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Jim Spencer

Washington Correspondent | Newsroom
Phone: 612-270-1266
Location: Washington, D.C. bureau
Other languages: None

Washington correspondent Jim Spencer examines the impact of federal politics and policy on Minnesota businesses, especially the medical technology, food distribution, farming, manufacturing, retail and health insurance industries.  

Previously, he worked as an enterprise reporter in Minneapolis, writing on topics including Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, lake pollution caused by residential development, unintentional shootings of children, suicide among senior citizens, and budget cuts to homebound care for the disabled.
Recent content from Jim Spencer
Rep. Dean Phillips

U.S. House passes small-biz aid bill introduced by Minnesota's Dean Phillips

The legislation, which also must be passed by the Senate, would extend repayment deadlines and loosen some of the spending rules for the small business loans.
Attorney General Keith Ellison, seen here at a press conference with Gov. Tim Walz, says the most prevalent coronavirus scam complaints in Minnesota c

'Truly scurrilous behavior' by scammers increases as pandemic continues

An upending of social norms helps set the stage for a growing roster of unsavory pitches.
Medtronic experienced a sharp drop in sales and profits as the coronavirus forced hospitals and clinics to cancel many procedures that use its product

Medtronic's profit and sales fall sharply, as hospital procedures ramp down

The medical device maker saw its sales drop 25% in the February-April period.
FILE -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, on Feb. 28, 2020.

UnitedHealth, HealthPartners offer employer guides to get employees back to workplaces

One an app, the other a bundled group of services, they are based on CDC guidelines.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, greets Marc Perrone, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union with an elbow bu

Senate panel debates employer immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits

Congress is considering whether immunity should be granted for a limited time as businesses reopen.
The bar area at the Famous Dave's location in Maple Grove shown in a September 2016 file photo. (Staff photo by Jeff Wheeler)To counter sales declines

Owner of Famous Dave's, Granite City chains gets $13 million federal loan

Famous Dave's, Granite City owner says firm needed access to capital.
A worker packed N95 masks at a 3M plant.

3M files 5 more lawsuits claiming fraud in sales of N95 masks

The manufacturer says businesses tried to sell Florida officials nonexistent N95 masks. 3M said it will donate any damages recovered to COVID-19-related nonprofit organizations.
A small crew at the JBS Worthington Pork Plant began to euthanize pigs Wednesday without processing them into food products. The move is designed to h

JBS reopens Worthington plant to kill pigs without processing them

Minnesota's biggest pork processing plant reopened for grim duty: killing pigs without turning them into food. The job will help farmers who are contending with barns that are full and crowded by new pigs being born every day.
A shopper surveys the overflowing selection of packaged meat in a grocery early Monday, April 27, 2020, in southeast Denver. With closures in meat pro

Trump order compels meat processing plants to reopen

The rare move to use the Defense Production Act to compel plants to stay open comes as union leaders press for more testing of workers.
President Donald Trump signs a coronavirus aid package to direct funds to small businesses, hospitals, and testing, in the Oval Office of the White Ho

Small business loan recipients include not-so-small Minn. companies

At least four publicly traded companies, one with more than $100 million in sales, received forgivable loans.
COVID-19 signage at the employee entrance of JBS USA plant in Worthington, Minn.

Meat plant workers need greater protection from COVID-19, union says

Minnesota's congressional delegation has grown increasingly active in its call to protect workers in the pork, beef and poultry industries.
Bourget Imports partners Terry Marek and Annette Peters in their Eagan warehouse. Peters worked frantically to get an early Paycheck Protection Progra

Dogged Minnesota wine importer finally landed vital federal help, but 'it is just a bridge'

PPP check is allowing Bourget Imports to keep paying its employees, but funds expire in June.
3M headquarters in Maplewood.

3M files suit against Florida company for price gouging

Company tried to sell N95 masks to a federal stockpile at inflated prices.
Sleep Number Corp. has furloughed 40% of its 4,400-person workforce and cut hours for the rest, and the CEO stopped collecting cash compensation.

'Technical depression' upends big Minnesota companies

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many of the state's major corporate players reeling. Six of Minnesota's largest publicly traded companies have announced temporary reductions in operations. Four have furloughed large portions of their workforce. More have issued dire warnings to investors.
3M headquarters in Maplewood. (Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS) ORG XMIT: MIN2004062102061629

3M suit: Distributor tried to sell N95 masks to NYC for 600% above list price

New Jersey supplier allegedly claimed it was affiliated with company.
Richfield-based Best Buy first accessed its five-year revolving loan until Feb. 1 and on March 19 tapped the entire $1.25 billion. It also suspended i

Minnesota companies borrow billions to pad cash flow

Companies are tapping revolving lines of credit to help secure cash flow during an increasingly volatile economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They also are tightening expenses, some by laying off or furloughing workers, others by putting off capital expenditures, all with the goal of conserving cash.
Medical equipment makers like Medtronic rely on parts from suppliers in many countries and are worried that a U.S. wartime production law may invite r

Medtronic, other med-tech firms fear parts shortage if Trump invokes wartime production law

Trump is under pressure to force companies to make ventilators for the U.S., but it's not so simple.
Service Manager Keith Wilson tests a TV100 ventilator at medical equipment manufacturer Bio-Med Devices in Guilford, Conn. on Sunday, March 29, 2020.

Minnesota faces chaotic global battle for more ventilators

Minnesota is scrambling against worldwide competition to line up the ventilators it needs to limit the death toll from a coming surge of patients critically ill with COVID-19.
Ecolab corporate headquarters building in St. Paul.

Ecolab seeing sharp rise in sales of disinfectants that can neutralize coronavirus

Sales have risen 10-fold for some Ecolab disinfectants that neutralize the novel coronavirus causing a worldwide pandemic.St. Paul-based Ecolab already has 13 separate products
Gov. Tim Walz, at a 2019 Minnesota Chamber of Commerce event.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce asks for tax concessions

Some of the moves mirror expected federal policies meant to soften the blow of the fast-moving virus.
John Desteian, right, owner of Lompian Wines, a small importer of European wines, employs 10 people including operations manager Mark Mueller. Desteia

Days of wine and tariffs weigh heavily on Minnesota wine importers

Businesses find themselves in the middle of a U.S.-E.U. trade dispute over aircraft manufacturing
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said Congress must act immediately to provide relief to businesses and individuals hurt by the coronavirus outbreak. “We n

Citing virus, U.S. Chamber calls for suspension of payroll taxes for businesses

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday called for sweeping amendments and expansion of federal rules for payroll tax collection and lending…

Military's use of disputed firefighting foam scrutinized at U.S. House hearing

Ex-copter pilot believes living on a military base exposed her to toxic levels of 3M product.
Workers move soybeans from a temporary storage bunker into silos at the CFS grain elevator in Randolph, Minn, on Thursday, Dec. 6. 2018.

Minnesota farmer on U.S.-China trade pact: 'The ag economy doesn't live on promises'

A U.S. House committee hearing explored the impact of the China trade war and the first phase of a trade pact to resolve it.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn.

Rep. McCollum calls federal report on Boundary Waters mining 'embarrassingly inadequate'

The Democrat said she hoped "Canada's elected leaders will call on the Trump administration to publicly release this confidential State Department report."
In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the tax reform bill.

Tax reform may be more lucrative than advertised for corporations

National analysis finds that cuts may be more lucrative for corporations than advertised; some paid nothing.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 i

U.S. Chamber: 'We would like to see Republicans and Democrats returning to things we need'

Partisanship is getting in the way of addressing key issues, business groups say.
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig Craig's bill, approved by the House in a voice vote Wednesday, is the first by any of Minnesota's four freshman representatives

Rep. Angie Craig's bill on payment reforms lands on Trump's desk

Plan to rein in improper government payments is likely to become law.
Fire Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Two sides square off at hearing on bill to ban mining near Boundary Waters

Critics say McCollum bill would harm economy. Supporters say pollution risk to BWCA is too great.
Michael Minsberg’s family business, Creative Lighting, is hurt by tariffs on products from China. “If relief is on the horizon, it has not gotten

For some Minn. businesses, the only certainty with tariffs is uncertainty

Despite the announcement of a Phase One trade deal with China, Chinese imports remain saddled with protectionist tariffs that raise costs and cut profits.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington as the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump prepares to

Impeachment trial pulls Amy Klobuchar from campaign trail in Iowa

Minnesota senator's family, friends and surrogates must fill the campaign void.
An ethanol plant next to a cornfield in Iowa, the nation's leader in ethanol production. Minnesota ranks fourth, behind Nebraska and Illinois.

Why ethanol endures as important market for Midwestern farmers

The biofuel's intended uses for energy independence and greenhouse gas reduction have become matters of debate. But no one questions its political clout, economic importance or staying power.
The sun illuminated a dramatic palisade on South Fowl Lake. U,S, Rep. Betty McCollum said her bill to remove 234,000 aces of federal wilderness lands

Rep. McCollum introduces bill that would restrict 234,000 acres in northern Minnesota from mining

The Minnesota Democrat said her bill is an effort to treat Minnesota's iconic Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness "with the same respect as the Grand Canyon."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in downtown Washington, D.C.

U.S. House directs EPA to declare 'forever chemicals' hazardous

Under the bill, the EPA would take action on PFOA and PFOS now and have five years to decide on all PFAS. The White House has indicated President Donald Trump would veto the measure, if the Senate even takes it up.
The headquarters of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in downtown Washington, D.C.

EPA: New tests increase number of 'forever chemicals' measured in drinking water

Agency's new testing protocol raises the number of "forever chemicals" it will look for to 29, up from 18.

U.S. House vote to lift federal tax deduction cap could be short-lived

House voted to take lid off tax payments deductions.
The Senate will now consider killing the medical device excise tax as part of the 2020 spending package. Pictured is the U.S. Capitol.

House passes measure to kill medical device tax

The measure, part of the 2020 spending package, now moves on to the Senate.
The West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Congressional negotiators have removed strong new restrictions on a family of chemicals called PFAS

Advocacy group says stronger PFAS restrictions taken out of military spending bill

The bill passed by the House of Representatives would have elevated the chemicals to Superfund status, but Environmental Working Group says the designation taken out during conference committee negotiations.
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., says pension reform must come quickly.

Central States Pension Fund recipients would see 19% benefit cuts under Senate GOP proposal

Senate Republicans' proposed fix does too little to preserve benefits, those facing cuts say.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will make $4.8 million available to study the impact of potentially dangerous PFAS.

EPA will offer $4.8 million to study effects of 'forever chemicals'

The agency said it will accept applications through Feb. 11.
Mark Ruffalo posing for a portrait to promote his film "Dark Waters" at the Whitby Hotel in New York.

Mark Ruffalo joins campaign raising concerns about chemicals made by 3M

The upcoming movie "Dark Waters," starring Mark Ruffalo, is expected to draw more attention to the dangers of a group of chemicals that firms like 3M Co. have struggled to contain and remediate.
FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2009 file photo, chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa. China reopened its market to U.S. poultry, ending

Minnesota farmers get rare good news as China lifts ban on U.S. poultry

The China market, off limits to U.S. poultry since 2015, had generated about $16 million a year in Minnesota sales.
A logo sign outside of the headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency on April 2, 2017 in downtown Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kri

EPA proposes testing methods for five additional kinds of PFAS

The agency is seeking public comments on the proposed testing methods for the five versions of per- and polyfluoralkyl substances.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., did not vote on the health insurance measure.

Senate turns back challenge to short-term health insurance extensions

Opponents would have overturned Trump rule that lets such policies replace ACA plans for up to 3 years.
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote this week on whether to overturn a 2018 Trump administration rule that let states extend short-term, stopgap healt

Money saver or bad deal? Debate over short-term insurance policies heads to Senate

Debate over expanding these health policies heads to U.S. Senate this week.
Protecting Dreamers is a “sound economic policy that acquires workers for the economy and makes an effort to address immigration problems,” said S

Effort to deport 'Dreamers' gets pushback from Minnesota companies

On economic grounds, large firms ask high court to reject Trump effort.
“It was never meant to be final. It is always supposed to be a working document,” said Sandra Nowak, a 3M intellectual property lawyer

3M IP counsel says executive buy-in critical to addressing dearth of women inventors

Document lays out steps for companies, academics to promote change.
FILE - In this July 31, 2019, file photo U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, center, gestures as he chats with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, a

Report: China tariffs tab approaches $1 billion for Minnesotans

A global trade advocacy group predict businesses face price hike pressure and could be forced to freeze hiring.
Target has told suppliers to pick up the cost of China tariffs.

Major Minnesota firms take separate paths as new round of China tariffs looms

Buyers, such as Target Corp. and Best Buy, scramble to deal with cost increases, while sellers such as Medtronic, Ecolab and Cargill battle to sustain foreign investments.

Judge allows PFAS suit in Ohio to proceed against 3M, other companies

The plaintiff, a firefighter, says he has chemicals in his blood due to his job.
In the short term, the tariff suspension can give some soybean farmers a place to put crops that they must soon harvest.

Minnesota farmers see relief in China's suspension of tariffs

Minn. soybean growers hope the market remains open for their fall harvest.
Lori Swanson, shown in a file photo when she was Minnesota Attorney General, will appear before a congressional subcommittee Tuesday along with a 3M C

Lori Swanson, 3M square off over PFAS at U.S. House hearing

The hearing comes as the House considers dozens of bills to limit the "forever" chemicals.
Monday was Claudine Vogel’s first day at Aurelius Manufacturing, which employs 75 people in Braham, Minn.

Skilled labor remains big issue for Minnesota employers

Roughly 92% of private Minnesota employers in a recent poll reported difficulty filling some or all salaried and hourly craft positions. The figure was well above the national average of 80%.
The sign at the entrance of a Cargill soybean crushing facility in Nantong, China, shown in 2008. The gricultural business giant has invested about $7

Get out of China? Minnesota companies aren't keen on idea

Trump's words have left Minnesota firms guessing.
3M Global Headquarters in Maplewood.

Documents show 3M knew of dangers of PFAS chemicals, activist group says

Firm said released documents show incomplete, misleading history of its action on PFAS.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, shown Tuesday at a town-hall meeting in south Minneapolis.

Rep. Omar denies affair claim in D.C. doctor's divorce filing

It's the latest in a long string of controversies facing the former one-term state legislator who catapulted to the national political spotlight.
President Donald Trump dropped some items from his tariff list last week and delayed others from Sept. 1 to Dec. 15.

Trade war has already added 5% to typical U.S. shopping basket

Minnesota retailers say they are worried that tariff-driven price increases "will boomerang back" in the form of lost customers.
A view of the U.S. Capitol Building on July 25, 2017, in Washington.

Retired Teamsters wait for Congress to act on wobbly pension fund

The U.S. House passed a bill to prop up the failing fund. Now it's in the Senate's hands.
A sign advertises a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their EBT cards to shop at a farmer's market in Topsham, Maine, in March. Preside

12,000 could lose food stamps if federal rules are tightened

The USDA proposal was inspired by a Minnesota man with more than $1 million in real estate and assets who gamed the system.
U.S. Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib listened as Rep. Ilhan Omar responded to remarks by President Donald Trump afte

Rep. Ilhan Omar, 3 allies decry Trump attacks as racist, divisive

Trump on Monday renewed his assault on Omar during a formal presentation before dozens of business owners gathered on the South Lawn to celebrate American entrepreneurship.
Michelle Woodard, left, is 3M’s Innovation Center manager and Reilly Goodwin, right, is customer and stakeholder engagement manager in 3M’s sustai

3M highlights U.S.-made products at White House event

U.S. product celebration is part of Trump's "America First" movement.
3M could face billions of dollars in liabilities over its use of chemicals known as PFAS that were once used to make everything from clothing to cookw

3M could face huge cleanup costs over substance in Scotchgard

Once marketed as making items ranging from clothing to cookware resistant to water, grease and heat, PFAS are being recast legislatively and legally as part of a public health crisis that could rival lead in paint and asbestos.
President Trump touted his tax cuts during an April visit to Nuss Truck and Equipment in Burnsville.

Who benefited from Trump's tax cuts? It's a moving target

For some families, the break could be short-lived.
FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2018 file photo, employees walk through a lobby at Amazon's headquarters in Seattle. On Friday, May 3, 2019, shares in Amazon

Retailers want feds to look into how tech giants control info

Online giants have too much control over pricing and other information, argues a trade group representing Target, Best Buy and others.
This 2012 file photo shows a portion of the UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s campus in Minnetonka.

Deals by UnitedHealth, other health giants set off antitrust alarms in D.C.

Vertical integration in health care has set off alarm bells.
This 2018 file photo shows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration building behind FDA logos at a bus stop on the agency's campus in Silver Spring, Md.

FDA releases millions of records of incidents involving medical devices

The previously undisclosed records were filed by device makers from 1999 to April.
Globe University, Woodbury, shown in a 2015 photo.

Lawsuit says feds improperly seeking loan repayments from students of defunct school

Suit challenges federal collection for Minnesota School of Business and Globe University.

Best Buy says expanded tariffs would cost consumers

Company official says that added costs will be passed on immediately to the customer.
Rhonda Olson suffered irreversible damage from vaginal mesh and lives with chronic pain.

Vaginal device used to shore up sagging organs causing injuries

FDA ordered some pelvic repair products off the market – too late for many.
Members of the Minnesota Business Partnership believe the financial consequences of the president's latest moves on trade with China could be dire for

Minnesotans lament China trade war: 'We're about to get hammered again'

Local business owners expect to pass costs from latest tariffs to consumers.
Robert Kudrle, Freeman Professor of International Trade and Investment Policy at the University of Minnesota.
“Tariffs are not going to build the Am

U trade scholar talks about tariffs and who gets stuck with the bill

President Donald Trump has argued that the cost of his tariffs on China will fall largely on the Chinese. The reality is more nuanced, said…
Vice President Mike Pence will visit Minnesota on Thursday to promote the new free trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. File photo of

Vice President Mike Pence will visit steel plant in St. Paul, farm near Fargo Thursday

The vice president is promoting the new free trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Erik Paulsen spoke to campaign volunteers in the parking of Champlin Park High School in October 2018.

Erik Paulsen to lead effort to get NAFTA replacement passed

Ex-congressman joins business alliance seeking NAFTA replacement.
Of the six current or former 3M employees in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, two are women. One of them is the late Patsy Sherman, who helped inv

3M plays big role in U.S. effort to bolster ranks of women inventors

Congress and others look to company for solutions to "lost Marie Curies."
Minnesota leads the nation in availability of the higher blend ethanol and those backers are fighting for year-round sales.

Minnesota farmers take fight over increased ethanol waivers to Washington

Multimillion-dollar influence war pits corn growers, oil producers.