Sen. Franken on Midday

Sen. Al Franken was on MPR’s Midday with Gary Eichten today.

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The highlights:

Massachusetts Senate election

Passage of the health care bill will be more complicated if/when a Republican is elected. “The House would have to vote for the Senate bill,” Franken says.

What is likely to cause Martha Coakley’s defeat? “(She) took it for granted. A lot of misinformation has been put out there” on health care. “It’s not going to add to the deficit,” Franken insisted. “People are dissatisfied with the way things are up there.” (A little Washington perspective there. Massachusetts is “up there” there; not here)

Health care

Q: Is there anything in health bill that holds people accountable for their lifestyle decisions?

“Smoking… an insurance company is allowed to charge you extra if you smoke. We’re not going to say ‘if you’re obese, you’re going to be charged more.’ There’s going to be preventive care and chronic care. Doctors will be paid for that and they haven’t been.” He credits programs like Allina’s Heart of New Ulm.

Q: Do you support Senate tax on union health plans? How can they be exempted?

“They’re exempted until 2018. Cadillac plans are very high cost… luxurious health care plans. In some cases they aren’t. Many unions had negotiated their contracts by negotiating away salary increases… for health care plans.”

“I went to bat for medical device companies. They were to pay a $40 billion tax over 10 years. We have one of the largest medical device industries here. They create good jobs. They’re a job creator.”

(But doesn’t this confirm that taxes to pay for health care will end up costing jobs?)

Q: Why aren’t health care discussions taking place in public?

“A lot of it was… I watched five days of hearings (mark-up) on C-SPAN. I don’t imagine many Minnesotans watched it, but it was there. And so was the Finance Committee. With 60 Democratic senators, we had a blessing and a burden. The blessing was you need 60. You also need every one of them. Every one had a veto. As a result Harry Reid had to deal with a number of individuals who were willing to scuttle this thing… what would have happened is you would have had kabuki theater on C-SPAN.”

Q: (Caller) If there’s so many people opposed to health care plans… when you see polls, people are against it… why you’re voting for something when you’re supposed to represent the people?

“I do represent the people of Minnesota so by your line of logic, I should vote for the bill. But this is a good bill. A lot of people really don’t understand what’s in the bill. We could elect pollster and just have them… someone to vote for whichever the wind is blowing. Forty-four percent of Americans favor this bill. ”

Q: Are there sufficient health care cost containment provisions in the bill?

“I think there is… any kind of thing that you can do to contain costs is included in this bill,” Franken said, quoting an MIT analysis from Jonathan Gruber. He’s been the subject of some controversy when it was alleged he’s on the government payroll.

Q:Should the president have set aside health care to work on jobs.

“He ‘misunderestimated’ how long this would take.”

Q: (Caller) How will self-employed people be affected?

“You will be able to join the ‘exchange,’ in which you can change your risk pool from one person to several hundred thousand or million people. It doesn’t get up until 2014 so you’re going to have to wait for that. That will work for all small business, too. If you work for a small business and one person gets sick, your premiums go way up.”


Acknowledges there’s a possibility of the U.S. getting into a Vietnam-style open-ended war. He just returned from the region and says he came back more optimistic “about where we are.” He says there was a spike in recruitment after President Obama’s West Point speech.

“We’re paying for 8 years of neglect in this place,” he said.

Franken said “we shouldn’t take anything off the table” when asked whether the U.S. should send troops to Yemen.


Q: Should we be conducting full-body scans at airports?

“I don’t think we should be doing that routinely.” He says it’s easier to Google Gary Eichten and get immediate results than it is to search the U.S. no-fly list. He believes those on the watch or no-fly lists should get the full body scans.

Q: Should terrorists be tried in U.S. courts?

“The guys who bombed the World Trade Center the first time were tried and convicted in U.S. courts. We can do this.”


Q: When will there be a jobs bill?

“There was a Minnesota Emergency Employment Department in the ’80s. The government would pay for — through tax credit — any new employee. If we do that with $10 million, this will pay half the salary and jump-start…. people are waiting to hire. It was very successful. We need to be spending money on infrastructure.”

Q: At a time when the government is in such dire straights should we put more money into a failed approach?

“Some of the TARP money can be lent to small businesses. Part of it is the banks on Wall Street aren’t lending, and they should be required to. They’re making money by borrowing money from the government at no interest and investing it in very safe bonds. They should be lending it to Main Street and it has nothing to do with the deficit.”

“If you look at the money that’s come to Minnesota, so much has been used to keep police and keep teachers. If we didn’t have the stimulus package, I believe we would have gone into a depression.”


Q: Who should be elected governor?

“I’m staying out of that and so many of my friends are running that it’d be ridiculous…”

Q: What about Norm Coleman’s decision not to run?

Not surprised. “I saw him this morning at the Martin Luther King breakfast and we had a couple of nice exchanges. That’s his choice.”

Q: Are you expecting Republican gains in November?

“I’m not a prognosticator. My job is to go to Washington and represent Minnesota… I’ve got way, way too much work to do to be a prognosticator.”

  • kennedy

    I, for one, am disappointed that obesity is not being treated the same as smoking. Obesity is generally a result of lifestyle. Our nation now spends more treating obesity related health problems than on smoking related health problems as reported

    a few weeks back on NPR.

    We are fearful of offending and as a result we shy away from holding people responsible for the results of their actions. Obesity is a medical condition caused by poor dietary choices and lack of physical activity. If your lifestyle results in higher lifetime costs for medical care, your premiums should also be higher.

  • Laurel Resman

    Health care reform is needed, but putting the burden on Union workers by taxing their benefits is wrong, even if they delay it until 2018. Why isn’t there a tax on business owners who can still deduct 100% of the cost of their health insurance? If the Union people have to pay taxes on 40% of their health care values, then the business people should pay the same by losing 40% of the deduction for their health care premiums, and share the burden.

    Many union workers are laid off in the winter, and have had to pay taxes on their unemployment since Reagan changed the law in the 80’s. Now they will have to save for the lay off, and pay more taxes on their benefits. Many Union Laborers laid off for months have run out of banked hours, so they have no insurance for themselves and their families, like our daughter’s family of five.

    The Senate which is composed of mostly millionaires is not willing to pay more taxes (the House passed a bill putting the burden on those making one million and more), but they will put the burden on those making 95% less than they are, people who live on less than the Senators have for expense accounts?

    It’s wrong. Reform is needed, the wealthy don’t want to pay, they expect the poor to take care of the poor, because the rich take care of the rich.