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Gillibrand Assesses New Balance Of Power In Washington

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Jesse King
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (file photo)

With her party now holding a slim majority, New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling for a lifeline for community health centers in the next COVID-19 relief package. Speaking with reporters Thursday afternoon, the Democrat also gave her predictions for working with Republicans in the new session.

Senator Gillibrand, a Democrat, says that as the coronavirus crisis continues to surge, the nation’s lawmakers need to turn their attention to supporting Community Health Centers.

“Community Health Centers will play a key role in our ability to end and recover from this pandemic, but only if they could remain fully operational and help those in need,” said Gillibrand.

Community Health Centers, according to the Senator, play a crucial role in providing health services to lower-income and minority communities – communities hardest hit by the pandemic.

As the new Congress gets underway and lawmakers tackle President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion COVID proposal, Gillibrand wants to establish a $13.5 billion Community Health Center Preparedness Program. The program would include emergency funding and federal dollars to support vaccination efforts at community health centers.

The Senator also is calling for a $12.4 billion investment in workforce and infrastructure.

The Biden administration unveiled its National Strategy For The COVID-19 Response And Pandemic Preparedness Thursday afternoon.

Gillibrand predicted the new White House will be able to greatly increase coronavirus vaccine supply – enough to vaccinate all New Yorkers in the next “couple months.”

“I really believe that’s possible because President Biden is now going to use the Defense Production Act in a way that will be useful – unlike President Trump — he’s making sure we produce all the testing materials, the contact tracing materials, the PPE that people need to give the vaccines. All the logistical work that wasn’t being done by the Trump administration will be being done by the Biden administration,” said Gillibrand.

With a split Senate where Vice President Harris will hold the tie-breaking vote, the debate over a power-sharing agreement continues. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is so far at an impasse with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over the future of the filibuster.

New York’s junior Senator said she would be open to allowing Republicans to hold onto the filibuster, depending on the opposing conference’s behavior.

“And so maybe in this sharing agreement we can have a period of time to see if they’re willing to negotiate in good faith and willing to not hold common sense things up and not have lots of party-line votes. If that’s possible, then maybe we can govern with the filibuster. But if they start jamming us on basic things like COVID relief, then that may change Senator Schumer’s view,” said Gillibrand.

But Gillibrand said she does imagine greater cooperation with Republicans in the new Congress with President Biden in the Oval Office.

“And the reason I say that is that is I’ve been working regularly with Republicans during the entire Trump administration. I have dozens of bipartisan bills waiting to be voted on. I know that under Senator Schumer those ideas will be welcomed and those bills will be voted on. And so I believe we will be more effective and more productive because we’ll just get more votes,” said Gillibrand.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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