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Sides pull apart at Minnesota Capitol

ST. PAUL - Republicans and Democrats moved further apart in budget talks today, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut short participating in the Governor's Fishing Opener to return to the Capitol with time running out to balance the state budget.

ST. PAUL - Republicans and Democrats moved further apart in budget talks today, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty cut short participating in the Governor's Fishing Opener to return to the Capitol with time running out to balance the state budget.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller pledged to pass some type of budget plan before 7 a.m. Sunday, but also said "the doors of the Senate will remain open" until the Legislature's midnight Sunday deadline for passing bills.

Chances increased that lawmakers will vote on budget bills that lack Pawlenty's approval. The governor insists that any budget solution must have at least some support from fellow Republican legislators before he can support it. That appeared less likely this afternoon after House Republicans blasted a health plan Democrats want.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said he does not understand why Republicans supported a similar health-care plan last year, but do not now. Holding up dollar bills, Sertich said that the state would get more than $7 back for every $1 it spent on the plan.

The reason, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said is that the Medical Assistance plan offered by the federal government opens the door to more people taking advantage of the program and it does nothing to slow cost increases. He said people could move to Minnesota and get better coverage than existing Minnesotans.

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The health-care program debate is a key to getting budget work completed. More than $100 million spending cuts in the health bill are part of the overall budget-balancing plan.

House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said the health bill is not needed and suggested that budget negotiators concentrate on other budget issues.

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the state could get $1.4 billion in federal money if Minnesota joins the federal program.

"That doesn't go to our poor people, it goes to our hospitals," said Huntley, the House's health finance chairman.

Only four Minnesota hospitals have agreed to take part in a reworked Genera Assistance Medical Care program for the state's poorest citizens, with most hospitals saying they cannot afford it. The federal plan would open the doors of more hospitals, Huntley said.

Pawlenty was at Lake Kabetogama, near International Falls, Friday and earlier today for the fishing opener. After catching four fish, including a 22-inch walleye, the governor this afternoon boarded his plane for an hour-long flight back to St. Paul.

He talked to legislative leaders via telephone twice while at the lake, but House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, and others asked him to return to the Capitol to negotiate.

Read more in Sunday's Forum.

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Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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