are refusing to eliminate wasteful spending. Hann also took issue with the DFL’s transportation funding proposal.

“Their continued insistence on raising the gas tax when the state is already sitting on a pile of extra money is simply disrespectful to hardworking taxpayers,” Hann said. “Like Gov. Dayton, Sen. Bakk and the Senate Democrats have forgotten who the budget surplus actually belongs to: the people of Minnesota.”

Good morning!

In Minnesota

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk offered a sharp rebuke of the House Republican budget targets unveiled this week that would offer $2 billion in unspecified tax relief and mostly hold the line on spending. (Star Tribune)

Two environmental funds approved by Minnesota voters could be tapped to pay for schools, roads and other local needs under a plan working its way through the Legislature. (Pioneer Press)

Gov. Dayton’s early education plan has proven surprisingly divisive, even among his allies. (MinnPost)

Minnesota will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War next month by ringing bells. (MPR News)

National Politics

The House overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes to the Medicare program in the most significant bipartisan policy legislation to pass through that chamber since Republicans regained a majority in 2011. (New York Times)

The 2016 Republican nomination contest spilled onto the Senate floor, turning a marathon budget debate into a battle over which candidate is prepared to lead the country at a time of war. (Politico)

For years, Drug Enforcement Administration agents posted in Colombia engaged in sex parties involving prostitutes who were supplied by local drug cartels, a Justice Department review found. (USA Today)

Within hours of signing the so-called “Religious Freedom Bill” into law in Indiana, Governor Mike Pence learned that there would be a price to pay for enacting what critics say is a brazenly anti-gay piece of legislation: major companies began boycotting the state.  (Bloomberg News)

As he pulls together his expected presidential campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sen. Rand Paul is confronted by defections from an unexpected quarter: the die-hard idealists whose energy powered his father’s campaigns. (Politico)