Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison wants Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to terminate all the Defense Department’s contracts with Russia's state-owned arms dealer.
Ellison joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers who sent a letter to Hagel, making the case the President Obama’s executive order on sanctions against Russia gives him the power he needs to cut ties with Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms dealer.
"Given Russia's recent actions that violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including its support of the illegal referendum for Crimean separation, we strongly urge you to terminate these contracts," the letter reads in part.
Facing pressure from Congress, the Pentagon abandoned plans in November to buy another 15 of the Russian Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport for Afghan defense forces, but under existing contracts, helicopters and spare parts are still being purchased, the lawmakers said.
Earlier this week, President Obama announced sanctions on several Russian and Ukrainian officials. He expanded the scope of that presidential order to permit the freezing of assets of individuals who "operate in the arms or related materiel sector in Russia."
Ellison’s letter quoted Obama’s executive order, in which he wrote that Russia’s actions “undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, and thereby constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
“We agree and accordingly strongly urge you to cancel [the] contracts,” the letter continues.
The Defense Department did not immediately comment on the letter.
Six of the seven Democrats in Minnesota’s congressional delegation are among the House and Senate members pressuring President Obama to sign an executive order protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans from workplace discrimination.
All told, 195 members of Congress signed the letter, including U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Rick Nolan and Tim Walz signed the letter; Democratic congressman Collin Peterson did not.
Obama has the ability to ban employment discrimination by government contractors.
“Issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers in federal contracts would build on the significant progress for LGBT rights made during your time as President and would further your legacy as a champion for LGBT equality. We urge you to act now to prevent irrational, taxpayer-funded workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans,” the letter reads.
Congressional legislation would apply to all employers. The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has passed the Democratic-controlled Senate, but the legislation has stalled in the Republican-led House.
No Republicans signed on to the letter asking Obama to issue an executive order.
White House officials would prefer to see Congress pass ENDA, since executive action wouldn't protect all LGBT workers.
Ellison, a member of the U.S. House LGBT Equality Caucus, will moderate a panel discussion on transgender concerns, issues of inequality and LGBT youth experiences at 5 p.m. central standard time today at the Fridley Community Center.
Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen is cautiously backing a sweeping House Republican plan to overhaul the nation’s tax laws.
Rolled out Wednesday, the proposal would end a number of popular tax breaks to help pay for lower overall tax rates.
Paulsen is Minnesota’s lone member of Congress on the Ways and Means Committee, the Republican-led House of Representatives’ tax-writing panel.
“No plan is perfect. But, it’s time to end the status quo and fix a broken tax code … that is too costly, too complex, and takes too much time to comply with,” Paulsen said in a statement. “We need a tax code that promotes savings, investment, achievement, innovation, and hard work. This draft proposal provides real solutions to create a healthy economy.”
Ways and Means Committee chair Dave Camp’s plan would drop the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and would reduce the number of income tax brackets from seven to two.
The plan would eliminate or reduce popular tax breaks for medical expenses, moving expenses, child care and energy-efficient homes, along with slashing the mortgage interest deduction for homes worth a half-million dollars or more.
In exchange, the plan would increase the child tax credit would and consolidate a number of tax breaks for education expenses.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison panned the plan, arguing that it does little to address the nation’s income inequality.
Ellison said tax reform should “stop government spending that only benefits the wealthy and increase spending that supports working families, the poor and seniors.”
The proposal “hurts working people and their families, and expands loopholes that big companies already use to avoid paying taxes. It puts a greater burden on individual taxpayers and helps profitable corporations pay even less back to the country that made their profits possible,” Ellison said in a statement.
The issue is likely to stall in Congress in this midterm election year.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison are hosting a women’s economic security forum at the State Capitol today.
The lawmakers will lead a panel discussion on workplace issues for women, including paid family leave, health care, child care, retirement security and equal pay.
Among the guests planning to join Ellison and McCollum are: State House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul; Senate President Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul; Terry Williams, vice president, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota; Lisa Stratton, founder of Gender Justice, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating gender barriers in employment; Patricia Brady, executive director of Workforce Solutions, which runs Ramsey County jobs programs; and Deb Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison will be at the White House today when President Obama signs an executive order increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors.
The Minnesota Democrat led the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ effort to push Obama to sign the order.
Ellison spearheaded a letter writing campaign to the president, urging him to circumvent Congress on the issue, to “provide labor stability for the low-wage workers on whom these federal agencies rely to fulfill their mission.” Ellison personally handled one of those letters to the president.
Obama announced plans for the executive order during his State of the Union address. He has cast the move as a way to spur Congress to increase the hourly minimum wage for all workers from $7.25 to $10.10, beginning in January 2015.
The rule will boost wages for a few hundred thousand workers, a small percentage of the more than 2 million federal contractors, White House officials said.
The event is set to begin at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.