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If Mike McFadden and Al Franken could ask each other one question …

This is one in an occasional series of articles about the policy positions of U.S. Senate candidates Mike McFadden and Al Franken.

We’re a long way away from any televised debates in the Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race. But as long as I was interviewing the leading contenders, I gave each of them an opportunity to ask (through me) a question of the other. The results were interesting, at least to me. See what you think.

McFadden’s question for Franken

At the time of the interviews, a new EPA-proposed rule set a goal of substantially reducing carbon emissions and creating incentives to phase out coal-burning power plants. The goal was to get carbon emissions down 30 percent by 2030 from the level of emissions in 2005.

Sen. Al Franken
REUTERS/Mitch Dumke
Sen. Al Franken

Republicans generally, including Minnesota Senate candidate Mike McFadden, denounced the proposal as part of what McFadden called the “war on jobs” by Democrats, including, by name, President Obama and Sen. Al Franken.

In a righty radio interview (KTCN Am 1130 “Up and At Em with Jack and Ben”), McFadden said:

“The carbon emission reductions that came out yesterday from the White House… It is estimated that these new regulations will cost the equivalent of 250,000 jobs. This is from the Chamber of Commerce.”

A little more on McFadden’s statement below. But first, McFadden wanted me to ask Franken what he thought about the proposed rule. I did. “What I like about the order is that it rewards good actors,” Franken said.

He added that Minnesota had already adopted a standard that was pushing utilities to reduce coal emissions, so Minnesota energy firms like Xcel Energy were  “actually going to get to some degree rewarded,” because of steps Xcel already had in the works. Franken said:

But basically, we have to acknowledge that we have a problem; that there is climate change; it’s happening; 98 out of 100 climate scientists say it’s happening; it’s undeniable.

You can’t look at the fact the sea level has risen and not say there’s been some warming because it means polar ice caps are melting… Greenland is melting.

I’m on the energy committee, and six months before superstorm Sandy we had a hearing on rising sea levels and they said, Well, these storm surges, you’re going to have greater damage and we think that sometime in the future the New York City subways will flood. And they did.

Now you can’t point to one weather event and say that was caused by warming, but I think there’s an overwhelming consensus that’s undeniable that we have to do something about this and we have to lead. We have to lead the world… Also I think we’re going to benefit from this. Because renewable technologies … are the energy of the future.

You look at China. China is choking on itself and they are going to be a trillion-dollar market for renewable energy. They’re investing tremendously in renewable energy themselves; we need to be doing it.  And we need to be doing wind, solar and biomass. I wrote the energy title in the Farm Bill…  Minnesota doesn’t have gas, it doesn’t have coal, it doesn’t have oil, but we do have a lot of biomass. So I am, in that bill I wrote stuff that will help our state.

Franken went on several paragraphs longer, touching on biomass projects and ways that the new standard can be met not just by cleaning up what comes out of the smokestacks of power plants but by conservation and energy efficiency and it doesn’t mean having to replace all the old plants because it allows for retrofitting.

I mentioned above McFadden’s statement about how many jobs would be lost because of the new EPA rule. Googling around for background McFadden’s statement, I found that the Chamber of Commerce job loss estimate he cited is wrong. It has been retracted by the Chamber itself. The Chamber had prepared its estimate before the draft rule was published, based on the belief that the EPA’s proposed rule would call for a 42 percent reduction in carbon emissions. When the rule came out, it called for 30 percent. McFadden was not the only Republican to go public with the wrong estimate. Politifact checked the statement when U.S. House Speaker John Boehner similarly cited the out-of-date Chamber estimate. Politifact gave the statement a rating of “False.”

When I discovered that McFadden had made the same error, I asked his campaign if he wanted to update his statement about the EPA proposal. Through his spokester, Tom Erickson, came this: “In regards to the Chamber stats, Mike did say that, but he was not aware that the study was not based on the actual EPA proposal. However, the larger point still stands: that proposed EPA regulations would have a negative impact on our economy.”

The Chamber of Commerce and the United Mine Workers agree that the new carbon rule will result in a substantial loss of jobs, McFadden’s spokester said. McFadden warns that energy prices will also rise. Xcel has already requested a rate increase to deal with the cost of meeting the 30 percent target that Franken cited, McFadden’s campaign said.

Franken’s question for McFadden

Now on to the question Franken’s campaign asked me to put to McFadden. At the time, the Senate had just debated a bill that would have reduced the current interest rate on students loans to 3.86 percent and allow those who already owe at higher rates to refinance their loans down to that level. The bill attracted 56 votes, but not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. Franken, who supported the bill, wanted to know how McFadden would have voted.

McFadden said that he liked the idea, but before he could vote for it he would want to know how much it was going to cost the government and how it was going to be paid for.

Mike McFadden
MinnPost file photo by Brian Halliday
Mike McFadden

That’s easy, Franken replied, the bill contained within it a way of raising far more revenue than cost since it included the implementation of the so-called “Buffett Rule.” Under that rule, named for multibillionaire Warren Buffett who supports the idea, the extremely wealthy would have to pay income tax at a rate of at least 30 percent. Of course the marginal income tax rate on incomes in the millions is already higher than that, but the Buffett Rule would prevent those high earners from using various tax provisions get their effective tax much lower.

Franken didn’t have the numbers on the top of his head, but other reporting on the student loan bill has said that it would have cost the government $51 billion over 10 years but raised $72 billion in new taxes.

Looking back, I’m not sure whether on my first round with McFadden he was aware that this was a bill that would actually reduce the deficit but that he objected to the means by which it would do it, or whether he was unaware and didn’t want to commit to the cost of the bill until he heard about how it would be financed. After I understood what was in the bill, I followed up through spokester Erickson and got this response:

Mike supports allowing students to refinance, but instead of raising taxes, Mike thinks the government should cut spending elsewhere to pay for it. If Sen. Franken were serious about helping students refinance their loans, he should reach across the aisle and try to build consensus with Republicans, not play politics by tying the bill to a massive tax increase.

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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/10/2014 - 10:48 am.


    …are part of the process, I suppose.

    Phasing out coal will surely cost some jobs, but it won’t happen overnight, and there will be plenty of time for future Republican administrations to create job-training and other programs to help mine workers transition to other careers because, after all, the Republican Party is the party of the “hard-working Minnesotan.” It is, isn’t it?

    The Public Utility Commission, if I remember correctly, has proposed trimming Xcel’s rate increase request by about half, and unless it’s directly from Xcel’s PR office (meaning I wouldn’t have seen it), I’ve not come across anything in the press (local TV, of course, wouldn’t dream of spending any substantial amount of time on this) that ties the rate increase request directly to the proposed EPA rule.

    And, of course, the operative term here is “proposed.” It hasn’t been implemented, and given Republican denial of climate change and several other branches of science, may never be implemented. If it were actually implemented, I’d be surprised if it didn’t cost quite a few mining jobs, which is a significant negative. The upside is breathable air. Unless/until we devise a suitable substitute for that breathable air, I’m going to be inclined toward supporting the new standard. I’d also support a major effort on the part of state governments in the states affected to do what I facetiously proposed in the first paragraph – a serious, effective (and privately-led, if necessary) job-training/career-change program for those people and families whose lives have been affected by the change. It’s something we could have done – and should have done – as multinational corporations shipped American manufacturing jobs overseas over the past generation.

    I’m not surprised to see Mr. McFadden using inaccurate figures to “prove” his point. It’s been a specialty of the 6th District’s Congressional Representative throughout her career, and she was getting reelected, so why not continue the tradition? McFadden’s suggestion that Franken “reach across the aisle” is amusing, but not connected to the real world. For the past decade, Democrats in the House, the Senate, and the White House have tried the “reach across the aisle” tactic, and have mostly seen those reaching hands hacked off by Republican operatives whose vision of compromise boils down to “my way or nothing.”

    Personally, what I’d like to see from Mr. Franken is a return of the author of “Lies, and the Lying Liars…” It’s a book that seems even more apropos now than when it was originally written.

  2. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 07/10/2014 - 10:57 am.

    A couple of points..

    1. Franken spoke about the underlying rationale for the proposal and its environmental benefits, but I don’t think Franken ever really addressed the “job loss” issue.

    2. McFadden’s proving he’s not a “outsider” but just another tool of the GOP Party. Why is finding a solution thru a tax increase “playing politics”, while reducing spending is “reaching across the aisle”. So DEms can just flip-flop the wording and we’re still left with Gridlock. That’s McFadden’s idea of making a difference?

  3. Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/10/2014 - 11:01 am.

    Substance vs Void

    Al, as usual, is doing a good job of discussing his policy objectives in clear, substantive, and relatable language. McFadden, on the other hand, comes across (to me) as a ‘Potemkin Candidate.’ He looks and talks like a Republican, but it’s only an empty facade… there seems to be zero substance with him.

  4. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 07/10/2014 - 11:34 am.

    Should student loans be a government cash cow?

    Do we really want to be raising government revenue by charging high interest rates on college loans?

  5. Submitted by Jon Lord on 07/10/2014 - 11:46 am.

    Have you seen

    That ad that McFadden has put up on TV.

    Using young children to promote a political candidate and position? The children he coaches? Do they all agree with McFadden? Do they play if they don’t agree? Or is it a requirement that they agree with McFadden? How about the parents? Is it a private school for the children of wealthy Republican only?

    What exactly is going on with that ad?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/10/2014 - 12:00 pm.

      He’s introducing himself

      To his natural constituents. Suburban moms and dads who support youth football. They tend to vote republican.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/10/2014 - 07:10 pm.


        they know something about football.
        Then the incompetence becomes obvious.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 07/11/2014 - 01:54 pm.


        because liberals don’t live in suburbs or like football. I’ll file this under “stuff Tester makes up, just to make himself feel better” along with your other gems like we don’t serve in the military, own guns, have jobs, raise families or have religious beliefs.

      • Submitted by Jon Lord on 07/11/2014 - 01:56 pm.


        Most republicans are mostly in small conclaves in the Suburb’s these days. These kids aren’t from public schools either.

        When I was in grade school many years ago a teacher was fired for telling the children that they should be for one particular party. Politics doesn’t have a place in grade school or sports regardless if it’s a public or private grade school. Children of this age group haven’t formed their own identities yet and so are being manipulated.

        I understand. Most republicans see nothing wrong with manipulation. It’s just business…

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/11/2014 - 02:26 pm.

        It’s also not lost on me that 100% of the people in the ad are white. Not that it’s inherently a problem, but McFadden’s people should really be considering the optics of everything they produce. Or maybe they did?

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/14/2014 - 09:14 am.

          White and Male

          All engaged in a highly regimented contact sport and using violent imagery to enunciate public policy.

          How much more Republican can one get?

  6. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 07/10/2014 - 12:25 pm.

    I would like to ask Mr. McFadden if he thinks that no jobs would be created by the lower-carbon (and, one certainly hopes, no-carbon) energy sources that are developed to replace coal?
    I know the supposition is always that the replacement energy cost will be higher, that’s the type of modeling used by green-energy opponents, but there are real indications that lower-carbon and no-carbon energy is and will be cheaper. Nat. gas prices are quite low – unless the GOP manages to ram thru an export-enabling law, in which case, watch out, our energy independence will be sacrificed for short term profit – and solar is now a lower cost source than some ‘conventional’ electric generation prices.
    Energy efficiency investments create jobs during installation. And reduced energy use by business customers after efficiency upgrades allows more net income for salaries or dividends.
    The economic evils see in placing carbon caps tend to evaporate when examined closely.
    How would Mr. McFadden respond?

  7. Submitted by Robert Helland on 07/10/2014 - 01:05 pm.

    Respect the election process, Minnpost, include Terrell.

    What would it hurt to let our state’s other ENDORSED MAJOR PARTY CANDIDATE ask and respond to questions of other ENDORSED MAJOR PARTY CANDIDATES?

    Minnesotans want debate, democracy and choice, not political favoritism.

    Your exclusion of IP-endorsed Kevin Terrell for US Senate is unjustified. What is your response, Mr. Black?

    ~Bob Helland
    Candidate for MN Secretary of State, IP Endorsed
    aka “The Usual Suspect”

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/10/2014 - 02:47 pm.


      In 2012, the IP didn’t even bother to support it’s candidate, Stephen Williams, in the general election. In 2008, Dean Barkley (easily the biggest IP name in the state) did win a fairly respectable 15% of the vote, but in 2006 IP candidate Fitzgerald also got trounced with only 3% of the vote. In 2004, it was Jim Moore with 2% of the vote.

      I’m not making an argument for or against inclusion here, but I don’t think you can call it political favoritism. Pragmatism, perhaps, but until we adopt a parliamentary system in which multiple political parties must form coalitions to govern, instead of the current two-party duopoly, I can see why it’s hard to justify spending resources covering a candidate who will not win any general election. I mean, the only ELECTED statewide IP officeholder in my memory was Jesse “The Mind” Ventura, and he was an outlier, getting elected without a majority, only a small plurality. The only other statewide IP officeholder was Dean Barkley, who was appointed to fill out the remainder of the late (and great) Paul Wellstone.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/10/2014 - 07:17 pm.

        and Jesse was ‘none of the above’.

        I doubt if anyone thought that he had any chance of winning;
        I suspect that if the election had been repeated the next day his vote would have been under 10%.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/10/2014 - 07:18 pm.

    Al should ask just one question:

    Repeat until a specific answer is provided.

  9. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 07/10/2014 - 10:50 pm.

    The #1 enemy of coal is…..

    Natural gas. Most of the new power plants are gas fired–and they are replacing coal plants. Does anyone wonder why no conservative ever mentions this fact?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/10/2014 - 11:03 pm.

      Two reasons

      First of all, the money mostly goes to the same (corporate) people.
      Second; natural gas extraction is heavily dependent on hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), and there are a lot of safety issues involved in the process.
      Raise the topic and you might have to deal with the issues.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/11/2014 - 09:37 am.

        Another reason

        Conservatives just like to say “no” to any innovation these days, especially if it looks like it might be one that advances the agenda of President Obama.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/11/2014 - 10:05 am.

          The Supreme Court

          is making all sorts of judicial innovations, twisting the Constitution until it screams.
          Conservatives are quite happy with that sort of innovation.

  10. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/11/2014 - 07:30 pm.

    Buffet Rule

    Wait a second, in the last post Franken was going to reduce the deficit with the Buffet rule windfall. Now it’s going to be used to reduce interest rates on student loans? I wonder if he has any other plans for it.
    By the way, the expected increase in tax receipts from the Buffet rule is something like $5 billion a year (although there is some expectation that the changes post Bush tax cuts would bump that all the way to $17 billion.) This is an incredibly small amount of money in a budget that is $3.7 trillion dollars, with a deficit of more than half a trillion. The idea that we’re being starved of money because we aren’t taxing the rich enough is not exactly fact based.

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