Franken pushes rural jobs, small business
Growing small business will create new jobs -- and new tax revenue, says U.S. Sen. Al Franken.
The Minnesota Democrat toured several small business operations Monday and Tuesday in northwestern Minnesota with promise, including Wells Technology Inc. north of Bemidji on Tuesday.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., visited the precision metal machining company.
"We have to manufacture again, we have to make things in this country," Franken, DFL-Minn., told the Bemidji Pioneer Editorial Board on Tuesday. "I'm really seeing a lot of small manufacturers."
He visited plants in Karlstad and Greenbush, and attended a groundbreaking in Hallock for a Northstar Agri Business Industries canola plant with Gov. Mark Dayton.
"I like small manufacturing," he said, "I think small manufacturing is high-value jobs --engineers, production managers -- and we're making stuff, not that's sold just here but exporting."
Congress in the lame-duck session passed $50 billion in small business tax credits and capital investment incentives, he said. But government also needs to be more efficient in the programs it offers small business.
"I hear of any kind of slowdown because of government agencies not working together, I try to get my office to intervene," Franken said.
"We created tax incentives to hire people," he said. "But capital investment is really important, and making capital available. That's one of the big challenges I see when I go around the state."
The small business jobs package included $30 billion through the Small Business Administration to community banks for small business loans, Franken said. "The community banks, because of the state of the economy, would be told by the bank examiners that if they made a loan, they would write it off. The bank examiner's first job is to keep the bank solvent."
The SBA loan is 90 percent guaranteed by the federal government, he said. "I think we can leverage that and hopefully there will be a lot more Main Street capital flowing and get small businesses going and expanding and creating jobs."
Usually the job engine is small businesses, he said.
Franken bristles when Republicans say government doesn't create jobs. He defends the $870 billion federal stimulus package, even though it was passed before he took office because of the long election recount.
He not only points out to construction jobs created by the stimulus, but the end product. The federal deficit, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, isn't dissimilar to the federal debt after World War II, and the economy was fueled by new construction, especially of the Interstate highway system.
"How many times do we go to a manufacturer and they say the roads aren't good enough," Franken said. "I wonder if the trucks ever used the Interstate highway system. I wonder if they used the truck stops along the way for diesel. I wonder if the truckers stayed in a motel. Even the Erie Canal created some jobs."
The same is true with the Internet, he said, as private industry is making billions on Web sites and Internet sales. It was created by the Pentagon and funded in the early days by Congress.
Construction jobs have been created by stimulus funding, "and then once you got them, if we're going to compete in the world, then you have to have a good infrastructure."
A third of the stimulus package when to state and local governments, a third to infrastructure and a third in tax cuts.
"You go around the state and they're (stimulus projects) are in every community," Franken said. "Those are jobs."
More stimulus funding could be approved, but he doubts the Republican House will approve as it concentrates on the federal deficit, he said.
He lambasted the recent tax cut bill as it extended the Bush-era tax cuts to all income levels, rather than the middle class, greatly increasing the deficit. He wanted it to apply only to those making less than $250,000, but would have settled for $350,000,
Sixty percent of Americans were for not extending tax cuts to those over $250,000, Franken said. "At $1 million, you're keeping two-thirds of the revenue. We have incomes now we've never heard of before, with people making $400 million a year is not uncommon. What it adds to the deficit not to collect that is just crazy."
Democrat President Bill Clinton left a record budget surplus for Republican President George W. Bush, who handed Democrat President Barack Obama a record deficit, Franken said. "I'm being lectured by these Republican senators on deficits and then they want to extend tax cuts to people making over $1 million, to billionaires."
Franken said Republicans "talk this game about deficits but they don't act on it."
There will be some defined spending cuts, he said, as well as the need to raise taxes. But the GOP House will not allow the use of new tax revenues to offset spending. "The only way you can pay for something is to cut something else."
But there is another option beyond raising taxes or cutting spending, he said. "Everyone seems to have forgotten about growth. Our debt was much worse as a percentage of GDP after World War II, and we grow our way out of it."
This time, new jobs in biotechnology will be the new Interstate highway system, he said.
"Mapping the human genome is the new Internet," he said, referring to research that someday will allow medicines to be prescribed precisely to an individual's needs.
As an example, he said, if a cancer drug works for 30 percent of the people, that means it has no effect or makes people more ill 70 percent of the time. But if research can pinpoint the effect of verous medicines, perhaps 100 percent of the 30 percent can benefit.
It's research being done now by the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, he said.
There will also be new jobs in green energy, he said, such as biomass in this area.