This Congress’s biggest job is to create jobs

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer

U.S. Senator Al Franken

An MLK-Day interview with Senator Al Franken Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken says that solving the state’s ailing economy, including creating more jobs in the areas hardest hit economically, “is the biggest thing that I’m focused on.” According to the December 2010 Organizing Apprentice Project (OAP) racial equity policy brief, the current jobless rate for Black Minnesotans is 22.5 percent — and 23 percent for Black women.

The state’s overall unemployment rate is around seven percent. During an interview with the MSR on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Franken admitted that Congress must get started on improving the job picture, especially in the Black community, “which has a much higher unemployment rate.” While in town last Monday, the first-term senator had a “causal lunch” at El-Amin Fish House on the city’s North Side. Manager Sharon El-Amin said that Franken and a couple members of his staff unexpectedly stopped by. “He talked about different loans that were available” for almost an hour, she said. “We were talking about the different things we could do,” Franken explained afterwards, adding that he is committed to small businesses, especially Black-owned businesses and those owned by other people of color. “We’ve done a lot in the last several months around Minnesota in terms of freeing up capital for small businesses — $30 billion more for small businesses through the Small Business Administration and small banks.” Two days before the GOP-led House voted to repeal the healthcare law passed last year, Franken predicted, “A lot of us are looking forward to this debate” in the Senate.

“I think there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation that has been put out there, and [Democrats] are ready to engage in the debate and explain what this bill is about and show where the tremendous benefits are for folks.” When asked about an Associated Press-GfK poll released last week indicating that only 30 percent of Americans are strongly opposed to the healthcare law and want it repealed, Franken said that is because the public is already seeing some of these benefits, such as closing the Medicare drug coverage gap and young people staying longer on their parents’ healthcare insurance after they reach adulthood. Furthermore, he questioned the Republicans’ true motives behind their repeal efforts, especially since the GOP wants “to keep certain popular aspects of [the healthcare law], but it is not possible to do both [to keep it and repeal it],” said the senator.

“This is a debate I am very much looking forward to.” Asked if the GOP will slow down funding for the healthcare law if it isn’t overturned, Franken responded, “I think that’s a very legitimate fear.” The senator said he also will be looking into the No Child Left Behind law. “Unfortunately the way the Annual Yearly Progress has been measured, it punishes schools, especially schools in high-need areas,” he pointed out. “The thing I will be focusing on is making sure that we are measuring growth instead of holding schools to an arbitrary standard.” Finally, Franken also is against the Comcast-NBC Universal merger (Comcast is the Twin Cities’ main cable company), which was approved by the FCC shortly after our interview took place.

“This is the largest cable provider [over 22 million subscribers] and home Internet provider [more than 16 million subscribers] in the country,” he said. “Between Comcast and NBC, they have 37 cable networks. You probably will see an increase in your cable bill.” Congress, however, should be mainly focused on the number-one priority, which Franken believes is the economy. “[There is] a long, long way to go, but I think we are going in the right direction.” Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to