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Rep. Jamaal Bowman: We Need Climate & Racial Justice Addressed in Broader Infrastructure Package

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Image Credit: Sunrise Movement

As western states battle record-breaking heat waves, climate activists are calling on the Biden administration and congressional Democrats to pass an infrastructure bill that includes major investments in green energy, including a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps. President Biden says he reached a bipartisan deal with senators on a slimmed-down infrastructure spending bill, but Democrats hope to pass a second, larger infrastructure package with a budget reconciliation process that would not require any Republican votes. The bipartisan deal is “completely unacceptable” on its own, says New York Democratic Congressmember Jamal Bowman. “If we want to maintain control and the opportunity to do great work in 2022, it’s time for Democrats to deliver in this moment.’’ We also speak with David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, who explains why the bipartisan infrastructure bill has been described as a “stalking horse” for privatization, and notes record heat and crumbling infrastructure are “screaming for a change in priorities in America because of the climate crisis.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Washington, D.C., hundreds of youth climate activists surrounded the White House Monday in a nonviolent blockade demanding President Biden take meaningful action on the climate crisis. Secret Service agents made dozens of arrests. Members of the Sunrise Movement called on Biden and congressional Democrats to pass an infrastructure bill that includes major investments in green energy, including a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps.

The protest came as the states of Oregon and Washington, as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia, battled historic heat. Portland hit 116 degrees Fahrenheit Monday, making it one of the hottest places in the world.

The Sunrise Movement timed its protest as negotiations heat up over infrastructure spending. Last week, President Biden announced he had reached a bipartisan deal with senators on a slimmed-down infrastructure spending bill. Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to pass a second, larger infrastructure package, the American Families Plan, using the budget reconciliation process, which would not require any Republican votes. Biden initially said he would not sign the bipartisan infrastructure deal without the other, then walked back his statement after facing criticism from Republican lawmakers.

We’re joined now by David Dayen, the executive editor of The American Prospect, as well as New York Democratic Congressmember Jamaal Bowman, who took part in the Sunrise Movement protest on Monday.

Congressmember Bowman, thanks so much for rejoining us. Talk about yesterday’s protest, I mean, the historic heat wave that’s hitting the Northwest. What is happening to the Green New Deal being stripped out of this deal that Biden apparently made with other Democratic and Republican senators, but then, because of backlash, said he would veto the smaller deal unless the larger Green New Deal-included bill were also passed?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Well, thank you for having me.

Yesterday’s protests were very powerful, very inspiring and very necessary. The sea of young people chanting and demanding justice on climate was just so moving, and I was really honored to be a part of it.

And the Republican-negotiated, bipartisan infrastructure deal is completely unacceptable on its own and on its face. It does not meet the moment in terms of responding to climate change, and it does not meet the moment in terms of our overall infrastructure needs. You know, the president ran on a platform on climate justice, on racial justice. He had progressives across the country organizing in support of him to not only help him get the White House, but also to help Democrats win the Senate. And this is where we are. And, you know, we’ve been trying to negotiate with Republicans not only in terms of this bill, but on smaller bills in the House and in the Senate. And they continue to vote down transformative policy, like S. 1, and continue to show that they’re not willing to negotiate in good faith.

So we have a process. We have a reconciliation process that gives us the opportunity to invest transformatively in communities that have been historically marginalized, while also dealing with the issue of climate change. So this is where we are, and this is why we have to move forward, because it’s not just the president. Senator Manchin needs to make sure he is on board, Senator Sinema needs to make sure she is on board, so that we can have enough Democratic votes to move a robust, transformative infrastructure reconciliation package.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Congressman, what do you say to those who will tell you the votes aren’t there, that because of people like Joe Manchin and Sinema, that even among the Democrats there aren’t sufficient votes to get the kind of infrastructure plan, both in terms of physical infrastructure and human infrastructure, that you and other progressive Democrats want?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Well, that answer is unacceptable. If Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema really care about our country and really care about democracy, they would know and understand that this is the moment to invest in areas that have been historically ignored, like the care economy, like public housing, like green infrastructure. And this is why we have to speak honestly and truthfully about who Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema are more beholden and responsive to. Are they more responsive to the corporate elite, large corporations, their wealthy donors, or are they more responsive to the American people? What Democrats are fighting for and what we’ve been sent here to do is do the job of the American people. So, to say we don’t have the votes is unacceptable.

I represent the Bronx, Mount Vernon, Yonkers and New Rochelle, that have pockets of poverty as high as 30% in some areas. Those areas are disproportionately Black and Brown. Those areas disproportionately suffer from asthma because of environmental conditions. They live in public housing that’s been neglected. We have our children living with lead paint. These issues are happening in West Virginia, as well, Joe Manchin’s — the state that Joe Manchin represents. So, let’s speak honestly about what’s happening here. They are not upholding democracy. They are upholding corporate control of government and their wealthy backers. And we are fighting for the American people. That’s why the American people are with us. And if we want to maintain control and the opportunity to do great work in 2022, it’s time for Democrats to deliver in this moment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you tweeted in a video, where you toured the public housing units where you grew up and showed some of the problems there. Could you talk about some of the specific infrastructure issues that you see in your own district?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: So, first of all, if there’s molding in a public housing apartment or something is broken and needs to be fixed, when you call maintenance to have them come fix the problem, the lag time is unbelievably long. And that’s because there aren’t enough employees, there aren’t enough properly trained employees, because we don’t have the money to hire those employees. When we see, in other areas of public housing in my district, doors are broken wide open, where there’s no safety and security, you could walk right into the building. In other cases, you have mailboxes broken wide open. The trash receptacle, it’s outdated. It was built decades ago, so you can’t fit the trash bag into the receptacle properly, so people are taking their trash outside and dumping it in a designated area outside. But because there isn’t — we don’t even have the large trash bins to dump the trash into the bin, so it’s right there on the street. And we don’t have enough people to clean up the trash, so it remains outside, which leads to rodent infestation, which leads to roaches, etc., all impacting the breathing and how our children live within these spaces.

And I also want to mention — this is very important — these are redlined communities. And I always connect what we’re talking about now to the New Deal, the New Deal that built the white suburbs, the New Deal that built white suburban wealth and purposely, explicitly kept African Americans out of those communities. Like, they could not access the federally subsidized home loans to move to the suburbs, so they were forced to live in ghettos and had those ghettos undervalued just because the people were Black. Like, this is what we’re responding to, this historical racism and historical harm. And we can go even further back to the Homestead Act and what happened there.

So, this is our moment, and I believe President Biden knows that. But we have to continue to engage and put pressure on the White House and my colleagues in Congress to go big and invest in the way we need to invest, because if they care about this country, if we give everyone an opportunity, America will finally reach the ideals of its democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in addition to Congressmember Jamaal Bowman, we’re joined by David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect; his latest book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power. David, you’ve been following these debates very closely. You have Mitch McConnell saying, “President Biden, you’ve got to rein in Schumer and Pelosi.” For people who aren’t following the ins and outs of what turned into the major conflagration of the week — not the climate emergency, but Biden saying he would veto the infrastructure bill, the bipartisan one, if it didn’t include linking to the reconciliation bill that Senator Sanders would be in charge of — and, by the way, Senator Sanders said, tweeted out, “No reconciliation bill, no deal.” Tell us the ins and outs of this and what you think that smaller Republican infrastructure bill is really a cover for.

DAVID DAYEN: Sure. I mean, Biden’s statement was really a recitation of Speaker Pelosi’s statement, made hours earlier, where she said that the House wouldn’t vote on the bipartisan bill until the Senate passed a reconciliation bill. And that reflected work that was done by Representative Bowman and other members of the Progressive Caucus, who informed Pelosi that they wouldn’t move forward on a bill until there were two bills passed in the Senate. And that’s really what’s driving this. And it’s a bit unusual to see progressives really drive kind of the agenda in Congress, but Pelosi knows that she can’t afford to lose those votes on her left, and it’s a bigger threat to the overall project of a big infrastructure package than moderates would be to passing in the House. So, that really was the dynamic, and Biden really mimicked it.

But Republicans, who knew this was all happening and who indeed proposed a two-stage process initially, calculating that a second reconciliation bill would get bogged down in infighting among Democrats — but because Pelosi kind of figured out a way to pass the two-stage process in a way that gave everyone trust that two bills would actually go forward, I think that they were mad that it was said out loud. It was something that was obviously going to happen, but they didn’t want to see it linked like that. And so, Biden walked it back, but he didn’t really walk it back. He just said that, you know, Republicans can try to stop the second bill, but, of course, they don’t have the votes for that necessarily, and Pelosi and Schumer are going to run the process. But what you lay out there is correct. I think progressives have done a decent job of linking these two bills.

But what’s the key piece of the bipartisan bill, to me, in addition to the lack of climate measures and, as you correctly point out, the fact that nature, from Seattle to Miami, where sea level rise may have been a large contributor to the collapse of the condo building, is just screaming for a change in priorities in America because of the climate crisis and a need to upgrade our infrastructure to reflect this new reality — but the other thing that’s in that bipartisan bill is privatization. So, it’s really the selling off of infrastructure to private companies, and really the substitution of public tax collection, where we pay for these common assets that we all use and share, to private tax collection, where you sell the infrastructure assets to a private company, whether for toll roads or privatized water systems, privatized parking meters, or what have you, and that private company gets to effectively tax the public. And inevitably, that tax goes up, because they have to build in their layer of profit. So, I think that’s something that progressives like Representative Bowman need to focus on, because it’s a very dangerous part of the bipartisan bill.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, David Dayen, are those concerns sufficient for many progressives to say, “No, let’s kill this thing altogether”? Because, clearly, the move to privatize public assets has been part of the neoliberal agenda now for about four decades.

DAVID DAYEN: It has been. And that’s why it’s incumbent to take a stand at this point. I mean, you have a representative on; you can ask him if that’s sufficient or not. But it is a serious issue. I mean, we have examples of this, as you say, Juan, all over the country — water systems that charge exorbitant rates, parking meters in places like Chicago that have gone up 800% in their rates over a number of years, and every time the street is shut down for a street fair, the private company gets to recoup lost revenue from that day. It’s not just the gouging of the people who use the infrastructure; it’s the loss of democratic control. So, a private company is in charge and says when the street will be shut down or not, and the private company is in charge of when a certain toll road is open or not. So, that’s, I think, at the core of the issue with privatization, which, as you correctly point out, was part of this neoliberal project. But we’re in a new era, and I would hope that there would be very strong pushback against it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about that, Congressman Bowman, in terms of, in Chicago, for instance, a private parking meter company, whenever the city wants to shut down a street for a parade, it has to reimburse the private parking meter company for its lost revenues? What about this issue of, even in the compromise bill, there being some poison pills in there?

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN: Another reason why it’s unacceptable. And “poison pill,” I think, is a great way to describe it. I mean, we don’t have to go to Chicago. Right here in my district, the privatization of public housing has taken hold. The Yonkers — you know, I represent Yonkers, as well. Public housing in Yonkers has been given over to privatizers, before I got into office: Edenwald Houses and Baychester Houses. Baychester Houses has already been given over to privatizers, a company called RAD in New York. And Edenwald Houses is going through that process right now. And as you know, Juan, you know my work in public schools and what’s happened with charter schools and vouchers and the siphoning of public resources.

And that’s the thing, right? We’re fighting for the reconciliation package to go big, but we’re also fighting to keep it public. When you look at the public housing investment in the infrastructure package, for example, of $50 billion, it sounds like a big number, but the capital needs in NYCHA alone are about $40 billion, so $50 billion will not meet the national needs. So we’re fighting to keep it big, and we’re fighting to keep it public. But it’s true, we have to even sound a louder alarm and be more outspoken against this privatization piece, because that’s what that negotiated bipartisan bill does. But it’s another example of corporate control of our government and who Republicans are fighting for. They are fighting for the privatizers, not the rest of us. And this is why what happened at the White House yesterday needs to be replicated here in D.C. and across the country by everyone, because they’ll privatize the entire country if we allow them to.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us. And, of course, we’re going to continue to follow this issue, as — well, at least for this moment, it’s parts of the Northwest have become some of the hottest places on Earth. Congressmember Jamaal Bowman of New York was out there yesterday at the Sunrise Movement protest outside the White House, where many got arrested. And David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, we will link to your latest piece; his latest book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.

Next up, a U.S. military base near a Syrian oil field comes under attack, one day after U.S. airstrikes targeted an Iranian-backed militia in Syria and Iraq. We’ll get the latest. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “First in Flight” by Blackalicious. The always amazing MC Gift of Gab died June 18th of kidney failure.

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