Daily Digest: Medicare for all, gas tax and infrastructure

Good Monday morning. Get the week started off with your Daily Digest.

1. "Medicare for all" becomes a top talking point among Democrats.Health care was the top issue in the 2016 election and is likely to be again in next year's campaign for president. According to a recent Des Moines Register poll, more than 8 in 10 likely Democratic Iowa caucus-goers support "Medicare for All." But what does Medicare for All mean to potential voters?" I think that it means very affordable health care. I hope that's what it means," said John Carden, 43, who lives in Mason City, Iowa, and works at a restaurant in Clear Lake, Iowa. Julie Geopfert, who chairs the Webster County Democratic Party in Iowa, fears Medicare for All would overwhelm the health insurance program for seniors and some people with disabilities. It's unclear exactly how much Medicare for All would cost. Some estimates put the 10-year price tag at more than $30 trillion. It would require significant tax increases. Several high-profile Democrats are backing the plan, including Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.  "It's one idea and something we should look at, but I want to get something done immediately," says Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar supports eventually getting to universal health care, but she's focusing on a litany of less ambitious, short-term fixes. (MPR News)

2. Heading for a deal on the gas tax? Gov. Tim Walz said Friday he's willing to shave the size of his proposed gas tax increase or implement it more slowly if that helps transportation funding advance. In an interview on MPR News, the DFL governor said his preference is to keep the increase at 20 cents per gallon to phase in over two years. But he said he's aiming for a compromise. "You're going to get less. We're not going to get everything that we need to get done," Walz said. "But if Minnesotans say we're not willing to do 20 but we're willing to do part of that. That will come at a cost." After the governor's State of the State address this week, House Speaker Melissa Hortman emphasized that the House transportation plan would increase the per-gallon gas tax more slowly. She said the amount and timetable are negotiable. Republicans in control of the Minnesota Senate say transportation money can come from dedicating the sales tax on auto-related purchases to the general fund, as has been done the past two years. (MPR News)

3. Just what are the state's infrastructure needs? Gov. Tim Walz often cites Minnesota’s “crumbling roads and bridges” to persuade a divided Legislature to increase the gas tax 20 cents per gallon to pay for billions in new road improvements. Drivers blowing out tires on the jagged edges of basketball-sized potholes this spring have only strengthened his plea. The Democratic governor has wielded that argument against Republican lawmakers intent on blocking his gas tax hike, leveraging a national narrative of decrepit infrastructure. But the data show a far murkier picture of the condition of Minnesota roads and bridges. After the I-35 bridge collapse in 2007, Minnesota spent $2.5 billion shoring up its bridges, and the number of spans in poor condition has dropped dramatically. Road conditions in Minnesota have held steady during the past decade and even improved marginally, often comparing favorably to Wisconsin and Iowa, according to federal data. Commute times for metro residents are lower than in similarly sized urban areas. (Star Tribune)

4. Frustration with EPA over ethanol. Minnesota corn farmer Richard "Swede" Syverson has been coming to the nation's capital for years to talk to legislators about the advantages of ethanol. His trip last week was his most urgent. Along with nine other Minnesota farmers and ethanol producers, Syverson flew in to protest the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) increasing use of economic hardship waivers that cut the amount of ethanol small oil refineries are required to blend. The move, Syverson and colleagues in the ethanol business contend, has reduced domestic consumption of ethanol for the first time in 20 years and left the country short of legally mandated national ethanol quotas. Adding to the problem, the EPA has yet to make good on a promise by President Donald Trump to allow the year-round sale of E15, an ethanol blend that is 15 percent corn-based alcohol and 85 percent gasoline. "Frustration is a pretty kind word," Syverson said when asked how he felt about EPA's actions. "The ethanol industry has been blindsided by waivers and the slow pace of adopting year-round sales of E15." The angst led to a face-to-face lobbying mission on Capitol Hill by 70 members of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), including 10 from Minnesota. (Star Tribune)

5. House passes "License for All" legislation. The Minnesota House passed legislation Friday that would allow people in Minnesota to obtain a license or state ID card without showing proof of their legal status in the United States. The vote was 74-52. Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, the bill’s chief sponsor, said the change would enhance public safety, improve the economy and enhance human dignity. Winkler said the bill, which would reverse a decision made in 2003, also includes data protections for people who apply for licenses. The Department of Public Safety would be prohibited from sharing information on the applicants with federal agencies. “We want to make sure that if we’re going to create this driver’s license that people coming forward to apply for it do not need to fear that they will be subjecting themselves to deportation or investigation merely by the fact that they’ve applied for the license,” he said. But some lawmakers questioned the impact of the legislation. One of the bill’s opponents, Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, warned that the licenses could attract more unauthorized immigrants to the state. (MPR News)

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