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Minnesota senators look ahead on health care

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.1 / 2
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.2 / 2

ST. PAUL—Minnesota's two U.S. senators, both Democrats, are ending the week much like they started it: urging Republicans to work with them to craft new federal health care policies.

But Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken were strong in their opposition to health plans Republicans wrote in secret, legislation that senators narrowly rejected early Friday, July 28.

"Tonight's vote will go down in the history books," Franken wrote on Facebook early Friday. "But we can't rest easy; the fight is far from over. My message to Republicans is come back to the table ... and work with us in a bipartisan way to improve health care for all Americans. If we want to do this the right way, it's the only path forward."

"Time to work across the aisle..." Klobuchar wrote in a tweet.

The pair of Minnesota senators cast votes against the GOP health plan.

Klobuchar said that fresh bipartisan talks about how to proceed should include plans to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.

"That is a steep lift, with the way pharma influences legislation in this town, but maybe this is the opening that we need," she said.

Franken told colleagues about a Moorhead mother and daughter. If a Republican plan passed to cut back on Medicaid, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance, the family would have no way to pay the mother's nursing home bills, Franken said.

The mother "told me that this plan is not about taking care of people, but 'simply survival of the fittest,'" Franken said in a Senate speech before the vote. The senator said health care should not be about "survival of the fittest."

He also told about Perham Health CEO Chuck Hofius, who he said told him that "cutting Medicaid as drastically as they are proposing would force us to cut staff in areas that are actually saving money." Some of the programs that would be forced to cut include those that keep people out of pricey emergency rooms, Franken said.

Since Perham Health's hospital and other facilities rank among the largest employers in the area, the senator added, federal cuts would affect Perham and area economies.

Klobuchar was among the first Democrats to know the Republicans' final attempt, for now, would fail at 12:29 a.m. central time.

Nineteen minutes before the vote, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., crossed the Senate chamber to talk to Klobuchar and other Democrats.

"As he approached, McCain told them he worried that reporters watching from the gallery above could read his lips," the Washington Post reported. "When he realized that the press was indeed watching, he looked up at the ceiling and shouted, 'No!' as senators and reporters laughed. Then, Democrats beamed when McCain shared his news."

Other than that brief moment, the chamber was tense.

"I was pretty somber," Klobuchar said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.