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.

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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.

Amid deep Homeland Security rancor, Minnesota delegation votes the same

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: March 3, 2015 - 7:55 PM

WASHINGTON -- There has been so much drama with funding the Department of Homeland Security that the effort basically sucked all the energy out of the last two weeks of Congress.

Yet, today, the divided Minnesota House delegation all voted the same: To support a "clean" bill to fund the Department through this September.

The three Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, John Kline and Erik Paulsen joined Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson in a yes vote.

Some Republicans last week disagreed with fully funding the Department because they didn't support -- or want to give money to -- enforcing President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration. Obama's executive action prioritized deporting felons, not people working without papers and provided temporary stay in the U.S. for people who have been here more than five years and pass a background check.

Back and forth, the House and Senate squabbled about a so-called "clean" bill -- without restrictions to funds -- versus a bill that stripped money from immigration enforcement.

Emmer, who was elected to replace Rep. Michele Bachmann last November, notably criticized his Republican colleagues over the weekend after the Department came within about an hour of shutting down.

Rep. Nolan said after the vote: "I am pleased to see that one-third of the House Republicans supported this clean bill, and I hope that we can all continue to support full-long term funding measures in the future."

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."

Hennepin County Sheriff Stanek to politicians: Please don't shut down DHS

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: February 26, 2015 - 3:05 PM

WASHINGTON -- Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek shared a stage with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Thursday urging members of Congress to fund the federal agency in the next 30 hours or it will shut down.

A shutdown means forced furloughs for about 20 percent of the DHS personnel staff. Everyone else -- for example TSA and Customs and Border Protection agents at the airport and FEMA workers -- will be forced to work without pay.

Stanek is worried about federal grants.

Minnesota received about $10 million in cash from DHS last year -- fully half of that went to Hennepin County to help with law enforcement. While the money has been allocated, Stanek hasn't received all of it and if DHS shut down, the personnel office workers who cut the checks would not be coming to work.

"This is a critical time with what happened over the past weekend with the propoganda video and working with our diaspora community with countering violent extremism," Stanek said. "There could be a natural manmade disaster in Minnesota, an oil tanker turnover ... It's very important."

Congress is debating now whether to fund DHS "cleanly" -- that is, without Republican-added amendments stripping away money to enforce President Barack Obama's immigration reform orders from last year. Democrats fought back against the amendments, which led to the current standstill.

The Department runs out of money at midnight tomorrow.

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