Finding Common Ground, Standing up For the Middle Class in New Congress

I’m grateful to the people of Minnesota for giving me the chance to serve a second term as senator. And I’m ready to keep fighting for middle-class families and for families aspiring to be in the middle class.

Republicans now control the Senate majority, and while serving in the minority will be a new experience for me, my job will remain the same: working hard for Minnesota.

And just as I worked across the aisle during my first term when Democrats held the majority, I’ll look for areas of agreement with my Republican colleagues. The cable news shows might focus on conflict, but I believe there’s consensus to be found.

For example, both sides agree we need to cut wasteful spending so we can fund important priorities like education and research and development without running up the deficit.

One area where I hope we can work together is making health care more cost-effective by encouraging providers to focus on helping people stay well instead of just treating them when they get sick. And as a national leader in developing reforms that save money and improve outcomes, Minnesota has a lot to offer. This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s just a good idea, and it’s not the only one out there.

Workforce development is another. In my first term, I helped pass a bipartisan workforce training bill. But there’s more we can do to connect businesses, colleges and workers so they can fill some of the more than 3 million jobs employers can’t fill because of our “skills gap.”

I’ll also keep fighting to allow 25 million Americans (including 550,000 Minnesotans) to refinance their student debt so they can cut their payments by hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a year.

I was proud that last year’s farm bill included a section I helped write to make sure rural Minnesota benefits from clean-energy and energy-efficiency technologies. If we want to address climate these technologies must be part of the solution.

I’ll also press for additional infrastructure investments to create jobs and help Minnesota businesses get their goods to market.

My Republican colleagues have many of these same priorities and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find common ground.

But I also know there will be times when I need to stand my ground.

For example, I’ll oppose any effort to chip away at the Wall Street reforms we passed in 2010. Rolling those back, as some want to do, would make us more vulnerable to another economic meltdown like the one that crashed our economy in 2008 and hurt tens of millions of middle-class families.

I’ll also stand up to any attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that provides enormous benefit to Minnesotans. Since its passage, we’ve reduced the number of uninsured in our state by 40 percent, and now an unprecedented 95 percent of Minnesotans are covered. We can’t go back to the days when Americans with pre-existing conditions were denied coverage or when insurers dropped you if you got sick.

We absolutely should work across the aisle to fix problems with the law; but we can’t let anyone take away important benefits like allowing children to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26, helping seniors to save billions on prescription drugs, and protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

We have a lot of work to do this year. And while the political landscape in Washington may have changed, my values haven’t, and neither has my commitment to working hard for Minnesota. I can’t wait to get started.

Sen. Al Franken represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.