Minnesota congressman John Kline is offering scant details on Republican plans to craft an alternative to President Obama’s health care law.
Kline met privately on Friday with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and fellow Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Dave Camp of Michigan on Friday to begin gathering the party’s best ideas.
The session didn't produce legislation, but Cantor has pledged to introduce a bill this year that would replace the Affordable Care Act and not just repeal it.
To that end, he’s drafted top committee chairs – Kline on Education and the Workforce, Ryan on Budget and Camp on Ways and Means – to build support on their respective panels and find consensus among the party with the help of McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the Republican Conference.
“The American people deserve positive health care solutions and that’s what we intend to deliver,” said Kline spokesman Troy Young. “Congressman Kline is pleased with the meeting and expects this to be the first of many, but it would be premature to address any specific ideas that were discussed today.”
House Republicans, including Kline, have voted more than 50 times to repeal, defund or alter the Affordable Care Act, but thus far been unable to unify around a credible alternative. But the Democratic-led Senate has slammed the brakes on their plans.
Now, months ahead of the 2014 elections, the GOP wants to show what it will do to reform the nation’s health care system, not simply what it opposes.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, Minnesota’s members of Congress on the House Transportation Committee, back President Obama’s proposal to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems.
Obama released his plan this week at St. Paul’s refurbished Union Depot, saying that boosting infrastructure spending was one of the best ways to put people to work.
“I’m certainly on board with the president and his goals here,” said Nolan, a member of the panel’s subcommittee on highways and transit. “It’s essential for jobs, business and our future prosperity and safety.”
In a largely gridlocked Washington, both parties agree that spending on highways and other transportation infrastructure is necessary.
Obama and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the chairman of the Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee, want tax code revisions to fund the infrastructure improvements.
But how to pay for the upgrades is where they diverge.
The president's plan calls for spending $302 billion over four years. Camp’s plan would raise less than half that total through a one-time tax on corporate overseas profits.
“We’re certainly not going to agree on everything, but let’s make progress where we can, like on a bipartisan, robust transportation bill that creates jobs and makes our communities safer,” Walz said.
Both parties are looking for new funding because current financing for highways is falling short. The 18.4-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax and 24.4-cent-a-gallon tax on diesel fuel haven't been raised in 20 years.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said while traveling with the president that the Highway Trust Fund, which finances the federal highway system, could run dry by August.
With the current transportation bill expiring at the end of September, Obama urged Congress to pass new legislation this summer.
Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann served as an opening act as the Tea Party Patriots hosted a fifth anniversary party in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
In a speech filled with digs at President Obama and other Democratic leaders, Bachmann drew laughter and applause from a less-than-packed ballroom at a Capitol Hill hotel this morning.
“The tea party movement at its core is an intellectual movement,” Bachmann said. “These are ideas that I would put up against any ideas in the world.”
The group hosted its first mass protest on Feb. 27, 2009, when supporters in 30 cities rallied for reductions in government spending.
Bachmann helped usher the movement onto the national stage. She founded the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010 and she gave the first tea party response to the State of the Union address in 2011. Her speech focused on the Affordable Care Act and criticism of Obama --issues that dominate the tea party's agenda to this day.
When the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2010, ending two years of full Democratic control of Congress and the White House, the movement’s influence was unleashed.
With budgets facing heightened scrutiny in Congress, threats of a government shutdown over spending bills finally gave way to an actual shutdown last October, spurred on by opposition to the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care law.
Facing several campaign finance probes, Bachmann plans to leave Congress at the end of the year. But she urged the Tea Party rank-and-file to marshal its resources in to 2014 and 2016 to help conservatives capture control of the U.S. Senate and the White House. She pledged to join them.
“I’m making sure we elect the most conservative people we possibly can who aren’t ashamed of our beliefs, and of our constitution, and of our dedication,” Bachmann said.
“I know that we have the intellectual ballast, I know we have the fortitude and I know we have the energy to make it all happen. It’s up to us. Let’s take the challenge and get it done.”
U.S. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah and Fox News host Sean Hannity are headlining the daylong event.
Bachmann may have drawn her most spirited crowd response when she jabbed at the Internal Revenue Service, which targeted Tea Party-affiliated groups for extra scrutiny before the 2012 election.
“I just had to let you know ahead of time that I can’t stay long because I’m being audited by the IRS,” she joked. “But you’ve been there, done that. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Minnesota state Rep. Cindy Pugh, who co-founded the state's Southwest Metro Tea Party Patriots, also spoke at the celebration Thursday.
A day after President Obama visited St. Paul, the city’s mayor is in Washington, D.C. to help the president unveil a new initiative.
Mayor Chris Coleman will be at the White House today for the formal launch of Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper,” a plan to pave a pathway to success for more young black and Hispanic males.
With the help of businesses, foundations and nonprofits, Obama hopes to address disparities in education, criminal justice and employment. According to the White House, groups have invested $150 million in the program with plans invest another $200 million over the next five years.
“It’s so much a part of all the work that we’re doing to close the achievement gap and really creating economic opportunity for all of our youth,” Coleman said.
“It’s absolutely critical that we look at all ways to fight the challenges that we face.”
The White House invited Coleman and Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison to the event.
Obama visited St. Paul's Union Depot on Wednesday to unveil his four-year $302 billion roads and railways plan.
Coleman joked that the back-to-back visits constitute a “home and home series.”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON JOBS IN AMERICAN INFRASTRUCTURE
St. Paul, Minnesota
2:40 P.M. CST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, St. Paul! (Applause.) It is good to be back in Minnesota. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. That’s why I came here. Good to see you.
Although, can I just say that when we got off the plane, Secretary Foxx, who is from North Carolina, turned to me and he said, this is the coldest I’ve ever been in my life. (Laughter.) Now, we were only out there for like a minute -- (laughter) -- which goes to show how soft these folks from North Carolina are when it comes to the weather. (Laughter and applause). I, on the other hand, am from Chicago -- (applause) -- I walked off those stairs and I was like, this is balmy, this is great. (Laughter.) February, in Minnesota -- can't beat it. Cannot beat it.
Now, in addition to Secretary Foxx, who I want to -- give him a big round of applause for that introduction. (Applause.) You’ve two champions for the people of Minnesota who are here today. You’ve got Representative Betty McCollum -- (applause) -- and Representative Keith Ellison. (Applause.) You’ve got your Mayor, Chris Coleman, in the house. (Applause.) The new Mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges, is here. (Applause.) And my great friend, who actually told me I was running for President before I knew I was running for President -- R.T. Rybak. Love that name. (Applause.) Where’s R.T.?
Now, I want to thank everybody who showed me around Union Depot and gave me a preview of this new light rail line. It is fantastic. (Applause.) And I also just want to say -- even though he’s not here today -- I want to say to everybody how Michelle and I have been keeping in our thoughts and prayers one of the great Americans that we know, as well as a great Minnesotan -- Walter Mondale. (Applause.)
Now, like millions of Americans, I’ve spent some time with Minnesotans lately -- because I was watching the Olympics. (Laughter.) Minnesota sent 19 athletes to the games. (Applause.) That’s tied for second most of any state, and they did us all proud. It is not shocking that Minnesotans might be pretty good at the Winter Olympics. (Laughter.) What is particularly interesting is that, once again, the tiny town of Warroad proved that it really is Hockeytown, USA, thanks to T.J. Oshie and Gigi Marvin, who we’re just so proud of. And T.J.’s shootout performance against the Russians I might say I enjoyed a lot. (Applause.) I tweeted at him about it.
So we’ve spent some time over the last few weeks on hockey, but I’m not here to talk about hockey. By the way, I cannot play hockey. (Laughter.) I grew up in Hawaii -- we do not have hockey in Hawaii. But I’m here to talk about what you’re doing in the Twin Cities, and how you’re helping to create new jobs and new opportunities for every American.
We are at a moment when our economy is growing. Our businesses have created about 8.5 million new jobs in the past four years. Unemployment is at the lowest it’s been in over five years; in Minnesota, it’s lower than it’s been in six and a half years. (Applause.) And, by the way, you’ve got a great governor who I served with in the Senate, Mark Dayton, who is helping to make that happen. (Applause.)
So in a lot of ways things are looking up. But in some ways, the trends that had been battering middle-class families for a long time have gotten even starker, because those at the top are doing better than ever, while wages and incomes for a lot of families have barely budged. And too many families are working harder than ever just to keep up. So as I said at the State of the Union address a few weeks back, our job is to reverse those trends. (Applause.) We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody. We’ve got to restore opportunity for all people, so that no matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, you can get ahead if you work hard and you’re responsible.
And so I laid out an opportunity agenda that has four parts. Number one, good jobs that pay good wages in manufacturing, in energy, in innovation and infrastructure. Number two, train folks with the skills they need to get those good jobs, something that your senator, Al Franken, is doing great work on every single day. He cares a lot about that job training issue. (Applause.) Number three, guaranteeing every child has access to a world-class education. (Applause.) And, number four, making sure that hard work is rewarded with wages you can live on, and savings you can retire on, and health care you can count on. That’s what we’re fighting for. (Applause.)
Minnesota is helping to lead the way on these issues. Your state legislature is poised to raise your minimum wage this year. (Applause.) In my State of the Union address, I called for a new women’s economic agenda. It’s actually a family economic agenda -- equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave and more. And there are leaders in your state legislature that are working hard at this, because they know when women succeed, America succeeds. (Applause.)
So on all these issues, we’re reaching out to members of Congress, looking to see if they’re willing to work with us on some of these priorities. But what I also said at the State of the Union is, in this year of action, whenever I can partner directly with states or cities or business leaders or civic leaders to act on this opportunity agenda, I’m going to go ahead and do it. We can’t wait. We’ve got to move. We’ve got to get things going. Too many families are counting on it. (Applause.)
So yesterday, I launched new hubs to attract 21st century manufacturing jobs to America. And today, I’m here to launch a new competition for 21st century infrastructure and the jobs that come with it, because any opportunity agenda begins with creating more good jobs. And one of the fastest and best ways to create good jobs is by rebuilding America’s infrastructure -- our roads, our bridges, our rails, our ports, our airports, our schools, our power grids. We’ve got a lot of work to do out there, and we’ve got to put folks to work. (Applause.)
One of the most difficult things about the financial crisis we went through was the housing bubble bursting, and construction workers were hammered harder than just about anybody. And while we’ve cut the unemployment rate for construction workers almost in half since 2010, too many are still looking for jobs at a time when we've got so much that we could put them to work on rebuilding. We’ve got ports that aren’t ready for the next generation of supertankers. We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare. (Laughter.)
Everybody knows, and nobody knows better than Minnesotans, when we've gone through a winter like this, roads are wrecked, full of potholes all across the country. (Applause.)
Now, other countries are not waiting to rebuild their infrastructure. They’re trying to out-build us today so they can out-compete us tomorrow. As a percentage of GDP, countries like China, Germany, they’re spending about twice what we're spending in order to build infrastructure -- because they know that if they have the fastest trains on the planet or the highest-rated airports or the busiest, most efficient ports that businesses will go there.
But we don't want businesses to go there. We want them to come here to Minnesota. (Applause.) We want them to come here to the United States of America. And that means the best airports and the best roads and the best trains should be right here in America.
At a time when companies are saying they intend to hire more people this year, we need to make that decision easier for them. And we can create jobs at the same time, rebuilding our transportation systems, our power grids, our communications networks -- all the things that commerce relies on and that help get workers to those jobs.
So the bottom line is there’s work to be done, workers ready to do it. Rebuilding our infrastructure is vital to business. It creates good-paying jobs that, by the way, cannot be outsourced. (Applause.) This is one of Congress’s major responsibilities -- helping states and cities fund new infrastructure projects. (Applause.)
And part of the reason I'm focused on this is Congress has an important deadline coming up. If Congress doesn’t finish a transportation bill by the end of the summer, we could see construction projects stop in their tracks, machines sitting idle, workers off the job.
So next week, I'm going to send Congress a budget that funds rebuilding our transportation infrastructure in a more responsible way -- by doing it over four years, which gives cities and states and private investors the certainty they need to plan major projects. Projects like repairing essential highways and bridges; building new transit systems in fast-growing cities and communities, so folks who live there can get to work and school every day and spend less time sitting in traffic. (Applause.) And we're going to have to construct smarter, more resilient transportation systems that can withstand the worst impacts of climate change, like bigger surges of water that we’ve seen in recent floods.
So, all told, my transportation budget will support millions of jobs nationwide. And we’ll pay for these investments in part by simplifying the tax code. We’re going to close wasteful tax loopholes, lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home, stop rewarding companies for sending jobs to other countries, use the money we save in this transition to create good jobs with good wages rebuilding America. It makes sense. (Applause.)
Now, I’ll be honest with you, there are leaders in both parties who are willing to reach across the aisle in Congress when it comes to American infrastructure. They know how important it is. And infrastructure didn’t use to be a partisan issue -- shouldn’t be Democrat or Republican. Everybody uses roads, everybody uses ports, airports. Unfortunately, time and again over the past few years, there have been some Republicans in Congress who refused to act on common-sense proposals that will create jobs and grow our economy. It’s not that they’re -- I guess they don’t like roads; they just don’t want to pay for them. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to come up with a way to get these projects going.
So while Congress is deciding what it’s going to do next, I’m just going to go ahead and do what I can to create more good jobs. And that’s why I came here to St. Paul. (Applause.)
Because this project symbolizes what’s possible. Union Depot was renovated and expanded with the help of what we call TIGER grants. These are competitive grants that we created as part of the Recovery Act, also known as the stimulus, which actually worked despite what everybody claims. (Applause.) So the idea is, if a city or state comes up with a plan to modernize transportation infrastructure that will have a significant impact on economic activity, and if they line up other sources of funding to help pay for it, they can win a TIGER grant and the federal government becomes a partner with these local communities.
So far, these grants have given a boost to 270 infrastructure projects across all 50 states. (Applause.) And you heard Secretary Foxx talk about -- these grants are helping cities like LA and states like North Carolina, and they helped you rebuild this depot into a hub that will bring different modes of transportation together under one roof instead of scattered across the city. Amtrak is going to be here. The new Metro Green Line will be here. Bus lines will be here. (Applause.)
And I just had a chance to take a look at some of those spiffy new trains. (Laughter.) They are nice. And they’re energy efficient. They’re going to be reliable. You can get from one downtown to the other in a little over 30 minutes instead of when it’s snowing being in traffic for two hours. (Applause.) The trains were made in California, which meant folks were put to work here in the United States building them. (Applause.)
And here’s the best part of it: Not only have you made a more efficient transportation system, cutting down commutes, saving on gas, reducing carbon pollution, but this depot has helped to boost economic development in Lowertown St. Paul. (Applause.) Just across the street the old downtown post office building is becoming apartments and shops. All told, more than 4,000 jobs were created for this project. (Applause.) And we’re seeing businesses crop up and new development crop up all along the line.
So everybody is winning. And in part because of some flexibility that we showed during the planning process, the line is also going to stop in some poor neighborhoods that oftentimes have difficulty getting to the places where there are jobs. (Applause.) So it’s going to help folks who are willing to work hard, trying to get into the middle class, it helps them get access -- helps people get access to opportunity that, up until this point, had a tough time.
So we know this works. Today, we’re kicking off the next round of competition for TIGER grants. Mayors and governors, city councils, state legislatures, all of you who are watching here today, if you’ve got a great idea for your city or your state, then let us know your plan. If it will encourage economic activity and support local businesses, and help put people to work, then your country is interested in partnering with you.
And TIGER grants aren’t the only way that we can help cities like St. Paul and Minneapolis rebuild their infrastructure. You’ve got -- federal funding helped to build the Green Line; that's going to make it easier than ever to travel between the two cities. You’ve got more than 5,000 construction workers from all over Minnesota helping to build it. Nearly 200 police officers, train operators and maintenance workers are being hired. And that’s not counting all the jobs that are being created from the offices and the apartment buildings that are going to be built along the line. Because the trains stopped at neighborhoods that have access to public transportation, those folks are going to work. And all of this can be duplicated all across the country.
But unfortunately, funding for these projects are going to be in jeopardy unless Congress passes this new transportation bill. So I want everybody to understand. Now, the good news is Keith Ellison, Betty, they're already onboard. (Applause.) They know this needs to happen. Al Franken, all over it. Some Democrats and Republicans are already working together to make sure transportation doesn't -- funding doesn’t run out. And we’re seeing some glimmers of hope, because this new round of TIGER grants was the result of bipartisan cooperation. That’s what needs to happen when we work together.
But we’re going to need your voices telling a story around the country about why this is so important. Roads and bridges should not be a partisan issue. More Americans should have access to the kind of efficient, affordable transit you’re going to have with the Green Line. (Applause.) There’s no faster way or better way for Congress to create jobs right now and to grow our economy right now, and have a positive impact on our economy for decades than if we start more projects and finish more projects like this one.
Let’s create more good jobs, build smarter schools, better airports, faster railways, better broadband networks. Let’s educate our kids and our workers better. Let’s rebuild an economy where everybody who is willing to hard has a chance to get ahead. (Applause.)
This is the beginning, not the end. We’ve got a lot more rail we got to lay. We’ve got a lot more roads we got to travel. Let’s get going, Minnesota.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
END 3:00 P.M. CST
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