Minnesotan and CEO of RBC Wealth Management John G. Taft (yes, of those political Tafts) raised some eyebrows this month by writing an opinion piece called “The cry of the true Republican” late last month in the New York Times.
The harsh piece on the current Republican brand also raised the question: Is John G. Taft thinking about running for office? The answer is an unequivocal: no.
“I am not running for, thinking about or involved in politics in the state,” Taft said.
He said his piece for the Times was broader than partisanship and politics.
“My message in that article wasn’t about the Republican Party, even though that was the theme,” he said. ”My message was about responsible behavior and responsible leadership and that really is what’s lacking right now in Washington.”
He said, while he is not aiming for office, he is politically engaged. He is a member of the Itaska Project, he said he is engaged in “an effort to retool the financial system so it’s a force for good in society rather than being a force that disrupts the economy and people’s lives" and had been very involved in working to defeat last year’s constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage.
Last year, Taft gave at least $25,000 to the successful Minnesota campaign to defeat the constitutional amendment. In the previous 14 years, he had donated $8,875 to Minnesota causes and candidates, which included contributions to Democratic, Republican and Independence Party candidates.
As the U.S. Senate considers symbolic, if ultimately futile federal legislation that would ban discrimination against gay workers, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar has commissioned a report taking a bottom-line business look at the issue.
“Discriminating against LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] workers is not only morally wrong, it’s also bad for business and hurts our economy,” Klobuchar said as part of the rollout of a four-page report on the economic impact of workplace discrimination.
The report was prepared by the Democratic staff of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, of which Klobuchar is vice-chair. Although the committee’s name gives it a vaguely bicameral and bipartisan air, Republicans on the panel, including U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., had nothing to do with it.
The Democratic-led Senate is expected to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) this week with some Republican help. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he will not bring the bill to the House floor.
The report appears to anticipate the arguments of House Republicans, some of whom have pivoted from traditional moral objections to homosexuality to opposition based on states’ rights or ENDA’s potential for bad-for-business litigation.
Though ostensibly “Klobuchar’s report,” the document is a compilation of existing research, including a 2013 Pew Research Center survey finding that one in five LGBT employees say they have experienced some form of workplace discrimination.
The report also cites a 2007 Level Playing Field survey finding that employee turnover due to various forms of workplace discrimination costs U.S. companies about $64 billion a year.
U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen used a hearing on the rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange to call attention to what he considers a flawed law that threatens to leave more Americans without care because of high premiums.
Paulsen and others grilled Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, about the HealthCare.gov website – and the policy that created it -- during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Her agency was tasked with building and operating the site.
The website is supposed to allow uninsured people to sign up and register for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care reform law, but the site has been plagued by problems that have prevented people from completing applications.
“Many independent analysts … have been predicting the higher premiums, these cancellations would be coming, you weren’t going to be able to keep your doctor or your health insurance even though the promise was laid out by the president,” Paulsen told Tavenner. “Directly from our constituents, we’re hearing about these challenges.”
Tavenner apologized to Americans, saying the exchange’s flaws are “not acceptable” and vowed the site “can and would” be fixed by the end of November.
“How do you know the schedule is going to be kept?” Paulsen asked. “What happens if you miss November 30?”
In defending the website, Tavenner said the “system is working, it’s just not working as smoothly or as consistently as we want.”
The flawed debut of the insurance exchange is tarnishing the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s domestic policy centerpiece designed to offer medical coverage to most of the nation’s uninsured.
Paulsen and other members of the Republican-led House have voted more than 40 times to repeal or defund the 2010 health care law. Now, after three years of trying to dismantle the law generally known as Obamacare, Republican lawmakers are now seizing on the website’s troubles.
But their efforts haven't come without criticism.
“It’s really rich for Republicans to be shedding crocodile tears over the glitches in the website when they have done nothing for four years but try to impede, repeal and defund the law and root for its failure,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, a liberal advocacy group.
“Are we really to believe Congressman Paulsen gives a spit that Americans are having trouble enrolling in a health plan? This is a transparent attempt by Republicans to score political points around road bumps in the health law’s implementation.”
Tavenner also faced questions from committee members about the administration’s claims that everything was on track for a successful launch. As recently as September, she predicted a smooth rollout.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was among the House Republicans who signed a letter to President Obama last week, calling for the resignation of Tavenner’s boss -- Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius’s -- because of problems with the website.
Last week, her agency hired contractor Quality Software Services Inc., a subsidiary of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group Inc., to be the general manager for the effort to fix the troubled website.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken and 38 of his Senate colleagues signed a letter urging the farm bill conference committee to reject a bill that would cut $40 billion from the federal food stamp program over the next decade.
To cut the funding, the House Republican-backed legislation would enforce stricter eligibility standards for aid, "preventing millions of seniors, children and families from accessing food assistance,” the letter reads.
The Senate version of the farm bill, which Franken backed, would reduce funding by $4 billion over 10 years.
“The Senate-passed Farm Bill did not change these eligibility rules and, though Sen. Franken would have preferred to see no reduction in funding, cut the program by a much smaller $4.5 billion, “ said Ed Shelleby, Franken’s spokesman.
The farm bill negotiations begin Wednesday. Three Minnesota lawmakers -- U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz -- are among the 41 conference committee members.
The Minnesota Republican Party this week launched a website, called the TruthMattersMN, claiming Minnesota Democrats have lied about all manner of things.
Much of the site included standard hits on Democratic elected officials but one hit in particular caught Hot Dish's attention.
The site said that Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken "lied and claimed he voted against" the medical device tax that was in the federal health care overhaul, known as Obamacare.
But Franken voted for the health care overhaul, which included the medical device tax as a funding source. If he claimed at some point that he did not vote for it, that would be an untruth.
But a search turned up no evidence of Franken claiming to have voted against it.
GOP party officials, when asked, were unable to provide documentation of their claim.
After questioning from the Star Tribune, the Republican Party changed its website.
Whether the new claim from the Republicans catches Franken in a lie is more nuanced than the Republicans' first take on the subject.
Franken clearly voted for the bill that put the tax in place. But he also co-authored a letter to the Senate finance chairman in September 2009, before his vote for the health care bill, opposing the tax as a health care funding source and been on the record since then opposing to the tax.
"He is continuing to work across party lines to get the tax repealed for good," Franken's campaign manager Matt Burgress said.
So far, those efforts, which have been led by Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, have failed to rescind the tax. But this spring, Minnesota-based Medtronic recognized the efforts and the Minnesota members' history on the tax. In a release, the company said of Franken, Klobuchar and Paulsen: "These members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation have demonstrated persistent and thoughtful leadership around the medical device tax from the beginning in an attempt to exclude it from healthcare reform, and when a separate vote was not possible, worked to limit its size and impact."
The hit on Franken on the medical device tax may be a solid one for Republican to run with in Minnesota. Medical device companies in Minnesota employ about 30,000 in the state and the companies have been ardent in the opposition to the tax. But the Republicans missed the mark in their initial volley on their website.
So far, Franken's vote for the health care bill that put the tax in place has not halted the medical device companies' support for his re-election.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics figures, Franken received $12,950 in contributions as of August this year from medical device and supply industry interests, ranking him second in such contributions in the Senate and sixth among all federal candidates.
But the industry has been more enthusiastic in its support for one of Franken's opponents.
Republican Mike McFadden, one of several candidates running against Franken, received at least $26,000 from those connected with the industry, ranking him second among all federal candidates.