Congressional Corner With Anthony Brindisi
Federal spending is not going to stick to the plan this year.
In today’s Congressional Corner, Anthony Brindisi of New York’s 22nd Congressional district wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock. This interview was recorded on March 23.
Anthony Brindisi is a first-term Democrat from New York's 22nd congressional district. I got so many questions, I don't know where to begin. For example, before that we had President Trump's budget proposal, and it was there now with what we've learned from coronavirus. What should the federal government prioritize?
Well, I think right now in terms of coronavirus, what we need to be prioritizing is first, obviously is a public health response to coronavirus, but also the response to the economic crisis that our country is facing, and we need we need to prioritize assistance to our smaller businesses, workers, families, older Americans who are really struggling right now to get through this crisis, and make sure that programs are tailored to assist them right now. So we can help deal with the aftermath once the public health crisis ends. We also have to look at other things that are that are coming about as a result of this this crisis. How do we help people who are facing foreclosure or eviction? How do we provide a moratorium for those activities? How do we give more relief for student debt? As a result of this, how do we maybe expand and build on the paid family leave that we got in the coronavirus package, the one that was just signed by the president, which implements emergency sick leave for individuals and folks who are sick with coronavirus or COVID-19. Or who are taking care of family members that are that are ill, but also having to deal with having kids out of school right now and how do we help them? So I think paid family leave is another area we have to focus on.
Let's talk a little bit about the farmers. You got a lot of farmers in your district. The New York Farm Bureau recently met with the DC delegation, your delegation to go over the priorities for 2020. What do they want?
Well, they need a lot of help. The Farm Bureau it listed a whole number of priorities that I've been working on, things like trade tariffs. A lot of our agricultural sector is still hurting from the tariffs that were implemented. They're looking at support for immigration reform. They are very supportive. The New York Farm Bureau came out in support of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act that we passed in the House of Representatives, which would expand the H2A program to be available year round. For industries like dairy and other year round producers. That's an important program that they needed access to, to be able to get workers who can come to farms in upstate New York and work. One of the big issues that I'm working on as a member of the agricultural committee is the issue of rural mental health. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, the suicide rate in rural communities is 45% higher than it is in urban areas, and I have legislation with Congressman Katco from the central New York Region, as well as Senators Grassley and Tester to address the rural mental health crisis that we're facing in parts of this country. That's a big priority, I know for many, many farm organizations, and it's something I've been working on with members on both sides of the aisle.
I guess I want to ask you something that may be a little bit difficult for you, but you called the impeachment vote, the hardest decision of your political career. Now, how's that played out in the district since the trial?
Wow, it feels it feels so long since impeachment. I guess that's what happens when we're in that 24 hour news cycle. But no, I still believe that certainly was the hardest vote I've taken as an elected official since being in office, even during my days in the state assembly. But again, I had to follow the evidence and at the stage that we were in the house, I felt there was enough evidence to move forward and the Senate did what they did. And that's how the process played out. And I respect that. But I think a lot of the country has really moved on, especially now in light of the crisis that we're facing. I think most people are just looking for support from their elected officials. I've seen somewhat the tone of the debate in the country get a little bit better during this crisis. And that's a good thing. I think we do need to come together Democrat and Republican during this crisis and all work for the common good. There'll be plenty of time for politics and sniping later on. But at this point, I think the most important thing we can be doing is working together to try and prevent the spread of this pandemic and deal with the economic crisis our country is facing.
HR3, the prescription drug bill, a number one priority for you guys are Democrats in the Congress. As I remember it, Donald Trump said he was for such a thing, maybe not exactly the same thing, when he ran for office. So where do you stand with any kind of prescription drug reform?
Well, the big piece of HR3, there's really two pieces of this that I think are really important. Number one, there’s the bill which we passed in the House and passed on a bipartisan basis, let me add, which is now stalled in the Senate. Obviously, there's issues with coronavirus that we're all responding to right now, but this is something even before they weren't planning on moving. But the big piece really is allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the drug carriers, which is something they can't do right now. Despite other federal agencies having that ability such as the VA or the Department of Defense, they can negotiate with drug companies. I believe, number one, this will save a lot of money. The estimates are it'll save about $500 billion in the federal budget over about 10 years. But it also will help get lower prices for, not just Medicare recipients but anyone who gets their health insurance, whether through the government or through a private employer, because any price Medicare negotiates for some of the most expensive drugs, the private health insurance companies would be able to take advantage of that price as well. I was gonna say the second piece that's really important in this legislation is that it would cap out of pocket expenses for Medicare enrollees to $2,000 a year, so nobody on Medicare would pay more than $2,000 a year in out of pocket expenses. And that's one of the big concerns I always hear from constituents. In fact, the man stopped me in the grocery store a few weeks ago to show me his out of pocket expense when he just came from the drugstore. And I told them, you know, if we just passed HR3 and got it signed into law, your out of pockets would be capped at $2,000. He was very excited about that. And I think that's a great piece about this legislation.
Let me ask you a political question. And that is, you know, the race is on to keep the House, turn the Senate, and elect a Democratic president. Which of those do you think is attainable?
Well, I would say, I'm probably not the best pundit on these issues. I would say that I think the house probably is going to stay in democratic control. I think there's question marks on the other two. But for me, I always say that if you do the job well, even someone like myself who is in a competitive district, the voters will respond and will appreciate that come Election Day. But I think the problem we have is that a lot of elected officials just spent a lot of time campaigning, not doing the job or they fall into the life of Washington and forget about their district. Whereas I'm home all the time. Every weekend, we're back in the district. Here full time when we're not in Washington, and responding to constituents, doing town hall meetings and listening to voters and I get a lot of response from people saying that they appreciate seeing their congressman at their local school or in their fire department, or at a town hall meeting, not so much on late night TV, which is what we did have in this district.
Well, Congressman Anthony Brindisi, I can only wish you good luck. You're very much on top of so many of these subjects. It's great to hear your views. And we hope that you'll keep coming back. So thank you so much for being with us. Anthony Brindisi from New York's 22nd congressional district.
Thanks, Alan. Good to be with you.