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Sen. Gillibrand on CHIPS, inflation, PACT, jobs, the midterms, and Biden 2024

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at ANCA in Saranac Lake
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand at ANCA in Saranac Lake

Let's start with the fast moving subject of this economic package now that Senator Sinema is on board. Details are still coming out. What's your understanding of what will be in the package?

So it is a well-balanced package between investing in the cost of fuels, heating, air conditioning and gas, with an energy and climate investment. It also addresses global climate change. So things like extreme weather, flooding fires across the country. Second, it works on getting the cost of medicines down. So five of the most often used medicines by our seniors are covered, important medicines like insulin are covered. And it gets those prices down, because those drug companies have been raising prices every year for no reason. So these two things can really help people pay for the essential things they need every day. And so those inflationary pressures will be felt less.

How much difference is there in this package from what began as the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better agenda that obviously didn't get to the finish line?

So the areas that were left out of this negotiation were childcare issues, like paid leave affordable daycare, and universal pre-k, and issues of housing, making sure our housing is more affordable. Those two pieces were very, very important, but were not ones that we had consensus on. So we are moving forward with the two that we do have consensus on. And these are very valuable, and will really help people afford all their bills and to be able to provide for their families.

Now, in order to secure Senator Sinema's support, it's reported that a measure to apply the carried interest tax had been stripped out of the package. Your colleague from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has criticized it as being too modest of a bill. What do you say to worries that it's been pared down too much?

So she flipped that tax provision for a different tax provision. She put on a 1% excise tax on stock buybacks. That was also a good thing, a good way to pay for this, since a lot of companies have spent a lot of money we've given them through all these recovery acts to do stock buybacks, which really only helps the people who own the stock, mostly like the CEO and the people who work there, but also tending to be more wealthy people. So that is a good excise tax that raises much more than the carried interest did. And then she wanted a few more investments in drought resiliency, very important for her state of Arizona, and a couple of other small provisions. So at the end of the day, I would have supported the bill as written. But these changes are fine, too. And I'll support the bill with these changes.

And are you confident that this bill will address America's issue with rising inflation right now?

Oh, this will definitely help rising inflation. Inflation is generally defined as the cost of things going up. And this is going to go straight at the heart of two of the biggest drivers of that: medicine costs and gas and fuel costs. And it goes straight at them. Also 126 of our nation's top economists wrote a letter to congressional leadership telling us that this will fight inflation and lower the costs for American families, while setting the stage for strong, stable, broadly shared long-term economic growth. And then on top of that numerous independent nonpartisan budget analysts have also looked at the bill and said that this invests in critical areas like energy and health care and shores up our nation's tax system, all in the name of fighting inflation. So that's good. And that letter included seven Nobel Prize winners and two former Treasury Secretaries, so a lot of smart people said this is going to help the economy and fight inflation.

Well, you've got to keep all 50 Democrats and the Vice President's tie-breaking vote together. How confident are you that this will pass?

I am very confident that this will pass. We have consensus. We've built it over many, many long months and everybody knows these are the right investments right now to make for the American people. And I'm really proud to be part of this group.

What did you think of the July jobs report?

It's amazing. It's so good. To have over 500,000 new jobs in July is fantastic, that's added to the over 350,000 jobs in June. And it really shows that the money we put into the economy through the Recovery Act did make a difference, it helps people who are unemployed, rebuild their businesses, be able to get new jobs, to help existing businesses expand and employ more people. It just worked. And it was necessary, because otherwise America would have fallen off the face of a cliff. We had to rebuild after two and a half years of COVID, which kept people at home, kept people out of work, kept kids home from school. Many people lost their lives, many people lost loved ones, many people lost their businesses. We needed to do something and that's what President Biden did. And that's why jobs are growing.

What about the politics of the economy. You hear in public polls that Americans are largely dissatisfied with the economy, they're worried about rising inflation, and yet the jobs numbers more than doubled expectations for July. How do you make sense of where we are right now, especially given the fact that these midterms are coming up?

People are anxious and angry and exhausted. COVID for three years has not been helpful, it's been very harmful. And people have really suffered. And so we're just not back on our feet all the way. And I can tell it anytime I'm in the country, anywhere in our state, people are anxious, and I've got to blame somebody. So they blame the people in charge. I think when people have a chance to really understand what President Biden has done, signing this great investment on chip manufacturing and advanced manufacturing, the infrastructure bill that's going to rebuild roads and bridges and sewers, and hospitals and airports, like that matters. Finding bipartisanship on guns, like, these are big accomplishments.

And it's just that people are tired and exhausted. And I understand: I feel tired and exhausted too. And it's just hard. A worldwide pandemic is something none of us have ever lived through before. It's not easy. And it's really affected people's mental health, it's affected people's ability to feel secure, it's affected the inner workings of almost every family's lives. And so I'm not surprised they're angry, still, they're going to be angry for a while, it's hard to recover. But all of these investments we're making are ones that help people, get a job, keep a job, get a home, keep a home, keep their kids safe, keep their kids fed. And those are all the essentials, it's all about access to health care, good education, and jobs. And if we keep fighting on those main things, that is what the people want. And they will ultimately I think, recognize the great work President Biden's done and the Democratic majority.

Ultimately meaning this November or down the road from then?

I'm hoping by this November. You don't know, we don't know, you know, things sometimes take longer than they should. But they're also upset about our radically right Supreme Court that just took away the right to privacy for 50% of the American population, which is really upsetting. And these very right-wing legislatures around the country are doubling down and trying to abrogate women's right to travel, to receive medicine in the mail, privacy to the mail, privacy to their communications, privacy to their emails, that is an further outrage. So we are no longer full citizens in a lot of states. And so a lot of people are upset about that too. And they're going to come out to vote. So we have a shot of prevailing in these elections, because we stand on the side of the right to privacy and we stand on the right side of freedom. The Supreme Court decision and all the senators who support it are denying women the right to privacy, the right to freedom and the right to liberty.

Were you heartened by the results in the Kansas referendum from a few days ago?

Yes, the Kansas referendum was the first chance that any voter got to vote, whether they approved or disapproved of the Dobbs decision. It was overwhelming. Kansas is a red state. So you can see this is not a partisan issue. It's a human rights issue. And Kansans just like New Yorkers believe in life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for all Americans. And you cannot abridge that right just for women. It's an outrage. And I hope New Yorkers understand the full weight of what Alito’s decision said. It was not about a medical procedure. It was literally about the right to privacy. And they said the right to privacy does not exist for women's health care. It's shocking.

And so we have to fight back because it's just going to mean young women in New York can't go to school in southern states. It's gonna mean young woman in New York, if they did go to school in a southern state, couldn't come home to go to their pediatrician or to go to the doctor if they had any problems. It means that when who have ectopic pregnancies, or any type of miscarriage could go to jail if they sought health care. And these are all life and death moments. If they don't get health care, they die. So this is unbelievable, and I hope American voters and New Yorkers understand the full weight of what just happened to a great deal of women in America. Being denied life, liberty, pursuit of happiness being denied the right to privacy to make really intimate decisions with their doctors and their husbands and their family members. It's disgraceful.

Senator Gillibrand, let me change gears and ask you about the PACT Act. This was a long awaited legislative victory for you. Although in the last days, I think this might be one of those times where the process got a lot more attention, perhaps, than the bill itself. Can you explain what the PACT Act will do?

Well, what we know is that during the last 20 or 30 years, servicemembers served all over the globe, Iraq and Afghanistan, and we had no way to dispose of waste. So the military dug very large holes, and they threw all our garbage in there from human waste, waste, to building materials to electronics, and lit it on fire with jet fuel. The toxins emitted from those burn pits are crippling, they are toxic and harmful. They create cancer of the brain, of the throat of the stomach and of the lungs. And so unfortunately, our veterans are dying in their 20s and 30s and 40s, getting diagnosed with these horrible diseases. And so we set up to guarantee their health care at the VA, as a presumption, if you served abroad and were exposed to toxins you're covered period. You don't have to prove the epidemiology now, you don't have to prove which burn pit and what was burned, on what day you just are covered, which is the way it should have been from the beginning.

And so now, millions of veterans who might become sick because of exposure now have access to the VA, and will get coverage. And this bill will be signed next week by President Biden. And it was the work of a lot of veterans and family members who never gave up and never stopped raising the voices of those who needed help. And that's something that I worked very hard on. So did Senator Schumer, and so did a number of us in the Senate. So it's a clear victory for democracy. And a clear victory for Joe Biden, because he believes his son Beau died of brain cancer because of his exposure to burn pits. So this is one of the first things President Biden talked to right after he was president. And he said, I'm so glad you're working on this. And I think this is how Beau died. And I said I'm not going to let go until it's done. And sure enough, it finally got done this week. And but for Senator Schumer being our majority leader and demanding a vote on it, it wouldn't pass. So it really does matter for New York. And it's something that President Biden really wanted done, and Senator Schumer and the rest of us delivered.

Let's go back to another bill that you mentioned earlier, the CHIPS Act, which recently passed. Your colleague Senator Schumer says he's going to use his clout under the CHIPS Act to help establish the Capital Region in New York as the nation's hub for chip technology. What does the bill do specifically?

So the bill funds advanced manufacturing, and it funds advanced chip manufacturing, so that we're not reliant on China to get chips, are not reliant on adversaries, and that we can produce the microchips that we need for everything from cars to military equipment to jet fighters. And so it's important to be able to produce that stuff here. It also has money for all the other technology needs for national security and national competitive, from AI to large computing, and to all the other type of technology that we have to compete with the rest of the world, especially countries like China. This bill gives us the resources to do that and it's going to create a lot jobs in upstate New York, all across New York because we have so much manufacturing, we have manufacturing. In Rome, New York, we have manufacturing in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester. We do all types of manufacturing, from drones, to precision instruments to cars, to as we build everything, and a lot of that requires chips and requires advanced technology. And that's what this bill is gonna fund. So it's a huge jobs bill for New York.

Let me wrap up our conversation by talking to you about monkeypox. You not long ago called for the White House to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up the monkeypox response in vaccine production. Have you heard back on those calls?

Yes, in fact, the president just declared that monkeypox is a national emergency, which is the first step to being able to use the Defense Production Act. And so now he can call manufacturers to say we want to produce these vaccines now, and that our contract be first in line because it's a national emergency, that will get us more shots in more arms. Right now, the monkey pox is largely limited to the gay male community. But we know of at least four kids in New York who have it. And so for me, it's really important that we get the vaccinations and the most at-risk communities now, to nip it in the bud and stop the spread, because God forbid it gets into the school system. It's just like chickenpox. Chickenpox in a classroom, every kid's going to get it within a day or two. We don't want monkeypox in the classroom. So the way to stop it is more vaccines in at-risk arms now, in hopes of getting the vaccine approved for kids use down the line. But stop it in its tracks is really what has to happen. And we know how it's transmitted: through touch. And so it's not like COVID, it's not like it can be transmitted through the air, which is a blessing. So we can limit the spread by knowing how to keep people. monkeypox free.

Do you plan to make an endorsement in the House primary in New York's 12th district, which among others includes Congressman Jerry Nadler and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney?

I do not. But I think they're both outstanding public servants. And I've worked with them both extensively on the 911 bill and many other pieces of legislation. So I think it's a terrible disservice what the judge and the special master did. It was political. It was not fair. They purposely pitted Democrat against Democrat all across the state just to up end our democracy in this state. And I hope it's investigated. I think what the judge did, he picked a partisan special master, the special master used lines that were drawn by partisans for this purpose, for this purpose, and I think they did it illegally. So I really hope someone investigates it.

Well, it was thrown to the court, ultimately, because of the way the legislature handled it. I don't know.

Yeah, the legislators should have never let it go that far, they should have taken the first court’s recommendations to redo the lines. That was an error in judgment; they should have redid the lines. And for whatever reason, they did not. But as soon as the court, one judge, who was a Republican judge, handed over to a Republican special master to draw the lines where he used Republican maps that were pre-drawn and pre-arranged. That was the minute this went off the rails, there was nothing non-partisan about it, there was nothing fair about it. In fact, they disenfranchised Black voters with how they drew the lines, all the things the Voting Rights Act was supposed to protect. So there's Failure all around. The first failure was how it was set up, which the governor at the time thought was wise, which ultimately was not. And the second mistake was not redoing the lines that the court asked them to do. And then the third problem is that they did it in a partisan way, which I think is illegal, and I hope someone investigates.

OK, last thing. Do you want to see President Biden run for reelection?

I do. I think he's doing a great job. And I know the country's angry and upset and exhausted and isn't prepared to give him credit yet. But to have the unemployment rate be at 3.5% is amazing to have 500,000 jobs created this month alone is amazing. And all the good stuff we've gotten done from the infrastructure bill, which is going to create lots of jobs, the CHIPS Act, the bipartisan gun bill, all of that matters, and he's doing all the things that are necessary to get this country back on its feet after three long years of COVID. So I think he's done a great job. I think he's our best candidate, and I intend to support him.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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