Republican Jeff Johnson criticized Gov. Mark Dayton for not taking advantage of an offer from the White House to allow some businesses to keep their health insurance plans. Tom Scheck/MPR News

Republican Jeff Johnson stepped up his attacks on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton over MNsure today.

Specifically he criticized Dayton for a decision on health insurance that Johnson says cripples small businesses.

At a manufacturing facility in Minneapolis, Johnson said Dayton’s decision not to allow small businesses to keep health plans not allowed under the Affordable Care Act means many will see skyrocketing premium hikes this year.

Johnson said governors in 39 other states used an extension that was offered by President Obama late last year to keep existing plans in place that don’t conform to ACA standards.

“The unfortunate part of this is that we didn’t take advantage of this, Mark Dayton didn’t take advantage of this when he had the opportunity to do it,” Johnson said,  “so now a lot of businesses and a lot of employees particularly are going to face some sticker shock.”

Dayton decided against the extension because because insurance companies said it would be unworkable under MNsure and would increase premiums for businesses that are already complying with the law.

A spokesman for Dayton’s campaign said the cost increases cited by Johnson are a result of improvements in health coverage such as cancer screenings and hospitalizations.

Good morning!

In Minnesota

An interview with Republican Jeff Johnson on the policies he would enact if elected governor. (MinnPost)

Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden on Wednesday pounced on news that PreferedOne will no longer sell insurance on MNsure, calling it the latest example of the Affordable Care Act’s failure and a reason to toss DFL Sen. Al Franken out of the Senate. (MPR News)

The chief executive of Minnesota’s health insurance exchange says help will be available for consumers as its largest carrier pulls out. (AP via Pioneer Press)

7th District DFL Rep. Collin Peterson is staking his re-election on his long support for policies such as defending sugar beet farmers. (Bloomberg News)

Meanwhile, the Poligraph weighs in on the latest NRCC ad against Peterson. (MPR News)

The Twin Cities were one of three cities in the country that will participate in a pilot program to boost outreach in the Islamic community in an effort to combat recruitment of naturalized Americans by the terrorist group ISIL. (Star Tribune)

A Dakota County jury convicted Minnesota Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald of refusing to submit to a breath test and obstructing the legal process during an April 2013 traffic stop in which police suspected she was intoxicated. (Star Tribune)

Comedian Bill Maher got some headlines for saying he wants to oust 2nd District GOP Rep. John Kline. But it turns out Maher doesn’t even know who Kline’s opponent is. (Politico)

National Politics

A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that President Obama’s approval ratings are similar to those of President George W. Bush in 2006 when Democrats swept both houses of Congress in the midterm elections. (New York Times)

After the U.S. House passed legislation to arm Syrian rebels, the Senate agreed to swiftly take up the measure. (Politico)

The House vote was 273 to 156 with large numbers in both parties voting in opposition, including two Minnesota Democrats and one Republican. (MPR News)

Apple says that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant — taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user information. (Washington Post)

poligraph-accurateIn the vast 7th Congressional District, it can take hours to get from one place to the next.

That’s why DFL Rep. Collin Peterson has long defended his use of an airplane to get around.

But Peterson’s preferred modes of transportation are a sore spot with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is targeting Peterson’s taxpayer reimbursed cars and mileage in its latest six-figure ad buy.

“It was bad enough when Peterson charged taxpayers for one leased car. Now he has two. Minnesota Senators don’t even have two. Worse? We also reimburse Peterson for gas and mileage – more than double any other Minnesota congressman.”

The ad is essentially correct, but Peterson argues he has unusual circumstances.

The Evidence

The NRCC has been honing a single talking point about Peterson for months: the group argues that Peterson, who has served in Congress for more than 20 years, is out of touch with his district. The group is working to help state Sen. Torrey Westrom defeat Peterson in November.

So this ad, which opens with a picture of a much younger Peterson, is meant to portray the long-serving representative as living high-on-the-hog off taxpayer dollars.

Senators aren’t allowed to pay for rental cars with taxpayer dollars, but U.S. House members are and Peterson is among them.

Back in 2001, Peterson’s office leased one car. But as the district got bigger, Peterson said he decided to rent two vehicles for staffers whose jobs required traveling long distances.  That way, they don’t put wear and tear on their own cars.

Democrats like the rental car talking point, too. In 2011, when Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack was running for reelection in the 8th Congressional District, the Democratic House Majority PAC ran an ad targeting Cravaack for renting an SUV.

The reason Peterson’s personal mileage reimbursements are so high is because he often flies his airplane around the district to save time. Last year, Peterson was reimbursed for more than $15,000 in personal mileage, according to finance reports. That’s much higher than other members of the Minnesota delegation, though some members may account for transportation charges differently – for instance, by reimbursing a staffer who drives them around their district.

Peterson argued that the money he spends on transportation reflects the size of his district, and that other members representing large areas face the same issue. For instance, GOP Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota was reimbursed for more than $5,200 for transportation in the first quarter of 2013.

For his part, Peterson said the NRCC’s ad misrepresents what he’s trying to do, which is visit as many constituents are possible.

“I don’t know how I’d cover the district without that airplane,” Peterson said. “[The ad] makes it look like we’re up to something. They’re attacking us for doing our job.”

The Verdict

Peterson’s travel expenses are high, and the numbers prove that.

But the ad needs some context: unlike most other members of the Minnesota delegation, Peterson has a lot of ground to cover to visit constituents.

And as to whether Peterson’s travel costs show he is out of the touch with his district, that’s for the voters in the 7th to decide.