By SARAH FLOWER
As the U.S. Senate voted to avoid a government shutdown on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will move forward with a vote on the president’s $1 Trillion infrastructure bill. In her exclusive interview with Senator Michael Bennet, KSUT’s Sarah Flower asks what else is included in the bill and how it could affect Southwest Colorado.
Sarah Flower 00:00
Senator Bennet, thanks for joining us here today.
Senator Michael Bennet 00:02
Thanks so much for having me.
Sarah Flower 00:04
What’s made headlines recently is your visit with Senator Mitt Romney and floating down the Colorado River, it almost sounds like it could be a punch line, Senator Bennet, that a Republican and Democrat get in a raft, I don’t know the end of that joke. But there’s one in there somewhere.
Senator Michael Bennet 00:21
I’ve got to think of one. You know, there was a day this summer. I hate to say this, but it’s true, and that northern Utah and Denver, Colorado had the worst air quality on planet earth. Worse than Beijing, worse than any other place in the world, and that’s the result, obviously, of the fires in California and a result of climate change. And I saw Mitt Romney on the floor and I said, hey, maybe we ought to go spend some time on the Colorado River, talking about climate and talking about water and forestry. And he agreed to do it, originally, we were going to do it half in Colorado and half in Utah. But we ended up with Susan, my wife and I went out and met Ann and Mitt Romney in Moab, and we spent six hours together, but we had about 15 people from Colorado and 15 people or so from Utah, having a really good conversation that I hope will lead to some bipartisan work around climate change and resiliency and forestry. Unfortunately, the punchline of that joke probably has to do with how little water is in the Colorado River, which is running at half its regular rate.
Sarah Flower 01:34
You have been no stranger to this area recently, Senator Bennet, I want you to touch on and let our listeners know today, what are some of the issues that you are seeing from the constituents here in southwest Colorado in your recent visits?
Senator Michael Bennet 01:48
Well, climate change, which we were just talking about is one, you know, deep concern about the condition of our forests. You know, I think, Sarah, you and I might have been together when I was visiting Durango to have a conversation with people about the cohesive regional plan people are working on, you know, with respect to mitigating, protecting us against fire and doing forest mitigation, watershed protection, which I think is so vital for the western slope of Colorado. I have visited Fort Lewis College, down there and met with President Tom Stritikus, did a walking tour of the campus that ended up with a visit to the clock tower at the heart of campus to learn about the recent removal of historical interpretation plaques that misrepresented the true history of indigenous peoples’ experience at Fort Lewis when it was a boarding school. And, as you may know, Secretary Haaland is taking a hard look at the federal Indian Boarding School Program and its history, which is, I think, an important thing to do, because we’ve got to teach our students more robust and accurate indigenized curriculum. And then I’d say, infrastructure, I hear about it all the time when I’m in Southwest Colorado, both in terms of the conditions of roads, but also concerns about the lack of broadband. And those are both things we’re trying to address in the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package.
Sarah Flower 03:21
When we last spoke, we had touched on the clean water provisions for tribes throughout the region. When you speak of infrastructure as part of that bill, is there an update on what that looks like?
Senator Michael Bennet 03:34
We’re still fighting for billions of dollars for clean water for tribes. Bills that we’re considering right now include a fair amount of funding for water infrastructure for tribal communities that are entirely consistent with my Tribal Access to Clean Water Act, which is a bill that I introduced with Martin Heinrich, a senator from New Mexico, and John Hickenlooper and Elizabeth Warren are both on those bills. And so there’s no update, except that it’s still alive. We just have to get it over the finish line. And it’s really important for us to do it. You know, in some areas of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, it’s customary to bring bottled water as a greeting gift because clean water is not otherwise available. And this investment would be the first step to reduce this shameful disparity and help ensure that tribal communities have access to safe, clean water.
Sarah Flower 04:31
What does that hill look like to get, as you mentioned, get over that hump? How do we do that?
Senator Michael Bennet 04:37
It’s a challenge because we’ve got two pieces of legislation that are sort of traveling together. One is the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The other is a reconciliation bill. The big distinction between the two goals is that in one of them, we’re going to reverse the Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America, the largest corporations, reverse some of those cuts in order to pay for it and there are just some people in Washington that are unwilling to do that. I think that after, you know decades of cutting taxes for the wealthiest people in the country by trillions of dollars, we’re at a moment now when we’ve got to invest in Americans, we’ve got to invest in the United States, in our infrastructure, in our broadband, in our people, that it’s appropriate to reverse some of those tax cuts for the wealthiest folks, and use it to fund these important projects for Southwest Colorado and all across the country.
Sarah Flower 05:35
I’d be remiss if I had you on the line and did not talk about the Child Tax Credit, which you have been very passionate about in moving forward. And as of this week, there was some criticism of CTC from the Wall Street Journal and their editorial board criticizing this expansion. Senator Bennet, what is your rebuttal to that?
Senator Michael Bennet 05:56
My rebuttal is they have their facts wrong, you know, they first say, or suggested, the child tax credit makes it less likely for people to work. That’s not true, in countries that have like a child tax credit, they actually have higher workforce participation rates than we do in our country. And that just makes sense, because people are able to have a little bit of help to pay their rent, or to pay for childcare, so that they can stay on the job, you know, fix a broken car, these are all the kinds of things that are available to people to do it and, and I also think that they also said that, well, this will cost a trillion dollars over 10 years. And I pointed out in my letter, the letter back to the journal that childhood poverty cost, this country’s cost of mitigating childhood poverty is a lot higher than the cost of trying to reduce it. I think we should end childhood poverty in this country. But this is a good start. It’s cutting childhood poverty in America by almost half this year, 90% of the kids in Colorado are going to benefit from the credit and I think after years and years and years of an economy that’s worked really well for the top 10% and not for anybody else, and Washington has spent its time cutting taxes for the wealthiest people in the country, as I said earlier, and it’s high time that we actually make an investment in our kids and in our working families and that’s what the child tax credit represents. You know, some people are surprised to know that the United States of America has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the world. We are 38 in the industrialized world, we’re 38 out of 41 countries, we’re right at the bottom of the barrel and the poorest population in the United States are children. And as a former school superintendent in Denver, where I saw families working and working and working, try to pay their bills, to try to pay their rent. I know it’s not because people aren’t working. I know it’s because unfortunately, in this country, people can work full time jobs and still not be able to support a family and we’ve got to address that in fundamental ways in our economy. But this is a way of at least giving people a little bit of help along the way.
Sarah Flower 08:14
From Washington, D.C., Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. Thanks so much for joining us here today on KSUT.