President Obama made good Tuesday on a promise to veto a bill approving construction of the Keystone pipeline. In his veto message, the president called the bill an effort to "circumvent" an established review process that needed more time to consider "security, safety and environmental" issues. Republican leaders in the U.S.. House and Senate must now decide if they will try to override the veto. Without a wildly unlikely change in Democratic votes, it will be impossible to override the president's veto and make the pipeline approval law. An override effort move would begin in the Senate and require a two-thirds majority vote, before moving to the House, where another two-thirds majority would be required to make the bill law. The Keystone bill passed the House with Minnesota's three rural Democrats - Collin Peterson, Rick Nolan and Tim Walz - voting for it with Republicans John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer. Democrats Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum voting against it. In the Senate, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Democrats, voted against Keystone. Both have said they will not vote to override a Keystone veto. Neither will Minnesota House members Ellison or McCollum.
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar spent the long weekend with a couple of other senators in Cuba meeting with government and religious leaders and feeling out business opportunities for Minnesota, she said in an interview Tuesday.
Klobuchar said locals often repeat the date Dec. 17 in conversations -- the day President Barack Obama took significant steps to normalize relations with the country of 11 million, including suspending some rules around banking, credit and travel restrictions.
Congress has to authorize lifting the official trade embargo, though, and travel ban. Klobuchar was the chief author of legislation in the U.S. Senate to lift the embargo introduced last week and she supports another proposal to kill the travel ban. Both measures face some opposition among Republicans and a couple of Democrats, including New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who is the highest ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee.
"We met with every day people who had started businesses who are excited," she said. "There is a real interest in buying American products."
Minnesota already exports about $20 million in food to Cuba each year because of a waiver to export food for humanitarian purposes, but Klobuchar and others in the Minnesota delegation think the demand could skyrocket with free trade.
She said Cubans have a couple of top priorities: normalizing currency and getting better access to high-speed Internet and cell phones. She said the technological revolution to come there will open up society.
"Once they get Internet and once they get communications, that's the whole idea, I believe there will be improvements to everything else," she said.
Klobuchar traveled to the island with Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, both Democrats.
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sen. Al Franken on Wednesday pressed Samsung and LG to explain how the companies' "smart televisions" voice recognition technology works in light of media reports that the television has the capacity to capture personal conversations.
"I'm concerned that Samsung currently does not provide consumers with the information needed to understand how their voice data may be used by third parties," he said, in a statement. "Consumers must be able to make informed decisions about whether and with whom they share that information."
Franken is the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and Law. He is amid a similar battle with Uber, the popular ride-sharing company, regarding how the company may share private rider information with third parties.
Big Internet providers may have lost the fight to control the speed and content of what moves on the Internet. Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler on Wednesday called for regulating the Internet as a utility, which will prevent giant providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from dictating the terms of the marketplace.
In an op-ed for Wired magazine that appeared Wednesday, Wheeler said, "I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone's permission."
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has been one of the Senate’s most ardent backers of what commonly is called “net neutrality.” In a statement Wednesday, Franken called Wheeler’s proposal “a win for consumers, for small businesses trying to compete with big guys, and for innovation... I’m so glad that the millions of Americans who spoke out in support of strong net neutrality rules have been heard."
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn, expressed support for the plan on Twitter, calling it “a huge victory for hundreds of thousands who called, wrote, tweeted for #NetNeutrality.”
The FCC is scheduled to vote on the net neutrality regulations Feb. 26.
Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled a plan to eliminate the state income tax on Social Security in order to keep retirees from leaving the state.
The “Retire in Minnesota Act” would reduce Minnesota’s income tax on Social Security income by 10 percent annually until it is completely phased out in a decade. Although leaders acknowledge it will reduce seniors’ contributions to state’s coffers—by $127 million in the next two years alone—that loss will be made up by the seniors who stay in the state and contribute to the economy.
“When they (stay), they spend money on movies, restaurants, theaters, they take the grandchildren with them, they give to local charities and pay property taxes,” said the bill’s co-author, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. “There’s a lot of revenue, that if you don’t do this, you’re going to hear the great big giant sucking sound of the southern states pulling our boomer retirees.”
Minnesota is one of seven states that offer no Social Security tax breaks for retires. Senate Republicans say 70 percent of seniors would benefit from their proposal, saving $600 per person per year. They have not discussed the proposal with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, or Taxes Committee Chair Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook
Although they had no immediate estimates on state revenue lost by seniors who leave the state, the bill’s chief author, Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said they were confident that those who would stay because of the tax break would pay for the cost to state coffers—and it won’t be cheap. The proposal is projected to cost $398 in 2017, $437 million in 2018 and $477 million in 2019.
“Anecdotally, it’s real,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. “You don’t have to go to too many coffee shops to know that ‘So-and So is leaving.’ We hear it virtually every day. It’s real and I don’t think we can ignore it anymore.
Although he acknowledged that many retired Minnesotans leave for warmer climates, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said so many others simply jump the border to Iowa or Wisconsin.
“You’ve got people who live in Rochester or Winona, all they have to do is move across the river, and they don’t pay tax on their Social Security, and they get to stay close to their family,” he said. “There are some states where they can just move a few miles and be in a place where they have much better financial security.”
Photo: Left to right: Minnesota GOP Senators David Hann, Mary Kiffmeyer, Dave Senjem, Carla Nelson, Gary Dahms and Will Phillips, state director of the AARP in Minnesota.