With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

Posts about Minnesota U.S. senators

Franken's Pell Grant amendment fails in marathon budget voting session

Posted by: Beena Raghavendran Updated: March 27, 2015 - 3:06 PM

U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s amendment to the Senate budget to restore the Republican budget’s proposed cuts of almost $90 billion to student Pell Grants failed in the marathon Thursday-into-early-Friday budget resolution session.

Pell Grants, which give money to students with financial need — and, unlike student loans, these don’t need to be paid back — helped 160,000 students in Minnesota pay for college last year, Franken said on the Senate floor. His office said in a release that Pell Grants help more than 8.2 million students go to college.

The Republican budget would make cuts to this program and freeze the maximum Pell Grant award while tuition at many universities continues to increase. The House and Senate Budget Committees are planning to cut more than $3 trillion in 2016 through 2025 from programs that serve people with lower incomes, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported earlier this week.

Franken’s plan failed by eight votes on Thursday afternoon.

“When my wife Franni and I were in college, a full Pell Grant paid for about 80 percent of a public college education,” Franken said on the Senate floor. “Today, it pays for less than 35 percent. And yet, this budget would cut this program.”

The House Budget Committee, which said in its plan that it would cut $90 billion between 2016 and 2025, says that the Pell Grant Program will see a shortfall starting in fiscal year 2017. To compensate for that, the budget will be “targeting Federal financial aid to those most in need” and making programs more efficient.

Amendments introduced by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) passed in the Senate Thursday to make more than one Pell Grant available to students in a single year.

AP: Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office knew of abortion provision ahead of stalemate

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: March 18, 2015 - 5:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- A staffer in Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office knew about the controversial abortion language stuck into a bipartisan bill to help victims of human trafficking before her boss voted on it but failed to say anything, a Senate spokeswoman acknowedged in an Associated Press story.

A bill supported by pretty much everyone in the U.S. Congress that helps victims of trafficking is stuck in a stalemate because Democrats say they "discovered" language last week that restricts federal funds for abortions and the Plan B pill tucked in the bill.

It has been unclear why scores of staffers for more than a dozen senators, as well as the minority staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, didn't see the language. It was tucked in the bill under a reference to an appropriations bill passed last year. The AP story says a Klobuchar staffer "had seen the language" before the committee voted, but the aide "did not inform the senator."

Klobuchar told the Star Tribune last week she didn't know it was in the legislation when she voted for it on the Judiciary Committee in February. Franken echoed her sentiment, but went farther saying he regretted not seeing the language and regretted his vote for it.

What's still unclear why no one else -- beyond the unnamed Klobuchar staffer -- saw the language.

The staff mess up may explain Klobuchar's low-key approach to the fight since it started. 

While other Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, have been stomping the halls and making floor speeches about Republicans' approach to the abortion language, Klobuchar has said nothing.

She is the lead Democrat on the Cornyn bill and her own Safe Harbor bill is being held up in the stalemate as well. Klobuchar has long prominently talked about how important human trafficking legislation is to her agenda. Klobuchar stood on the Senate floor for three hours Thursday and read from the book "Half the Sky" by Nicholas Kristoff about trafficking. She didn't mention her staff's blunders.

Klobuchar and Franken have both voted twice to block the bill with the abortion language.

"There shouldn't be disagreement about this," Klobuchar said on the floor. "I am hopeful that at some point here and I hope it's today, we're going to turn the corner."

Franken calls argument to kill health insurance subsidies 'ridiculous'

Posted by: Jim Spencer Updated: March 4, 2015 - 3:18 PM

U.S. Sen. Al Franken said opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) raised a "ridiculous" argument at the Supreme Court Wednesday when they told the justices that the nation's health care reform law does not allow premium-lowering tax credits in 34 states where the federal government runs insurance exchanges.

"I was actually there when the law was written and passed," Franken told a press conference after the oral arguments. "I know what our intention was."

It was not, the Minnesota Democrat said, to exclude millions of Americans from health insurance coverage by denying them subsidies needed to afford policies. Franken accused ACA  opponents of seizing on a few words in a 2,200-page bill to "reverse engineer" an argument that would kill the entire law.

The health law does say that premium subsidies are available to state-run exchanges. But it also says that the federal government will operate exchanges in states that refuse to form them. Subsidies, mandatory participation and coverage of pre-existing conditions are the three-legs of the legislative stool that support health reform. Getting rid of any of them will undermine the rest, most experts agree.

Joining Franken at the press conference were Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and premium tax credit beneficiaries Bonita Johnson of Detroit and Terry Donald of St. Petersburg, Fla. Johnson and Donald receive premium subsidies from federally run exchanges. Johnson said her health insurance would cost four times as much without subsidies and no longer be affordable. Donald, whose wife has cancer, said his insurance would be six times as much and he would have to drop coverage.

"This was not anyone's thinking" when the health care law passed in 2010, Franken said.

Sen. Franken sits out, Sen. Klobuchar sits in on Netanyahu address Tuesday

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: March 2, 2015 - 3:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken said Monday he will not sit in the chamber during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress Tuesday, while his Democratic colleague Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she will be there.

In an e-mail, Franken said the speech had "unfortunately become a partisan spectacle."

The Israeli prime minister, amid his own re-election campaign,accepted an invitation by GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to address a joint session of the Republican-led Congress. The two Republican leaders did not check with the White House or the State Department -- considered a breach of protocol.

Netanyahu is expected to talk about his opposition to talks the United States is having with Iran about its nuclear program. Obama is not expected to meet with Netanyahu when he is in town.

"I'd be uncomfortable being part of an event that I don't believe should be happening," said Franken. "I'm confident that, once this episode is over, we can reaffirm our strong tradition of bipartisan support for Israel."

Franken joins Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, who said earlier this month they would boycott the speech.

Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, John Kline and Erik Paulsen said they will be there, as will Democrat Reps. Rick Nolan, Tim Walz and Collin Peterson.

Sen. Franken wins his (complicated) cause celebre: Net neutrality

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: February 26, 2015 - 9:34 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken was elated Thursday when the Federal Communications Commission approved rules that ensure Internet providers treat all legal content equally.

"Last spring, I could not have predicted that we would be celebrating this victory today," Franken said, on the Senate floor. "The best principles of our democracy have won out. It's clear that the voices of the American people have been heard. I've often called net neutrality the free speech issue of our time."

Franken has long fought in the weeds on net neutrality. At a Judiciary Committee hearing last year on the issue, there was standing room only because so many "free Internet" activists filled the room to hear Franken speak. Franken often talked about Comcast's "100 lobbyists" on Capitol Hill fighting for the Time Warner merger and challenged fellow Judiciary Committee Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to explain his opposition to net neutrality. Cruz called the issue "the Obamacare for the Internet."

"It was a statement that seemed to demonstrate a basic misunderstanding of what net neutrality is and how the Internet works," Franken said Thursday."Some folks really don't get it."

Franken said thanks to the FCC's ruling -- commissioners split on a party line vote -- he can "stream videos of my amazingly cute grandson just as easily as I can stream a hit TV show."

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