WILLMAR -- Although unemployment remains high, Sen. Amy Klobuchar sees some glimmers of hope that the U.S. economy is on the mend.
"I can say that things have improved from three or months ago," said Klobuchar, a Democrat and Minnesota's senior senator.
What's important is to keep moving forward, she told an audience in Willmar Saturday.
"We're just hopeful we can get more jobs and have the employment go up," she said.
Klobuchar spoke at the annual Women's Expo, hosted by the West Central Tribune and Affiliated Community Medical Centers. An audience of around 100 greeted her warmly with applause. Afterwards they waited in line to shake the senator's hand and have their pictures taken with her.
"It's always fun to talk to a group of women. I don't always get to do that," Klobuchar said.
Before leaving the stage of the Kennedy School theater, she issued an invitation for any Minnesotan who happens to be in Washington to attend the "Minnesota breakfast" her office hosts every Thursday morning while the Senate is in session, featuring a menu of Spam puffs and other home-grown foods.
Klobuchar said history will some day judge Congress's actions to fix the economy and reform health care and determine "whether we were timid or courageous, or right or wrong."
Bailing out Wall Street was a controversial decision but was necessary to help stabilize the economy, she said. "That was a crisis moment in the economy."
One of her current priorities is to improve the regulation of large financial institutions and prevent another future collapse. Small community banks that were fiscally prudent should be treated separately so they don't end up being hurt by regulations designed to rein in the largest banks, Klobuchar said.
"I still believe we're going to have to be very careful to protect our community banks," she said.
Klobuchar, who sits on five Senate committees, including the Agriculture and Commerce Committees, said she also sees a need for more incentives to promote energy alternatives and to ensure the U.S. infrastructure doesn't lag behind those of other nations.
When she returns to Washington this week, she expects to tackle another huge issue -- health care reform.
The Senate health care reform bill is scheduled to be voted on in committee this week. Klobuchar then plans to review each section of the bill with her staff. She's already concerned about a provision that would tax medical devices, which could hurt Minnesota's medical device manufacturers.
Klobuchar said she'll work with a coalition of other senators to introduce an amendment designed to be more protective of the medical device industry.
Her priorities for health care reform include cost containment, incentives to provide quality care, and preserving the ability to see one's doctor of choice.
The discussion at the Capitol has been moving at a slow pace but Klobuchar sees this as a good thing.
"I think we needed a lot of time and continue to need a lot of time to get it right," she said.