Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster says there will be plenty of opportunities to make changes in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, unveiled this week. Biden called it a “once-in-a -generation investment in America.”
The $2.3 trillion plan, the first of a two-part recovery package, includes investments in fixing the country’s roads, bridges, and ports, as well as expanding high-speed internet access and investing in clean energy and climate change research.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already vowed to oppose the bill.
Kuster, a Democrat from New Hampshire's 2nd District, says the bill holds great promise when it comes to creating jobs. And the emphasis on roads, bridges and highways, she says, is long overdue.
“The U.S. ranks 13th in the world right now on infrastructure. We have not had a significant investment in infrastructure for far too long. And so I'm excited about what we can do there,” Kuster said on The Exchange.
Particularly important for New Hampshire, she said, is expanding broadband, as well as funding for housing.
(Kuster discussed gun legislation, coronavirus relief measures, efforts to prevent domestic extremism, immigration policy, and more on The Exchange. Visit here for the full conversation. Excerpts of the conversation included in this story have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
When it comes to tackling climate change, several environmental groups have said Biden’s bill does not go far enough, spending too little on what amounts to a global crisis.
In response to that criticism, Kuster, who sits on the energy subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce committee says: “These are the hearings that we're having right now about this American Jobs Plan. I think that we're going to hear more in our committee. And I believe that this bill will change.”
Kuster is among dozens of House members hoping to add a major hydropower and river conservation project to the infrastructure plan. According to this group, the Department of Energy estimates the project would increase hydropower output by 50 gigawatts, support 200,000 jobs, and eliminate trillions of tons of carbon emissions.
The project involves retrofitting, rehabilitating, and in some cases removing dams and restoring river ecosystems.
Other projects Kuster hopes to promote include wind energy sites off the coast of New England.
Raising taxes on corporations to pay for the plan – a concern for many Republicans and some moderate Democrats – does not appear to concern Kuster.
“Even if this bill raise is passed into law and we do raise the corporate tax rate, it will still be the lowest that we've had since World War II,” she said. “So I think when it comes to U.S. corporations, they can afford to pay their fair share. And by the way, this infrastructure, paid for by federal tax dollars, benefits those corporations.”
After recent mass shootings, President Biden called for immediate action in Congress, and Kuster says she is hopeful that two gun background-check bills that passed in the House earlier this month will hold sway, though she urged the public to weigh in.
Kuster said the vast majority of Americans support certain gun-control measures, such as universal background checks, and blamed Senate Republicans for blocking attempts to make such changes in the past due to the influence of the NRA. Kuster said the two bills that passed in the House did have some Republican support.
“And so the pressure is on in the Senate to pass these bills. And I think they will pass. I think this is a unique opportunity. But everyone needs to speak up,” she said. “Senator Chuck Schumer, president of the U.S. Senate, has said he will bring the bills to the Senate floor,” she said. “And I think the American people will speak with one voice: Get this done.”
On domestic extremism
After the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, many Democrats renewed calls to formally criminalize domestic terrorism. Some civil liberties groups have warned that a domestic counterterrorism law could undermine First Amendment rights and could be used to target people of color and other marginalized communities.
Kuster says she has not yet taken a position on the debate but that there will be hearings on the matter, with the Justice Department presenting their findings on the issue of domestic threats.
“I believe that we do have laws in place about these types of threats, and they should be investigated. And, as necessary, as criminal acts occur, then people should be held accountable. And that's what's happening right now. You'll see the FBI all across the country investigating these cases. The cases are now coming through the courts, and many of them are very, very serious charges.”
On screening military service members for ties to radical movements.
According to an NPR investigation, nearly 20 percent of people charged in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol had either served in the military or were currently serving. That compares to just 7 percent of the population overall.
Some Democrats in Congress are asking the Biden administration to screen service members’ social media accounts for ties to radical movements. Kuster says she agrees.
“I do think we have a problem in the military, and, in fact, in many police departments, for these ties to radical beliefs and actions. So I do think that it's relevant to get a background check for police or military in order to understand: Is this a person that has a grievance, a peaceful disagreement with the government? I'm not concerned about that. What I'm concerned about is that there were current and former members of our military who were trained for combat against our enemies who were using that training in combat against our government.”
Kuster said she believes the Pentagon is working on conducting more attentive reviews to identify any such links. The Trump administration, she said, had not backed efforts by the Department of Justice and the FBI to track such groups and their potential for violence, despite signs of their activities.
“What the Biden administration is going to do is take this very, very seriously, at the Pentagon, at the Department of Justice and throughout our government,” she said.
On a possible fourth surge of coronavirus cases.
Kuster said that beyond urging Americans to continue public health measures – a plea made by the CDC director in recent weeks – the federal government can continue to provide funding for safety measures such as testing and vaccinating, as it has done through the American Rescue Plan. She said she is excited about the progress being made in New Hampshire.
“We're getting past the vaccine resistance and what the government can do is get those shots in the arms. So already the president has ramped up the manufacture and distribution of the vaccines and is now doubling the goal. He wanted to get 100 million shots in 100 days; he achieved that in 58 days. Now we're going for 200 million shots by the end of April, and we're on track to meet that goal."
On immigration, thousands of unaccompanied minors at the border.
“What is happening is a confluence of many factors,” Kuster said. “We know this time of year there is a surge in migration from along our southern border, but we also have the situation of COVID-19 to deal with."
During a briefing at the White House this week, Kuster said she was told by Homeland Security officials that their goal is to reunite as many children as possible, as quickly as possible, with family members.
Their plan includes opening up a military base in order to spread the children out for safey reasons, increasing social distance.
“What we need is a surge in personnel to the border,” she said. “It's not so much border officials and officers that we need. It's actually social workers -- for making the phone calls and making the determination that this is a relative. In many cases, it’s a parent or sibling. But we want to make sure that it's a safe place for them to go to.”