WASHINGTON, D.C. — Here’s a look at some of the things that the Minnesota delegation tackled in a week of escalating health-care reform battles, climate-change negotiations and the passage of unprecedented tobacco regulations.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for the passage of the Travel Promotion Act, which would enact a $10 fee on foreign travelers who enter the United States and would establish a public-private partnership to promote tourism. Tourism is the fifth largest industry in Minnesota, generating $11 billion in sales for the state, according to Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting this week, Klobuchar also said that “unpaid interns and volunteers from Minnesota” are doing her office’s evaluation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
The Minnesota Independent reported that her comments came “amid a testy discussion of the committee’s schedule for hearings into Sotomayor’s nomination.” According to the report:
“‘I have no committee staff,’ Klobuchar explained. But despite relying on pro bono assistance, she said she would have no problem being ready to question Sotomayor next month.”
Rep. Tim Walz told POLITICO that some House members are frustrated that they may have to cast a tough vote on a climate change bill this year even though the Senate may not take up the legislation.
“I don’t think there’s a single person over here who thinks the Senate’s going to do anything,” Walz told POLITICO. “A lot of members are now starting to grumble and say, ‘Why do I take this hard vote when I don’t know if the bill’s going to work or not and I don’t think it’s going to go to the Senate?’”
Walz also joined a handful of other Democrats in introducing the Medicare Payment Improvement Act in the House this week. Klobuchar introduced a similar bill in the Senate. The measure seeks to reform the Medicare payment system to one that rewards the value of care over quantity of procedures.
“It all boils down to high quality patient care,” said Walz in a statement. “Our patients should be getting the best quality care for their money. Yet our current payment system ignores quality and value. It doesn’t reward good quality or punish service providers for poor quality care. I don’t know any other industry that operates like this. In the health care field, the best thing we can do to lower costs is to reward the providers who keep patients well with high quality care. If we are truly to reform our health care system this is a fundamental change that must be included.”
Rep. John Kline joined other House Republicans, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, in introducing an alternative energy reform bill this week. The American Energy Act calls for building 100 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years and provides incentives for increased oil and gas production on public and private lands and offshore. It would also authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska and does not require a cap on emissions of heat-trapping gases.
In a statement, Kline called the administration’s current cap-and-trade proposal “irresponsible.”
“This irresponsible proposal will drive up the price of everyday goods, strain the economy, reduce jobs, and impose a significant cost increase on every American who dares to turn on a light,” Kline said in a statement.
Rep. Erik Paulsen, along with Rep. Betty McCollum, cosponsored a bill that would require Chrysler and GM to continue to honor their franchise agreements, based on state laws, with auto dealers that they have recently moved to terminate.
“Picking winners and losers by arbitrarily closing local dealerships without rhyme or reason is simply wrong,” Paulsen said in a statement. “Moreover, these small businessmen and women are being given no recourse from these closings.”
McCollum saw her legislation on preventing child marriage pass through the House this week. The language was incorporated into the Foreign Relations Authorization Act and specifies that child marriage is a human rights violation.
“Passing this legislation is an important step towards ending child marriage and protecting the rights of young girls to be treated as children, not wives.” McCollum said in a statement. “By prioritizing and valuing girls in the developing world, the U.S. sends a signal to countries like Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Yemen that the practice of allowing 10, 11, or 12 year olds to be married to much older men is a human rights violation.”
Rep. Keith Ellison introduced The Good Care Act of 2009, health care legislation that would require all health plans participating in a proposed “health insurance exchange” to spend a minimum of 90 percent of the health care premiums on health-care service for their patients.
“One way to fund universal health care is to make sure that the health plans actually spend the monies provided them on actual health care services,” Ellison said in a statement.
Ellison also condemned a series of recent high profile gun crimes following this week’s murder of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“This is the third high-profile gun crime in the United States in recent weeks fueled by hatred and armed by lax gun laws,” Ellison said in a statement. “The assassination of Doctor George Tiller at his church in Kansas shocked us all about the dangers of extremists who use violence and terror to advance their causes. Then there was the heartbreaking story of the military recruiter randomly murdered in Little Rock by a man who said that he was angry about the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of political views, violent acts of hatred like these are never justifiable.”
Bachmann issued her own statement on cap-and-trade legislation and the Republican’s new proposal.
“Especially with a struggling economy, the last thing Washington should do is restrict the development of cheaper energy and increase the financial burden on America’s families,” Bachmann said in a statement.
Bachmann also generated Internet buzz this week when she paraphrased conservative columnist Michael Barone on the House.
“Now we’ve moved into the realm of gangster government,” she said. “We have gangster government when the Federal Government has set up a new cartel and private businesses now have to go begging with their hand out to their local — hopefully well politically connected — Congressman or their Senator so they can buy a peace offering for that local business. Is that the kind of country we are going to have in the future?”
“We need to call this for what this is, my colleagues. We need to call this for what this is. Call it out. The American people need to get outraged and figure out that it could be them next. No business is safe when you see the administration appoint czars — car czars, wage czars — there’s over 20 czars that have been appointed. And what do those czars do? They bypass the Congress. We are the people’s elected representatives; we have been bypassed.”
“We now have an imperial presidency where the President has appointed various czars reporting directly to him.”
In another floor speech, Bachmann also compared the United States to the Titanic, “which we all remember was called the ‘unsinkable Titanic.’” Bachmann said.
Rep. Collin Peterson got a call from House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who reportedly was looking to talk about the climate change bill, which Peterson has said needs more considerations for agriculture.
“She said she wants something that works,” Peterson told The Hill. “She wants to get all of these issues worked out. She’s trying to find a way to get enough of the caucus to support this.”
Late Thursday, Peterson also had a private meeting with Pelosi and the bill’s authors, Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., to further discuss the agricultural concerns.
According to Reuters, Peterson left the 90-minute meeting telling reporters, “We made some good progress in a number of areas and we still have a few things to work through.”
Rep. Jim Oberstar announced funding for the Bois Forte Reservation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $3.25 million in grants and loans to go toward upgrading the sewer systems and moving ahead with a new biomass energy project.
Oberstar also heralded the passage of the “Cash for Clunkers” bill in the House of this week. The legislation would give consumers vouchers of up to $4,500 to trade-in older gas guzzling vehicles.
“This is legislation that will put money directly in the pockets of consumers. In addition to the tax credit, this legislation will save Minnesota drivers considerable money at the gas pump,” Oberstar said in a statement.
But Bachmann, who voted against the bill, said that she was concerned that it authorized new government spending and may weaken charitable giving of older automobiles.
Go here to read more about the measure.