By Don Heinzman
Chairman, ECM Editorial Board
U.S. Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota predicts that the bill to use federal money to build bridges, highways and railways will soon become law.
Speaking to the ECM Publishers Editorial Board Friday, Nov. 11, the senator does not see the bill to provide thousands of jobs to teachers, firemen and policemen passing.
The infrastructure bill has the votes in committee to pave the way for passage in the House and Senate. The bill passed unanimously through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Friday, with the help of Republican Senators.
Sen. Franken says he sees the conversation in the congress turning more to jobs.
In Minnesota, he said, a farmer in Wheaton told him that it’s costly to ship soybeans because the locks need dredging.
“We need our infrastructure to stay competitive,” said the senator.
Since the debt ceiling crisis, people are turning more to the creation of jobs. There is more focus on jobs and what’s happening to the middle class.
The senator said he’s becoming a facilitator on energy initiatives and is excited by the idea of retrofitting public buildings, as well as private commercial ones. He’s talked to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton about retrofitting public buildings.
Retrofitting buildings saves energy, provides jobs and costs can be recovered in four years.
Turning to the presidential election, the senator said that some Democrats are critical of the president because they think he caves in too quickly, such as when he agreed to the Bush tax cuts during the lame duck session.
He also said that people have come to realize that the president’s nature is to be a conciliator. “Sometimes the president hasn’t learned from that,” said Franken.
The president came to Washington wanting to change the tone, and wasn’t met halfway by Republicans.
The biggest problem with the economy, he said, is the lack of demand, which is the uncertainty. Too many banks with the money to lend are not doing so.
“We have to get that money off the sidelines,” he said.
Speaking on Veterans Day, Sen. Franken said he has a measure to improve access to health care services for veterans living in rural communities in Minnesota. Sen. John Boozman, Republican from Arkansas, is the lead co-sponsor of the legislation.
He said the country must not just remember veterans but act to help them.
“With 40 percent of all veterans in the VA health system living in rural areas, we have to ensure that these men and women have access to the health care they’ve earned. My bill will ensure the VA better plans for and manages the resources it has for rural areas to improve care for veterans across rural America,” he said.
Following Franken’s discussion, he went to Ramsey and helped dedicate the new VA clinic there.