Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Letter from Sen. Franken – March 2010

North Star Newsletter - March 2010

Welcome to my newsletter. It's been a busy eight months since I was sworn in, but it's an honor to serve Minnesota and I love every minute of it. I've decided to start a monthly newsletter to let people know how I've been working for Minnesota and how what's happening in the Senate is affecting our great state.

Since I was sworn in last July, I've been able to introduce 14 bills and have filed or offered 9 amendments that aim to improve the lives of Minnesotans. Two of them – the Service Dogs for Veterans Act and the Jamie Leigh Jones Amendment – have passed the Senate with bipartisan support and have been signed into law. Two more – the Fairness In Insurance Act and the Diabetes Prevention Act – were incorporated into the health reform legislation that passed the Senate.

I also come back home to Minnesota every chance I get. So far I've toured farms, factories, veterans homes, and held roundtable discussions in communities across the state on many issues including our economy and health care. I've answered 130,000 of your letters and many more phone calls. And I want to say thank you to all of my constituents who provide their input. I hope this newsletter will be one way for me to report back to you.

Putting Minnesotans Back to Work

Putting Minnesotans back to work is my top priority in the Senate. And as I've said before, there is no such thing as a jobless recovery. We recently passed our first jobs bill, which will suspend payroll taxes for new hires, and we are working on several other bills that will focus on incentivizing hiring and jumpstarting new industries. At the same time, we are fighting to extend the safety net for people who have lost their jobs and to make sure that unemployment benefits and insurance subsidies don't expire. I've proposed a bill I'd like the Senate to consider – I call it "Cash for Jobs" – that's based on a Minnesota program from the '80s, which showed terrific results.

Making Health Care Reform a Reality

A big part of pulling our economy out of the ditch is finishing the work we started fixing our broken health care system. We have to keep reform on the front burner until it passes. Though progress has been slow since the Senate passed our bill in December, the need for reform has only increased in Minnesota and nationwide. That's why I've been pushing hard for a strategy I call "pledge and pass" - the House passes the Senate bill once the Senate pledges to fix certain portions using a procedural process known as reconciliation. This means that health care reform could be passed with a majority vote, overcoming a Republican filibuster of the legislation. Momentum has been growing for this approach and it was recently endorsed by President Obama. After the White House health summit last month, I am optimistic we'll move forward soon. On my Web site, you can find more of my ideas about health care reform and some of the proposals I've suggested.

On the Ground in Afghanistan

Earlier this year I joined Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on a weeklong trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan to learn firsthand about the situation on the ground. Before I left I got some great counsel from a group of Minnesota experts, and while I was there I had the opportunity to pose some of their questions to General McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. I also got a chance to meet with members of a Minnesota National Guard unit, which was the high point of the trip. See photos of my trip on Flickr.

Protecting Consumer Rights

As some of you may know, I worked for NBC for many years. What I know from my previous career has given me reason to be concerned–let me rephrase that, very concerned–about the effect that the potential merger of Comcast and NBC Universal will have on Minnesota consumers. I worry that Comcast, as the largest cable provider and the largest land-line internet provider, will use its market power to force out competitors' programming, or raise their rates – and thus consumers rates – to deliver it. That's why I've used my questions in the Judiciary Committee hearings (video) on the merger to try to get further answers and commitments from NBC and Comcast about this merger, and further commitments that it won't result in raising Minnesotans' cable bills.

Keeping in Touch

I am happy to say I now have four offices open around the state in St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Cloud, and Duluth, and a representative based in Northwestern Minnesota. We just held our first open house in the St. Paul office last month – and over 400 people showed up! Stay tuned for announcements about open houses in the other locations. And if you're in Washington please join me for breakfast every Wednesday morning that the Senate is in session for Mahnomen porridge and good conversation.

If you have a concern you'd like to tell me about, need help with a federal agency, or just want to let me know what you think of my newsletter, I'd love to hear from you.

Sen. Al Franken