Cortez Masto, Lee tout infrastructure bill, optimistic about social spending plan

By: - November 10, 2021 5:50 am

Susie Lee speaking in Washington in September; Catherine Cortez Masto at an event in Las Vegas in September. (Lee photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Cortez Mazto photo by Ronda Churchill)

While boasting about Friday’s passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Act, a $1.2 trillion investment in roads, bridges, transit, broadband and more, Democratic Rep. Susie Lee and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto turned their attention to the yet-to-be passed Build Back Better Act Tuesday.

The social spending and climate bill, which would invest $1.85 trillion over a decade into multiple programs and service including child care, an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, lower prescription drug costs, creation of a federal paid leave policy and more affordable housing, has been undergoing intense debate among the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party.

Zero Senate or Congressional Republicans support the legislation, leaving Democrats with little margin of error for disagreement.

“We can build all the roads and bridges we want, but people need to have the infrastructure whether it’s affordable child care, universal pre-K, affordable health care and affordable higher education,” Lee said Tuesday. “The infrastructure bill we just passed is a jobs bill. The Build Back Better bill is a jobs bill because we invest in the infrastructure of American families, Nevada families, so they can take those jobs and earn a better future.”

Lee and Cortez Masto spoke during a tele-town hall Tuesday hosted by Battle Born Progress and received questions about various provisions of the social policy legislation.

Annette Magnus, the executive director for organization, said both pieces of legislation were “the types of bills you need, especially when you’re recovering from a pandemic.”

“Opposition to this bill really comes from who I call our obstructionist counterpart who basically don’t want to see a win for this administration but more importantly a win for American families,” Lee said.

During the summer, Senate Democrats released a framework for a $3.5 trillion package that included lowering prescription drug costs and 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema balked at the investment in social and climate policies, and President Biden released a reduced framework with $1.75 trillion over ten years that didn’t include either of those policies.

Both votes are needed for Democrats to put the bill through the reconciliation process, a Senate procedure that shields them from a Republican filibuster.

The House recently reintroduced a paid leave provision into the Build Back Better Act, which would reduce it to four weeks, and also reinjected some trimmed down prescription drug reforms into the legislation.

The United States is one of six countries without any form of national paid leave policy.

Lee called America’s lack of a paid leave “a legacy that’s honestly not just embarrassing, but it is damaging to our economy.”

She added it disproportionately affects women.

“We have a 21% gender gap in workforce participation just in our state because more often than not women are responsible for caring for our families in times when people fall ill,” she said. “We wanted 12 weeks, it was taken completely out and we are now fighting for four weeks of paid leave for new parents, workers dealing with their own serious medical conditions and workers who need to leave to care for someone with serious medical issues.”

Quentin Savwoir, the deputy director of Make It Work Nevada, asked if there was more that could be done to pressure Manchin, who opposes paid leave, and Sinema, who hasn’t publicly opposed the specific provision but has resisted the overall scope of the legislation.

Cortez Masto said she is working with colleagues in the Senate to make sure it stays in.

She said not just to focus on Sens. Manchin or Sinema but “also tell why this makes a difference in the lives of families.”

“I think it’s important that advocacy in Washington shows the faces and the names and the stories,” she said. “Quite often in Washington there is always this bubble of data and graphs…  people forget there are real lives and real families behind the work we do every day.”

Both said they are committed to ensuring provisions to allow Medicare to negotiate down costs of some of the most expensive prescription drugs, which wouldn’t start until 2023. The prices would take effect in 2025.

Lee said the policy would “establish a $2,000 out of pocket cap for seniors” and put a “$35 per month cap for insulin.”

Cortez Masto criticized attack ads already running to tank the provision.

“There are a lot of scare tactics playing out in these commercials because big pharma doesn’t want us to start this path of negotiating drug prices and putting in inflationary penalties, so they are trying to scare people,” she said. “This will not limit an individual’s access to drugs. Our goal is to lower the costs and make sure people have access to health care and prescription drugs when they need them.”

Lee also reminded folks that the bill is paid for “with increased taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans who have not paid their fair share.”

The Build Back Better Act is expected to undergo negotiations when Congress returns from recess.

Among the funding allocated from the infrastructure bill, Nevada is expected to get $2.5 billion in federal aid for highway apportioned programs, $293 million for airports, $459 million for public transportation and $100 million for broadband.

Cortez Masto said the funding is important to invest in the state’s “clean energy economy.”

“The infrastructure package is exciting because it’s investing in made in America products and manufacturing, which will strengthen our supply chain and really prioritize American goods and American jobs,” she said.

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.