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Cuba, GMOs, and steel dumping: Here’s what Minnesota’s congressional delegation wants to get done in 2016

Minnesota representatives sounded optimistic but urgent notes.

Maybe you made a new year’s resolution this year — exercise more, eat better, stop checking Facebook (or MinnPost!*) at work. Members of Congress have resolutions too, but they can take on a different flavor: as this year’s congressional session begins, MinnPost checked in with Minnesota’s representatives to find out what they want to accomplish in the year ahead.

In statements and conversations with MinnPost, the Minnesota delegation sounded optimistic but urgent notes in describing what members want to get done in 2016.

When asked what their new year’s goals were, Minnesota’s two senators focused on larger themes. Sen. Al Franken, saying it was “impossible” to pick just one priority, said he hoped to build on what he called recent successes in Congress. “Among many things, I’m going to be working hard to finally pass into law my bipartisan legislation to reform how the criminal justice system treats mental health, and I’ll also continue pressing to stop the illegal foreign steel dumping crisis that has rocked the Iron Range,” Franken said.  

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said her top priority was to strengthen the economy, which she said Congress could do by making prescription drugs more affordable, curbing so-called foreign “steel dumping”, and opening up Cuba to U.S. trade, among other things. Klobuchar added that her “immediate goal when we return is to get Minnesota’s federal judge and the Norwegian and Swedish ambassadors confirmed.”

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Over in the House of Representatives, Rep. Collin Peterson, who is beginning his 26th year in Congress, said a lot of important work got done in 2015, but maintained he’ll focus on protecting agricultural interests in 2016. One specific thing the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee wants pushed through Congress is the GMO labeling bill the House passed last summer, which would prohibit states and cities from passing their own statutes regarding the labeling of genetically modified foods. “For national companies like General Mills and Land O’Lakes, this is going to be a big problem,” Peterson said. The bill still needs to be picked up by the Senate.

Rep. Keith Ellison listed three priorities for 2016. His most specific goal is passing the Credit Access and Inclusion Act, a bill he introduced that would help low-income individuals build and access credit by including utility and other bill payments in the determination of credit scores. He added that he wanted to boost voter turnout in November and make the economy fairer by raising the minimum wage and protecting access to unions.

A spokesperson said that Rep. Tim Walz has several priorities in 2016, including expanding the middle-class economy and the alternative energy economy, but added Walz “will remain diligently focused on… long-term VA reform that ensures generations of veterans get the care they have earned in the decades to come.”

Rep. Betty McCollum, who is the top Democrat on the Interior Appropriations subcommittee, said her priority in the year ahead is “to produce a bipartisan bill that invests in environmental protection, tribal communities, and our national parks.”

Rep. Rick Nolan, who has focused big on mining issues, will make them a top theme this year: “My top priority for 2016 is fighting the illegal dumping of millions of tons of low-grade, foreign-government-subsidized steel that has idled nearly 2,000 miners on the Iron Range and thousands more steelworkers nationally,” he said.

Two Minnesota Republicans were able to successfully tackle longtime policy objectives last year. Outgoing Rep. John Kline, who helped usher a sweeping K-12 education reform bill into law last year, said his priority this year is helping veterans and troops. “As a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, I will keep fighting — in my final year in Congress — to make sure promises made are promises kept.”

Rep. Erik Paulsen helped secure the (partial) banishment of the medical device tax in the budget deal in December. In 2016, Paulsen said he wanted to focus on a bill he introduced to help find missing children. The Recovering Missing Children Act, he said, “would help law enforcement by allowing them to access — with a warrant — tax information that could potentially solve thousands of kidnapped children cases.”

Rep. Tom Emmer, who begins his second year in Congress, said his top priority will be “protecting and fighting for Americans at home and for our interests abroad.” He said that will include strengthening economic opportunity for farmers and manufacturers, opening up Cuba economically and politically, and setting a concrete strategy to fight ISIS.

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