After the pandemic, election season looms.
In today’s Congressional Corner, Anthony Brindisi of New York’s 22nd Congressional district continues his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock. This interview was recorded on March 23.
Here we are with the Congressman Anthony Brindisi, in the Congressional Corner. He's a first-term Democrat, who won a narrow victory when he first ran. How do you feel this time?
Well, I feel like we're in a good position. It's hard to talk about politics at this point in time, just when there's so much going on in our country, just with the coronavirus in the epidemic, the pandemic that we're facing. And I think there's gonna be a lot of time down the road to talk about politics. But for me, the most important part of my job right now is just doing the job. You know, we've been hearing a lot from constituents across the district. There's a lot of anxiety out there right now, there's a lot of uncertainty and people are scared in many instances, because this is an unprecedented time in our nation's history. This is a time where I really believe that we got to put politics aside as Democrats and Republicans and come together to really mobilize the country to respond much like we had to do After World War II, and much like we had to do after 9/11. That's the kind of time period that we're in right now. And history's watching. And if we don't come together, across party lines, we're going to be judged very harshly. And we only have one chance to really get this right, so we have to make sure that we're doing everything we can to respond to the public health crisis and the economic crisis and do so in a non-partisan fashion.
So how has this coronavirus affected your 22nd congressional district?
Well, I would say much like the rest of the country, it's having a big impact you're seeing. I have eight counties in the district. They all have positive cases within the county. Those numbers are going to go up. I think there's a lot of uncertainty out there and I'm quite concerned about the lack of protective equipment and other types of garments and masks and things like that that our first responders need. I'm hearing a lot from hospitals across the 22nd district. They are very worried right now because many of our hospitals are what they call safety net hospitals. They are functioning week to week, don't have a lot of cash flow on hand. And a large pandemic like this could certainly bankrupt many of the hospital systems throughout the 22nd district. And in a rural district like this where you're already have a lack of healthcare, we can't afford to lose any hospital within the district. So that's a major concern I'm hearing about as well. In addition to the economic toll that it's taking on workers who are out of work, and businesses that are closed down right now.
You know, I don't want to give you a hard time and I know that you are a person of great stature who believes in keeping things calm in a time of crisis. Nevertheless, this president did refer to this coronavirus thing as a Democratic hoax. Did you take any exception to that?
Well, I do. This is not a hoax. This, this is a very serious matter. I think he is finally seeing that and has changed his language a little bit in that regard. I have met with a number of the officials on the President's Coronavirus response team. I think there are some good individuals there, like Dr. Fauci and Ambassador Birx, and others who are leading this effort right now. And those are the individuals I think the President should be listening to, and the country as a whole should be listening to. We have to treat this very seriously. And we don't want to end up like what we're seeing now in Italy, where very tough decisions are being made by doctors, whether or not they can keep someone on a ventilator because there's just simply not enough ventilators to go around. And they have to give people who have the best chance at survival a shot. That's not what I want to see happen here. So we have to do more from the administration, from the state, and at our local level to try and respond in a coordinated fashion to this pandemic.
Now Governor Cuomo says that the federal delegation needs to do more, you know, you guys on behalf of New York State, is that true?
God love the governor. I heard his news conference this past week where he specifically called out the congressional delegation for not doing enough and I appreciate the governor's efforts right now. I think he's doing everything he can and he's doing a good job leading our state in response to this pandemic. But when it comes to his assertions that the congressional delegation is not doing enough, he's just flat out wrong. And the facts don't back up his argument. The fact is that he claimed that in the in the Family's First coronavirus response act that we passed, and the President signed into law last week, he said New York had nothing, which is not true. Actually, New York got $6.7 billion in temporary increased federal medical assistance for Medicaid payments. $5.26 of that billion is going directly to the state of New York with the rest of it going to New York City, and the counties, because they also have to pick up the tab for Medicaid as well. The state has also been declared a major disaster. The president has signed a major disaster declaration, which opens up the doors to hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars in federal aid to New York State. As a result of that, and to the Coronavirus package that we passed, that was signed into law which he claims we got nothing. Actually we got $2 billion more than California, which is the largest state in the union. So the congressional delegation is working as a team to respond to this crisis and we appreciate the governor's leadership, but his facts are wrong here. That means that he's that he's not presenting facts. So you know, hopefully he can he can present what the facts are. I think what the Governor would like to see as in terms of Medicaid dollars as he would want all the Medicaid dollars going directly to the state. And the congressional delegation and others, like Senator Schumer are resistant to that, because the counties in New York City also pick up a large share of it. And we're not budging on that issue. And I think he's a little upset about that. But hey, that's maybe the state should take over all the Medicaid share, and then that won't be an issue.
What happens if this whole thing leads to a recession?
Well, if you listen to the economic experts right now, that seems to be where we're heading. But we have to respond. That's why it's so important that the stimulus bill take effect as soon as possible because we have to get money to workers who are out of work so they can help sustain themselves. We have to get money to small businesses. You know, there's about 30 million small businesses in this country and about 24 million of those are just sole proprietorships. They only have on average two to three weeks of cash flow to be able to operate, and we're getting to an area now where we need to get them as much direct assistance as possible to help keep them afloat, so when we do recover from the public health crisis, they can continue operations. That's important that we get that done as quickly as possible to help lessen the blow of any recession that's coming our way.
So what do you want to get done? We only have a minute here, but what do you want to get done? In the rest of the Congress this year?
Well, unfortunately, so much has been sidetracked because of the coronavirus. But we still have a lot to handle here in terms of prescription drug cost and support for rural areas, which is a big focus of mine coming from such a rural district, and I think there's opportunities here, out of this pandemic that may present themselves after this is all said and done. And one of the things that's really opened my eyes is that we have to have more of these products, these protective equipment pharmaceuticals, made in this country. So much of this stuff is made in China, which is our number one adversary. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. We talk about this all the time. If we ever went to war with China, they could shut off supply chains to this country, and we'd be in real trouble. And we're seeing issues with supply chains right now, when it comes to protective equipment and pharmaceuticals and other things that we need during this national emergency. So long term, what we really have to focus on is making sure that that companies are producing these products in this country, especially large pharmaceutical companies, which get a lot of money for research by the government. They should be making those products here in this country. So we don't have to worry about how we're going to get it in time of national crisis.
Well, Anthony Brindisi is the congressman who won by not a wide margin the last time, and he's in there fighting, and got to say good luck to you, Anthony. That's it. First term Democrat from New York's 22nd congressional district, a great guy and I thank you for being with us.
Thank you, Alan. Anytime.