Minnesota Senator Al Franken (D) was a guest and speaker at Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s (D) annual steak fry in Indianola, Iowa on Sunday afternoon.
Our previous coverage:
Al Franken’s remarks:
[applause][cheers] Thank you. Thank you. Sit down, sit down. Hold, hold it, hold it for the end. [laughter] [voice: “Give ’em hell, Al.”] [voice: “Yay, Al!”] [voice: “What about Rush?”] Tom, Ruth, thank you for inviting me. I, you know, this is great on a non-presidential year, it’s nice and intimate here. It’s just you and you’re closest two thousand friends, right? [laughter] Governor Culver, let me, let me say something about your dad, your dad. I think all of us saw a lot of the Kennedy memorials and testaments to him and the funeral and there were a lot of tears. But there was also a lot of laughs. And your dad gave kind of a testimonial that was just hilarious and, and it went viral. I don’t know how many of you have seen it, it’s just. [applause] So here’s my advice to you, Governor. If you have even half the sense of humor that your, your dad has [laughter] do not let people see it until you retire. [laughter] Just don’t, it’ll just get you in trouble. [laughter] I should know. [laughter]….
….The people of Iowa have known Tom [Harkin] as a lot of things. As a fighter pilot, a congressman, a senator, the first Iowa senator to be elected to two consecutive terms [applause], the first Democratic Iowa [inaudible]. [applause] As Frank Harkin’s big brother. As the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act. [applause] [cheers] As a presidential candidate who got seventy-six percent of the vote here in Iowa and who got seventy-six votes in New Hampshire. [laughter] as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. And he is now the man who will fill the void left by the passing of Senator Kennedy, as the chairman of the Health, and Education, Labor and Pension Committee.
Now, it’s not really that big a deal. [laughter] I mean, it’s only health, education [laughter], labor [laughter], and pensions [laughter]. I mean, who really would care about those things? [laughter] [voice: “Democrats!”] You know, except for maybe people who are concerned about their, their health. [laughter] Or, or their, you know, their kids’ health. Or maybe want their kids to go to, oh, a good school. [laughter] Or, I don’t know, people who, who work. [laughter] [applause] Or who may even want to retire some day. [laughter] You know, with a pension. [laughter] I suppose those people might care about the work of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. [laughter]
And you know what? I can’t think of anyone better to lead the charge on health care reform, on reforming our education policies in this country, on fighting for working men and women, and protecting folks’ retirement security than Tom Harkin. [applause] Now, really, honest, save it for the end. [laughter] Now he’s still on the Ag Committee, so this is a win for Iowa and a win for America. [applause]
You know, Tom invited me to the one steak fry that was cancelled, in two thousand one, nine eleven eight years ago. And back then I would have been happy just to be here as a friend and supporter. Eight years later I’m humbled to be here as a colleague. [applause] And now [applause], and now as a member myself of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee I am honored to call Tom my chairman. [applause] In his role on the health part of the health, on the, of the HELP Committee Tom helped write, led the writing of the prevention title on the health bill. Yeah, so it’s, he’s focused like I am on preventative care. Now of course, one way nutritionists tell us that we could prevent disease if we, is if we ate less charcoal grilled marbled…[laughter]…red meat. [laughter] So please let me be the first to invite you to the two thousand ten first annual Tom Harkin tofu steam. [laughter] [applause] Tofu steam. Tofu steam. [laughter]
Now I may have arrived late to the Senate, but I really hit the ground running. Like one of the first few days I was in the Senate I ran into Senator Jim Imhofe of Oklahoma. [audience groaning] Now you might know him as the one who, who called the scientific evidence on, on climate change, he called it, quote, “The greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” So, I want to make friends with everybody. So I got to talkin’ with Jim. So, Jim and me are talkin’ on the floor and I said to him, “You know, Jim, I’ve been doing some research, some really deep digging and, it, it seems to me that, uh, you’re not entirely convinced [laughter] on the science of global warming.” And he said, “Oh, you’ve done some deep digging then.” [laughter] And I go, “Yes, yes, that something you’re gonna have to learn about, you’re gonna learn about me. I do my homework. And from the research I’ve done it just, it just, it seems like you aren’t entirely on board [laughter] with the whole climate change thing.” So, so that is me. That’s me, I do my homework.
For example, when I was first appointed to the Judiciary Committee I thought, “This is weird, I’m not a lawyer.” How am I gonna know what, you know, how to ask the right questions? But then I did some more of that deep, deep digging. And I discovered that most Americans aren’t lawyers. [laughter] [applause] That’s true. That’s, that’s a, that’s factual. [laughter] It’s factual. And I discovered that this is one of the real challenges of being a U.S. Senator, Washington expects you to think one way, but the American people don’t necessarily think that way. So, the challenge is not to get caught up in the questions that get asked in Washington. It’s to do what Tom Harkin has always done, ask the questions that the American people want answered. [applause] And right now, right now, those are health care questions. You know, when I campaigned around the state of Minnesota in two thousand eight, this was during my campaign, it seems so long ago [laughter], the people that talked to me about health care they, they really talked to me about three things. They said it cost too much. They said what am I gonna do if I lose my job and either I or my spouse or my, one of my kids has a pre-existing condition? And how am I ever, ever gonna get health care? Or, if something bad happens to me or one of my kids, and they get really sick, am I gonna lose everything? Am I gonna go bankrupt? And that’s what the American people want to know.
And by the way, when I say the American people I don’t just mean Democrats. A few weeks ago I was at my booth at the Minnesota state fair. And a group of tea party folks came in. Somebody actually videotaped this, put it on the web, maybe some of you have seen it. [applause] Well, they were angry. They were angry and they had t-shirts on that said TEE, uh, TEA, taxed enough already and a picture of a red, white and blue tea pot. And they also were, had with them some right wing talking points. And they were there to confront me on health care and they were, they came loaded for bear. So now, if you listen to the talking heads you would’ve, you’d think, oh t
his probably turned out very, very badly. But, a couple things happened. First of all, they realized I was a real person. That I wasn’t the caricature of a left wing demon that they had heard about, that they didn’t really have reason to be afraid of me or angry with me. And there’s a lesson in that for all of our political debates. When you look your opponent in the eye it’s harder to vilify them. And it’s a lot easier to reason with them. Now, in fact, somebody commented on a blog site, who saw this video on the web. They called me the, the “wingnut whisperer,” but [laughter] actually, actually, these people weren’t nuts at all. Not at all. Because, the next thing that happened was that we really had a great conversation. And I told them that the issue of health care was just way too complex for people to be injecting misinformation that engenders fear. [applause] And I said that I thought that the most egregious thing was the death panel. And then I kind of braced myself for their reaction. Well you know what happened, there were six tea party people there? All of them, each of them went, “Yeah, that was bad. Yeah, that was, that shouldn’t have happened.” So they didn’t want to talk about that. What they wanted to know was how are we going to pay for this? And you know what? That’s a great question. It’s a great question. It’s not a Democratic question, it’s not a republican question, it’s an immensely important question. And it’s one that Tom Harkin and I are asking every day. Now maybe we have a different breed of tea partiers in, in Minnesota, but the tea party people and I ended up having a good discussion. Now, at the end of this conversation did we agree on every solution? No. But we did agree that doing nothing is just not an option. [applause]
And that’s why even though I may have arrived late to the senate, I didn’t arrive too late. [applause] [cheers] Because this fall we’re finally going to reform our health care system. [applause] [cheers] How are we gonna do it? How are we gonna do it? Well first we’re gonna start by breaking that phrase “health care system” apart just a little bit. We’re really talking about two different things. The truth is we have really great health care in this system, in this country. We have great health care in this country. We just have a really terrible system. [applause] Now, let’s start with the health care part. We’ve got dedicated, brilliant, creative, smart doctors. [voice: “Thank you.”] [laughter] Not necessarily you, but… [laughter] other doctors. [laughter] I don’t know you. You may be great. [laughter] Nurses, medical device designers, and researchers, technicians, and brilliant, brilliant people working on our health care and doing amazing things.
So, if you’re a member of the Saudi royal family you get on your private jet and you come to America for your health care. [voice: “Yep.”] The Saudi royal family is willing to travel seventy-five hundred miles to Rochester, Minnesota to get great care at the Mayo Clinic. [applause] Now, for a woman in Fergus Falls, Minnesota with diabetes that same care is less than three hundred miles away. But it often feels like it’s a world away. That’s because if you’re an American you get great health care, too, but only, only if you make it through the terrible system. [applause] And by the way, when you have to navigate this system? It’s always when you’re at your most vulnerable, when you’re sick. Now first of all, if you’re lucky and you have insurance you’ve got to be able to pay the premium. And premiums have been doubling every ten years. If you can do that and you picked the right plan, because the truth is that people never really know what their plan covers until you get sick. Then you’ve gotta hope you, you filled out the forms right. ‘Cause if you didn’t your insurance can deny your claim. And you also have to hope that your, your insurance company can’t find a pre-existing condition. In other words, a condition that may or may not have actually pre-existed when you signed the policy. But, if they can find it, they’ll drop you from the plan. And even if they do pay your claim they have, they can have a cap. An annual cap or lifetime cap. And you can end up with medical bills that are tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
But if that all works out you get some really great health care….