That's My Congress: an independent voice on congressional campaigns and legislation

Senator Al Franken
Democrat of Minnesota
Progressive Rating: 45/100
Conservative Rating: 5/100

Number roll-call votes in 2009 from which Sen. Franken was absent: 0
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Progressive Action: support for legislation in the promotion of freedom, knowledge and security. Freedom is achieved when constitutional protections are respected and when people are treated with equality under law. Knowledge is pursued through rigorous support for science and education. Security comes from the protection of environmental resources, the strengthening of economic opportunity for people and the preservation of peace from erosion by wasteful, destructive militarism.

portrait of Senator Al FrankenSenator Al Franken's Progressive Action Score: 45

A score of 45 means that Sen. Franken has positively acted to support 45% of a slate of progressive policies in the 111th Congress.

The following are positive progressive actions taken by Senator Franken during the 111th Congress:

Cloture Vote on H.R. 4213

On July 20, 2010 the Senate held a roll-call vote to stop a filibuster and allow unemployment benefits for jobless workers to be extended at a time when Americans are finding it very hard to obtain work. Exteding unemployment insurance coverage for those who have lost their jobs (a YES vote) is a way to keep families sustained in their homes until the economy improves and hiring opens back up. Continuing the filibuster of unemployment insurance coverage (by voting NO) is a way to throw American families and American society into crisis.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

H.R. 2965

In instrumental terms, the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy is a problem, weakening the strained U.S. military by kicking people out with good service records. There is a more formal problem with DADT as well: the policy to discriminate, to kick people out of the military because of their sexual orientation, is a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. At the end of the 111th Congress, the Senate finally voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

S. 1102

Since the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s, Congress has made it clear that it has no intention of giving same-sex couples the right to marry at the federal level. But some members of Congress have been making efforts to address discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in other regards. S. 1102, also known as the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, would grant same-sex domestic partners of federal workers the same benefits as federal workers' different-sex spouses. For proponents of equality under law in America this is a step forward, if not a step across the finish line.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by cosponsoring this bill.

S. 1584

To a person only following expressions of popular culture, it might seem that the United States has moved beyond discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transexuals. But in the workaday world, it's still legal for people to be fired from their jobs for no other reason than than their choice of whom to love. And a dirty not-so-secret secret of labor unions has been their historical practice of excluding gay and lesbian workers from full participation and leadership.

ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009, would make workplace discrimination in hiring and promotions illegal, and would also prohibit discriminatory behavior against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of American labor unions. If passed, ENDA would bring the law into the 21st Century along with the majority of Americans who have realized what matters at work is what you do, not who you love.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by cosponsoring this bill.

S. 2821

In the fall of 2009, the United States Department of Labor released a 194-page report identifying countries where "there is a significant incidence of forced labor and/or child labor in production" of various sorts of goods, from toys to textiles. As you can see for yourself, the list of countries with significant labor abuses is long. If S. 2821 is a bill that would require new international trade agreements to contain conditions requiring partner countries to guarantee the right to form labor associations and collectively bargain, eliminate forced labor, end child labor, and outlaw employment discrimination. If a new trade pact coming through the Congress did not contain such guarantees, a single Senator could object and bring the trade pact to a halt. This bill represents a significant expansion to the scope of our nation's moral gaze.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by cosponsoring this bill.

S. 3816

Senators like to declare their support for American jobs in speeches, but do they actually support American jobs in their actions? S. 3816, the Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act, is a bill that if passed would promote the development of American jobs in two ways. First, it would give a 2-year payroll tax cut to businesses every time they hire an American citizen or resident for a job that used to be sourced overseas. Second, it would eliminate tax breaks for the corporate expenses involved in transferring an American job overseas.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

S. 424

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. Nor shall any State deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. These are the American standards of nondiscrimination, chiseled into our legal bedrock in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. How seriously do members of Congress take this section of the U.S. Constitution? S. 424 is a test.

S. 424, the Uniting American Families Act, is a bill which aims to put into closer compliance with the U.S. Constitution by removing discrimination according to the status of permanent couples. According to law, same-sex couples in permanent relationships cannot marry; only different-sex couples can. The creates two classes of couple in the United States. They are separate. Are they equal? Not currently. Under current immigration law, married immigrant spouses of citizens and permanent residents have a preferred route toward gaining permanent resident status themselves. Unmarried partners of citizens and permanent residents have this avenue closed to them. That is unequal treatment under law for immigrants under American jurisdiction, and it is an unequal abridgment of legal privilege for the citizens whose permanent partners wish to join them.

Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, the Uniting American Families Act would end this status discrimination by amending various the immigration laws that discriminate against same-sex couples when one member of a couple is a citizen or permanent resident and the other is seeking citizenship or residency status.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by cosponsoring this bill.

S.Amdt. 1469 to S. 1390

The F-22 is an extremely expensive weapon. A billion dollars will build the government just three, and the cost just begins there. As the Washington Post has revealed, the plane manages to fly just 1.7 hours on average before suffering a critical failure, and requires 34 hours of maintenance for every hour it flies. It has never hit its contracted reliability goals. It can't be flied reliably in the rain. It can't even communicate with other planes. And its purpose? To defeat the hypothetical next-generation aircraft of the Soviet Union, a country that no longer exists. The persistence of the F-22 fighter is a testament to the harm done by the bloated military-industrial complex.

Senate roll call vote 235 struck $1.75 Billion in funding to build more of these hugely expensive, unreliable and unneeded airplanes. The 58-40 vote will hopefully mark the end of this embarrassing hawkish boondoggle.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

S.Amdt. 2508 to H.R. 2996

On September 23 2009, Senator David Vitter introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill which would have forced programs of offshore oil drilling to commence. In Roll Call 293, the Senate voted to reject Vitter's amendment and preserve a temporary moratorium on offshore oil drilling. Senate procedure makes the meaning of this vote counterintuitive: a YES vote is a vote to reject Vitter's amendment and keep the moratorium on offshore drilling. a NO vote is a vote to maintain Vitter's amendment and end the moratorium on offshore oil drilling.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

S.Amdt. 2558 to H.R. 3326

The White House didn't ask for them. The Defense Department didn't want any more. So in September 2009 Senator John McCain did the sensible thing and introduced an amendment, S. AMDT. 2558, to a defense appropriations bill. McCain's amendment would have removed 2.5 billion dollars in spending on the construction of new but unwanted C-17 planes.

A vote for Senate Amendment 2558 was a vote for reasonable spending cuts in an age of austerity, and it was a vote for reasonable limits on the extension of military power. A vote against Senate Amendment 2558 was a vote to further bloat a military already obsese from the ingestion of pork.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

S.Amdt. 2905 to H.R. 3590

United States taxes are structured to reward corporations for paying big executive salaries. Under current U.S. tax code, corporations can deduct the cost of executive pay up to one million dollars for each corporate executive. This provides an incentive for corporate boards to award large salaries to the corporate leadership in an insider relationship funded by Uncle Sam. On December 6 2009, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas introduced Senate Amendment 2905 to the health care reform bill currently before the Senate. Lincolnís amendment would have cut the executive pay tax deduction down to $400,000 a year for each executive in a health insurance company participating in the new national health care exchange system. Corporations could still have paid their executives more than $400,000; they only would have had to pay taxes on compensation above above that limit. The change in the tax structure would have provided incentives for corporations to cut executive costs in health care, and executive flight to competitor corporations would have been avoided since the change would be system-wide. Any additional tax money coming in to the federal government would have been dedicated to the Medicare Trust Fund. The Lincoln Amendment gained majority support in a roll call, but did not achieve the 60 votes required to overcome an implicit Republican filibuster.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

S.Amdt. 2962 to H.R. 3590

The Nelson-Hatch Amendment was an amendment to the main health care bill heading through the Senate. If passed, the Amendment would have prohibited health insurance companies from offering anyone coverage for abortion services, even to citizens who paid for the coverage themselves, if just one person bought into the plan with the help of a federal subsidy. Rich women would still be able to purchase an abortion with their own money outside of an insurance system, as they were able to do when abortion was fully illegal. Millions of middle-class and poor women would have been stuck, unable to obtain an abortion even though it is legal and even though they have an insurance policy, because under the law their insurance would have been forbidden from covering it. (Note: This was a vote to kill the Nelson-Hatch Amendment, which means that a YES vote marks a progressive stance and a NO vote marks a regressive one.)

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting YES to pass this measure.

S.J. Res 26

On June 10 2010, the extent of Arctic sea ice plummeted to four standard deviations below the 1979-2000 mean. Also on June 10 2010, NASA released data showing that a heat wave in May of 2010 had set new worldwide temperature records for the month.

On the afternoon of June 10 2010, 47 Senators put blinders on, ignored our climate crisis and voted in favor of prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Fortunately, 53 Senators voted to reject S.J. Res 26.

Senator Franken has acted progressively by voting NO, against this regressive measure.

There are some bills on the progressive agenda to which Senator Franken has not yet added his support.

Call Your Senator to urge that he cosponsor these pending bills:

S. 1675

S. 1675, the Energy Development Program Implementation Act, cites the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978. Nuclear Nonproliferation has been used to justify the war in Iraq, but has it been used to promote peaceful development as intended? Under nuclear nonproliferation treaty obligations, the United States is supposed to provide non-nuclear, sustainable energy assistance to developing countries. It has failed in this regard.

Akakaís legislation would change that, directing the Secretary of Energy to correct the neglect. The bill would create an Alternative Energy Corps, made up of American volunteers who agree to go overseas and help set up solar, wind and other forms of sustainable energy in developing countries. This bill addresses poverty, climate change, nuclear proliferation, treaty obligations and international relations through simple, achievable means.

Read S. 1675, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

S. 1686

S. 1686, the JUSTICE Act, is a bill to reform the USA Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act and restore some constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure by the United States Government.

It's a long bill, but the following are some of its highlights. If passed, S. 1686 would:

  • stop bulk collection of all Americans' communications and end reverse targeting of American citizens
  • stop the targeting of Americans on the basis of the content of their political speech
  • restrict warrantless surveillance programs to suspected terrorists and their direct contacts
  • limit the period of time for which a surveillance order may remain in effect
  • permit judicial review and court challenges to unreasonable programs of search and seizure
  • revoke retroactive immunity for telecommunications corporations that broke the law by releasing your private information
  • increase the level of reporting to the Congress and public regarding surveillance programs

The JUSTICE Act is not a perfect bill; it does not wholly shutter the program of national surveillance that contravenes the 4th Amendment guarantee against search or seizure without a specific warrant from a judge. But it does move our nation in the direction of greater respect for our constitution and for civil liberty.

Read S. 1686, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

S. 173

In the effort to rescue our oceans from chemical and biological disaster, the date is already late. Elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from human activities have already increased the acidity of the oceans to such an extent that animals like shellfish and corals are having a difficult time creating their shells and skeletons. Other ocean animals are experiencing disruptions in their reproductive behavior and general physiological functions as a result of the increased acidity.

UNESCO's Monaco Declaration of scientists following on their meeting for the 2nd International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 world declares:

"Ocean acidification is accelerating and severe damages are imminent.... Since industrialization began in the 18th century, surface-ocean acidity has increased by 30%. This ongoing ocean acidification is decreasing the ability of many marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structure. Increasing acidity and related changes in seawater chemistry also affect reproduction, behaviour, and general physiological functions of some marine organisms, such as oysters, sea urchins, and squid." We donít see clear, boldfaced warnings like these very often, and when we do, we ought to pay attention to them. And as the report points out, an acified ocean is an ocean that decimates the marine life on which a significant portion of the world depends for food and commerce. That makes ocean acidification an economic as well as an environmental issue.

In the Senate, Frank Lautenberg has introduced S.173, the Federal Ocean Acidification Research And Monitoring Act. This legislation would establish and support a regime of empirical research and monitoring of ocean acidification under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with the purpose of developing specific strategies for mitigation of ecological impact.

Read S. 173, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

S. 1738

Our forests are a major source of clean and safe drinking water and a reservoir for biological diversity, as well as being a place for us to get away and experience challenge and solitude. There are many, many acres of federally-owned forest available for logging, with roads already created and maintained for that use. Those areas will remain available for logging into the future so long as they are responsibly maintained. Why not take the roadless areas that are left and keep them that way? Why not set them aside for future and current generations of humans and wild things to use and enjoy?

With this conservationist aim in mind, S. 1738 would set aside those roadless areas within the National Forest System and preserve that roadless status, with exceptions for catastrophes, preservation efforts, or other activities that were specifically provided for under the original mandates of particular National Forest lands.

Read S. 1738, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

S. 206

Research demonstrates the effectiveness of public Pre-Kindergarten education in improving literacy and mathematics competency among children of a variety of economic and social backgrounds in the short and long term. Early intellectual skill development is crucial in determining the life chances of an individual child, and the potential for accomplishment of a generation of children. Not only to increase individual outcomes but to promote the general welfare, S. 206 would create a series of grants to state governments with the purpose of broadening and enriching Pre-K programs for all children.

Read S. 206, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

S. 212

The Farallon Islands are an uninhabited group of islands -- uninhabited by humans, that is. The Gulf of the Farallones is a sanctuary for marine birds, is a gathering point for marine mammals, and is host to a wide variety of ocean life due to the shallow depth of the water immediately surrounding it.

In short, the Farallon Island area is a biological treasure. It has value beyond its stark beauty as a biological bank, maintaining fisheries that sustain commerce as well. S. 212 is a bill before the Congress that would expand the boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, not just to protect this area for wildlife, but also to strengthen the long-term security of the Pacific fishing industry.

Read S. 212, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

S. 416

The problem with cluster bombs is threefold:

1. When used, they are distributed in large numbers across terrain;
2. They have a high failure rate, leaving many unexploded bombs;
3. They are small and typically shiny, disproportionately attracting the hands of curious children.

Cluster bombs are designed to kill people, not to damage buildings or roads. Like land mines, they continue to kill people long after the battle in which they were used. It is typical for a large number of these smaller bombs to remain undetonated, waiting to explode, after their initial deployment.

The Federation of American Scientists' report on the matter makes clear the danger of cluster munitions: "40 percent of the duds on the ground are hazardous and for each encounter with an unexploded submunition there is a 13 percent probability of detonation. Thus, even though an unexploded submunition is run over, kicked, stepped on, or otherwise disturbed, and did not detonate, it is not safe. Handling the unexploded submunition may eventually result in arming and subsequent detonation." Cluster bombs kill civilians when they are used. Our government knows this, and yet our government continues to manufacture, use and sell cluster bombs to foreign countries. The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2009 forbids the United States government from spending money to use, sell or transfer cluster bombs unless the following requirements are met:
  • The cluster bombs are proven to have a 1 percent or lower rate of malfunction
  • The cluster bombs will not be used against anything but a clearly defined military target, in an area where there are no civilians and in places where civilians do not ordinarily live
  • A plan is submitted, with the costs included, for cleaning up all the undetonated explosives that come from cluster bombs, whether they are used by the US military, or by other countries to whom the United States has supplied the cluster bombs

There is a waiver in the law for the first requirement (for the malfunctioning rate of 1 percent or lower), in cases in which it is "vital" to use cluster bombs in order to protect the security of the United States. However, even in such cases, the President is required to submit a report to Congress which explains how civilians will be protected from the cluster bombs, and revealing the failure rate of the cluster bombs, as well as whether the cluster bombs are equipped with self-destruct functions.

The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act is not a perfect bill, but it is a big improvement over the deadly status quo.

Read S. 416, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

S. 482

S. 482, a bill introduced by Senator Russ Feingold, would require senators to file campaign finance reports electronically and for the Secretary of the Senate to forward such reports to the Federal Election Commission within one working day of their receipt. As it stands now, many Senators exploit a special exemption in order to file their campaign finance reports on paper. The practical effect of this is to delay the processing of campaign contribution reports until after an election is over and to make the discovery of unsavory campaign expenditures by reporters and citizens more difficult. Feingold's bill would increase efficiency within the government, increase transparency of information to reporters, and increase the accountability of Senators to American citizens.

Read S. 482, then call Senator Franken at 651-221-1016 and ask him to support it by adding cosponsorship.

Regressive Action: a pattern of legislative behavior that erodes freedom, knowledge and security. When constitutional protections are disregarded, when discrimination under law is fostered, when the pursuit of knowledge is abandoned and science overruled, when wealth for a few matters more than prosperity for all, and when "Yeehaw" is the most articulate expression of foreign policy, our nation is headed in a direction that is not only morally wrong but self-destructive.

Senator Al Franken's Regressive Action Score: 5

A score of 5 means that Sen. Franken, through voting and cosponsorship, has pushed forward 5% of a slate of regressive policies in the 111th Congress.

The following are regressive policy actions taken by Senator Franken during the 111th Congress:

H.R. 4853

The 2010 extension of tax cuts didn't just continue the tax cuts for billionaires and millionaires enacted under George W. Bush. It expanded them, allowing inheritance of estates of up to 10 million dollars tax-free, and deepening special tax favors for investors. The legislation also undermined the integrity of Social Security by creating a new standard of low funding for the Social Security trust fund, exposing Social Security to new charges of being unsustainably funded.

Senator Franken voted YES to pass this regressive measure.
Contact information for Senator Franken:

Mailing address:
320 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
(all mail delayed at least 2 weeks)

Web page, contact form
DC Office Phone: 202-224-5641
MN Office Phone: 651-221-1016

Recent legislative news in which Al Franken plays a part:

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We frequently update our Liberal and Conservative Ratings for the U.S. Senate as new bills are introduced, members of the House add their cosponsorships to existing bills, and roll call votes occur. Our most recent update occurred on December 20, 2010.