Before U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy left Vermont to return to Washington on Monday, the Democrat discussed several pieces of legislation that will be his priorities as the session continues.
Vermont’s senior senator expects a busy six weeks as Senators return to Washington. Leahy says the Appropriations Committee, which the he chairs, will begin marking up annual spending bills. The Senate’s focus will also include infrastructure, which Leahy says must go beyond traditional consideration of roads, bridges, rail and highways. “We also have infrastructure of affordable housing, broadband, investment in renewable energy and we can start chipping away at the long delayed climate issues. And it’s not a question whether we should do this. It’s we must do it. So we’re going to have negotiations going on with both Republicans and Democrats on the size and scope of the package. There’s broad support across the country for an infrastructure bill, something that actually unites Republicans and Democrats outside of Capitol Hill. We’ve got to unite them in Capitol Hill.”
Fellow Vermont Senator Independent Bernie Sanders said on “Meet the Press” Sunday that he would not support an infrastructure bill that raised gas taxes, EV fees or included privatization of infrastructure.
Leahy said he had not seen the interview. “I think it’s too early to take anything off the table. I think we have to debate it.”
Essex Junction, Vermont is home to a Global Foundries chip manufacturing plant. Senator Leahy says the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which has passed in the Senate, is crucial for the semiconductor industry. “One of the biggest threats facing us, and hearing after hearing I hear this, is that existing technology can be threatened by the production of chips increasingly moving to foreign countries. This creates an Achilles Heel to the United States. We can’t do that. So we have to continue to produce them here in the United States. That gives us the security so we know that our chips have not been tampered with. We have some more work to do to get it to the President’s desk.”
Speculation has been growing in Vermont over whether Senator Leahy, who was first elected in 1974, will retire at the end of his eighth term. Leahy says he traditionally decides late in the year. “I don’t even think of it and I really put it out of my mind until the winter before. Too many Senators Republicans and Democrats alike who almost from the day they get sworn in are worried about ‘oh how can I vote on this? What will it do to my election?’ If you’re hampered by worrying on every single vote and worrying about re-election all the time you’re not a very effective senator. I look at the most effective senators both Republicans and Democrats they worried about the Senate first and foremost.”
Asked about the interest in his next move and how Vermont’s political scene would shuffle if he retires, Leahy chuckled. “I’m intrigued.”
Senator Leahy said the original goal to pass an infrastructure package by July 4th will be “difficult at best.”