Senator Franken speaks on progressive cause

Al Franken

by James Blum

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) spoke to a crowd of Brown students last Sunday as he accepted the Brown Democrats’ John F. Kennedy Jr. Award for inspiring youth in politics. The former Saturday Night Live writer fielded questions on issues ranging from healthcare to campaign finance as he galvanized the crowd in preparation for the 2012 campaign cycle.

“You can’t make the country more progressive by talking, only by doing,” Franken said. “Sometimes it’s really hard.”

Franken is no stranger to close elections, having won his Senate seat in 2008 by 312 votes. He noted that such a tight race highlighted the importance of every person he met on the campaign trail and the countless hours committed by volunteers to his election effort. Franken pointed to elections as the best place to prove former Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) right in his exhortation that “the future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard.”

Franken brought this understanding with him to Washington as he joined the fight to pass a comprehensive healthcare bill in 2010 and sought to include a provision that would set the federal medical loss ratio at 85 percent of premiums for large group policies. In layman’s terms, this means that insurance companies have to reduce wasteful overhead and spend 85 percent of premiums on actual medical care. Franken pointed to this victory and others as compensation for the lack of a public option in the final Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“A lot was unglamorous,” Franken said. “But that’s how progressives got a healthcare bill passed.”

Franken continued to advocate for progressive policies as he answered questions on a wide range of topics. Starting off, he acknowledged that the country needs to “rationalize our immigration systems” so that immigrants won’t be taken advantage of and can legally find work.

Franken also touched on the role of government in regulating technology. “People should know what private information is being taken and who’s taking it,” he said. While on the same page as the crowd in terms of Internet privacy, Franken encountered some resistance on the issue of piracy online, specifically when talking about the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act.

He expressed chagrin over what he characterized as a “misunderstanding” about the purpose of PIPA and the vehemence with which the Senate-originated act was opposed. He reminded the audience that the bill was simply intended to curb foreign websites dedicated to piracy.

Reflecting on a congressional approval rating that is hovering at an all-time low, Franken said there is an “ideological element to the Republican party” that he believes is “asymmetric.” He added that the attitude espoused by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of making the 2012 defeat of President Obama his “number one priority” has contributed to the political deadlock seen in Washington. However, Franken acknowledged that bipartisanship still exists in Congress.

“It is there, but in areas that don’t get a lot of focus,” Franken said. “News will focus more on conflict than getting together.”

Franken recently encountered this bipartisanship when he took to the Senate floor to promote an amendment that would increase the regulation of credit rating agencies. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) spoke next and spontaneously offered his support for the amendment, later becoming the first Republican co-sponsor of the amendment.

Zintis Inde ’12 of Minnesota said Senator Franken stated his positions very clearly but was surprised that Franken got some resistance on SOPA and PIPA.

“I thought he lived up the description of the award,” Inde said. “Very inspiring.”


Photo by John Taylor

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