NHPR's Morning Edition is checking in occasionally with New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation.
Tuesday morning, host Rick Ganley spoke with with Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
UPDATE: Sen. Shaheen will hold a town hall meeting Thursday night in Colebrook at 5:30 at the Tillotson Center for the Arts.
The Senate recently passed its budget, but you’ve raised some concerns with the plan. How confident are you that House and Senate lawmakers can now come together and agree on a budget?
I have serious reservations about what the Senate did because it doesn’t reflect the values that I think we need to do to invest in this country in education, in infrastructure for our roads and bridges. It doesn’t do anything to address sequestration, which are the automatic cuts that will kick in again in 2016 at the end of September, when this budget becomes effective.
It not only doesn’t address them on the domestic side of the budget, but it also doesn’t address them on the defense side of the budget. As we look at the security challenges we’re facing around the world, I think it’s very problematic. It sends a message to our enemies and those people opposing us about our commitment to national security. I think there are a number of issues with the budget that I’m very concerned about.
You are now the leading Democrat on Homeland Security spending. How important is to keep that department’s funding stable long-term, as opposed to short-term fixes?
It’s very important. It’s not just important as we think about the role that Homeland Security plays in the defense of this country, protecting our borders, immigration, but it’s also critical as we think about the role as it supports our local law enforcement and first responder communities. I was just up in Laconia meeting with law enforcement and the treatment community about the drug epidemic we have in this state. One of the things we talked about is some of those dollars from Homeland Security go to COPS, the Community Oriented Policing Services. We worked very hard in the last budget to get some additional funding to help northern New England because those are grants that go to law enforcement to address things like heroin abuse.
What’s been your take on the nuclear talks with Iran and how confident are you the agreement that a conclusive agreement can be reached by the June 30 deadline?
We’re going to know very soon. There are some last-minute issues that seem to have come up that appear to have been resolved about how they would dispose of their highly-enriched uranium. There was a proposal on the table to have much of that go to Russia. The Iranians have backed away from that. There are issues about future research of centrifuges and how that will go forward.
But the question is whether we can put in place a very strict regimen to make sure they comply to whatever is agreed to because this is not just about coming to an agreement; it’s about how we’re going to make sure they comply with this agreement in future years, if there is an acceptable agreement.
Do you feel the letter sent by the 47 Republicans had any real impact?
I think it’s not clear. Certainly, it made it ostensibly more difficult dealing with the Iranians. I think it was unfortunate. We’ve had a very positive approach to foreign policy and that is we can debate the issues in Congress, we can debate them nationally, but that partisan politics stops at the water’s edge and that when we have a policy we try and unite behind this country. I think sadly, that broke with that longstanding foundation for our American foreign policy.
Clearly, ISIS continues to be a major threat. Is the U.S. doing enough there?
I think we have a lot of work to do and I think it’s not clear yet whether we’re doing enough. We have a proposal that we’re going to engage in air strikes. We’re working with an international coalition that has over 60 partners, including Arab states in the Middle East.
We’ve seen that we’ve had some real impact on ISIS working with Iraqis. They’re providing troops on the ground. We’re in the process of training Syrian fighters to go in, opposition groups who can fight ISIS in Syria, as well as Assad and that effort is ramping up. Now, it’s going to be a long effort, so it’s not going to happen overnight. That’s why I say it’s not clear yet what else we might need to do in order to address the situation.
Human trafficking is an issue you’re focused on. You recently held a roundtable discussion on the issue in Manchester. But you voted against a bill aimed at helping survivors of human trafficking because of some of the language in the bill. Can you explain that vote?
Unfortunately, the legislation that had strong bipartisan support – it came out of committee with strong bipartisan support – had some language around abortion that was the hold up. It was an expansion of language that has been on the books called the Hyde Amendment which says that no federal dollars can be used for access to abortions except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is threatened.
The language that is in the human trafficking bill proposed by Sen. John Cornyn from Texas would expand that language in a way I think is not appropriate and I think a lot of other people don’t think it’s appropriate, either. It would cover nonfederal funds. It would make it more than an appropriation; it would put it into law broadly. I think this is not the place for us to be having an abortion debate. We need to address human trafficking. It’s a huge issue. It’s an economic issue. It’s an issue about what happens to the victims of trafficking. And to use that bill as a way to try to expand anti-abortion efforts on the part of opponents of reproductive choice for women is just the wrong thing to do.
And you felt that was reason enough to vote against this bill?
I did. I think we need to get that language out and we need to pass this bill.
You’ve been an advocate of the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans to seek medical care outside the VA system. But there’s been some concern about keeping it fully funded and confusion among veterans about how to utilize the program.
What’s been your assessment of Veterans Choice so far?
There has been some real confusion and sadly, people in the VA that veterans have called have not been very helpful in clarifying that. The VA just last week clarified the distance that you have to be from a hospital is by
the road, as opposed to as the crow flies, so that’s helpful. Here in New Hampshire, if you live more than 20 miles away from a full service veterans hospital and we know we don’t have one, so if you are not able to get the care you need in a reasonable period of time, you can go into the private sector and get care from a certified provider.
We want to make sure people in New Hampshire know this is available to them so they don’t have to wait long periods of time or travel long distances, either to Massachusetts or Vermont, in order to get the care they need. Also, Sen. Ayotte and I have been working to ensure that the funding is there. We’ve raised concerns both with the VA and with the administration about making sure the funding is there into the future.
There’s been growing pushback to a new Indiana law meant to protect religious freedom. Critics say it allows for discrimination. Connecticut just banned state-funded travel to Indiana. Should New Hampshire do the same?
Certainly, that’s up to the governor and the legislature. I think it’s very unfortunate what Indiana has done. I hope that they will reassess that law. We all have our personal views and everyone is entitled to that, but I think the issue here is you’re not entitled to discriminate because of those personal views.