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Weekly wrap-up: Minnesota’s congressional delegation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Al Franken became Minnesota’s second U.S. senator while the Senate bid an official farewell to former Sen. Norm Coleman, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor geared up for a week of intense grilling and health care ground to a halt in the House. What else was the Minnesota delegation up to? Here are some highlights.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, brought home the bacon. The now-senior senator announced $5.5 million for four major Minnesota wastewater and environmental protection initiatives, $5.1 million for Minnesota wilderness projects, more than $2 million for Minnesota’s VA Medical Centers, $5.5 million for agriculture and rural development initiatives and more than $61 million for the state to improve its transit system.

Democrat Franken got his sea legs. After a whirlwind swearing-in day of photo-ops, speeches and congratulatory parties, the newest member of the Minnesota delegation made a point of getting down to business. Franken cosponsored his first bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize. He also lined up a list of meetings with Sen. Barbra Boxer, D-Calif., Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Sotomayor. On Monday, Franken will sit in on his first committee hearing as the Judiciary panel considers Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. (Not a bad venue for your first time at bat.)

Erik Paulsen stood up for medical technology. The Republican from Minnesota’s Third District authored an amendment that would add medical technology to the list of priority topics and industries eligible for small-business research funding. It passed with vast bipartisan support on a voice vote.

According to Paulsen, Minnesota has more than 18,000 medical technology jobs, making it fourth in the nation.

Meanwhile, Congressional Quarterly surmised that “the degree to which Paulsen is viewed by voters as fitting the Ramstad mold will be a key factor in whether he faces a seriously threatening challenge in 2010.”

Jim Ramstad, the nine-term moderate Republican who preceded Paulsen, was immensely popular in the Third District, which went for President Obama during last year’s election.

Pressure on health care

Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, held House leadership’s feet to the fire over health care. McCollum and about 20 Western and rural state Democrats, including Minnesota Reps. Tim Walz, Keith Ellison and Jim Oberstar, wrote a letter to the House leadership this week asking for a meeting and insisting that the health care bill fix inequities in Medicare reimbursement rates that put states like Minnesota with low costs and high-quality health care at a disadvantage.

Ellison pushed for increased oversight of credit-rating agencies, introducing a bill that would give the Federal Reserve authority over the credit-rating agencies when they analyze and structure financial products, according to a statement.

“Credit-rating agencies are a weak link in the chain.  Subjecting them to enhanced supervision by a regulator with relevant expertise when they rate products that vary from their traditional business of rating corporate bonds provides a sensible guard rail for our financial system,” Ellison said.

But at a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing this week some economists with ties to the Federal Reserve argued that the central bank should not be in charge of protecting consumers, according to The Washington Post.

“The consumer protection regulator is not at the core of what the Federal Reserve does,” former Fed governor Frederic S. Mishkin told the subcommittee Thursday, according to The Post.

Bachmann’s family vote

Rep. Michele Bachmann concluded that the kids are all right. The Sixth District Republican told POLITICO that she let her five biological children and 23 foster children weigh-in on her decision to run for Congress. The POLITICO article focused on how far politicians go in letting their families influence their political careers.

“Not only did my entire family have input in my decision to run for Congress; they influenced my initial involvement in politics,” Bachmann told POLITICO. “I would not be in Washington if my family did not provide me with 100 percent love and support.”

Rep. Collin Peterson joined Blue Dog Democrats in calling for a budget-neutral health care bill that addresses the problems with Medicare funding.

Peterson also led a joint Agriculture and Financial Services Committee hearing on regulating the derivatives market. During the hearing, the Seventh District Democrat indicated that he was warming to Obama’s plan, according to Bloomberg News Service.

Bloomberg reported that Peterson had been skeptical of the need for customized derivatives, which might not face the same regulatory measures as standard derivatives.

“As long as everybody has to put some money up and we have tight oversight, we can have a strong bill,” Peterson told Bloomberg.

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