This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is your vision for the coming year? How do you plan to approach the position of President of the Senate Budget?
It is absolutely imperative that Congress not lose sight of the fact that working families in this country face greater economic distress today than at any time during the Great Depression. What Congress needs to show the American people is that… they can handle more than one crisis at a time.
While we must grapple with the utter irresponsibility of the President of the United States, it is imperative that we move forward aggressively in the face of the economic crisis facing working families today. … We must begin the process of rebuilding the economy and creating the millions of well-paying jobs we need.
Congress faces huge challenges and we need to show the public that we can all tackle them simultaneously.
How should Democrats approach reconciliation at the 117th Congress? How far should they go?
Understanding that my fellow Republicans have in the past – both under Bush and certainly under Trump – used reconciliation for massive tax breaks for the rich and big business, and they’ve also used reconciliation to try to repeal the law on affordable care, I will also use reconciliation, but in a very different way.
I will use reconciliation as aggressively as possible to deal with the terrible health and economic crises facing workers today.
As we speak, my staff and I are working. We work with the people of Biden. We are working with Democratic leaders. We will work with my colleagues in the House to determine how we can bring forward the most aggressive reconciliation bill to address the suffering of working American families today.
Has President-elect Biden indicated how he might want to use this tool? Do you think it could be used for massive investments in infrastructure, for example?
I think we should think about how we use reconciliation in two ways. And I still don’t know if the two means end up in one or two pieces of legislation. The first is to manage the immediate crisis. American children are hungry. People sleep on the streets. People are at risk of deportation. People do not have health care in the midst of a pandemic. This is the immediate crisis today, and it must be addressed.
But there is also a systemic crisis which has been brewing for years and which must be resolved. … What we need to do is create millions of well-paying jobs, and that clearly means, as the President-elect has said, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, our roads and our bridges. And I would also add affordable housing.
But it also means creating millions of jobs by transforming our energy system from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and modernizing homes and buildings across the country, switching to sustainable forms of energy and creating jobs in communities. Health care. If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t have enough doctors, we don’t have enough nurses and other health workers. We need to build a primary health care system that is now in a very, very bad state.
So in the short term, we know what the crises are. People are desperate. … They fear being deported. They fear that they will not be able to go to the doctor.
Second, we have structural issues that also need to be addressed to make the economy work for working families.
You are a strong supporter of “Medicare for All”. Are you considering the use of reconciliation for a massive expansion of health care? What can it look like?
Well listen, I’m a big advocate of Medicare for All. I introduced a bill in the Senate. I think at the end of the day Americans understand that our current health care system is so dysfunctional, so cruel, so wasteful, so costly, that we have to do what every other great country on the planet is doing and get care. health. everybody. What we’re going to do is work within the context of what Biden wants.
I’m going to tell you this – that during this terrible pandemic where we are seeing record numbers of people diagnosed with the virus – the idea that 90 million people are worried about whether they can go to the doctor or not is cruel, it is crazy, this is unacceptable. And this is something that I think should be addressed and will be addressed as part of reconciliation.
As Chairman of the Senate Budget, you will be a key figure in setting overall defense and non-defense funding levels for FY2022. Progressives are certainly keen to rethink the Pentagon’s budget. How much are you planning to push for cuts?
Let’s take a backup and understand some facts. You understand that you are talking to whoever led the effort to cut defense spending by 10%.
We are talking about the military budget, which is now higher than the next 10 countries combined. No. 2, you’re talking about the Pentagon budget, which is the only major government agency that hasn’t been able to undertake an independent audit. And I don’t think anyone has any doubts about the massive waste and cost overruns in the military budget.
It goes without saying that we want a strong army. It goes without saying that we want to make sure that our troops are well taken care of, that they are properly paid, that they are properly housed, that they receive health care, child care for their children, etc. But it also means that the military, the Pentagon, cannot escape scrutiny for fraud, cross-funds.
I think if you check the record you will find that all of the major defense contractors have been convicted of collusion and fraud.
How do you expect to have this conversation with your fellow Democrats, some of whom are not so keen on cutting military funding?
That’s a very good question. It’s a good question. But what concerns me right now is really the reconciliation and resolution of the crisis that working families are experiencing today.