Interview with Michael Bennet: A Colorado Democratic senator is reshaping U.S. social policy

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Senator Michael Bennet it hardly looks like anyone’s idea of ​​a progressive hero. The Colorado Democrat often uses his hoarse voice to discuss weird topics like why Democrats shouldn’t raise the ceiling on state and local tax breaks that Republicans have introduced with Trump. tax cuts, and sounds like a former superintendent of public schools in Denver, as he once was.

“Well, look, I don’t think he’s American people he sent us to Washington to cut taxes for rich people, ”he said The Independent in an interview. “The truth is, we’ve cut taxes by about $ 8 trillion since 2001, almost everything went to the richest people in this country at a time when we had the biggest income inequality which we have had since the late 1920s. “

When he ran for president in 2019 and 2020, he dropped out without winning any delegates, and regularly criticized Medicare proposals for all Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as unrealistic.

“I think I describe this as my under-noticed presidential campaign,” he joked.

Mr Bennet began his campaign largely after giving a speech on the U.S. Senate floor in which he upset Republican Senator Ted Cruz during the closure of the government in 2018 and 2019. During that time, he criticized Mr Cruz for closing in 2013. government. the viral moment failed to stimulate him, as the Progressives largely supported Mr Sanders and Mrs Warren, while moderate voters preferred his fellow senator Amy Klobuchar oz Pete Buttigieg while voters ultimately elected a president Joe Biden.

Then a coronavirus pandemic struck, and when Congress passed the CARES Act under the Trump administration, Mr. Bennet teamed up with Senator Ron Wyden to raise an additional $ 600 a week for unemployment insurance. That was reduced to $ 300 a week in Mr. Biden’s rescue plan bill.

Similarly, when Mr Biden passed his signed legislation on aid to Covid, he included another of Mr Bennet’s policies he championed during the 2020 presidential campaign: an extended child tax credit that was fully refundable and gave families $ 150,000 a year – and to single parents. up to $ 112,500 for single-parent households – $ 300 per month for children for each child under the age of six, and $ 250 for children between the ages of six and 17.

On the other hand, Mr Bennet has become one of the most prolific voices in politics, not only on child poverty, but in general. He worked with Mr Sanders – who he criticized in the primary election – to ensure that rising to the SALT Cap, a priority for Democrats in California, New York and New Jersey, will not be a gift to the rich. Similarly, he was part of a group of eight senators who passed an immigration reform bill in 2013, who eventually died.

Bennet said he was interested in adopting policies he knew would be possible if he lost his presidential candidacy and returned to Colorado, a politically evenly divided state.

“And I set that and I think I did. And I’m glad that something started with these policies. I think a lot of the things I suggested, and what Joe Biden ran, were a lot of overlaps.

It also helps that he was one of the first beneficiaries of the tax credit now in the White House. Initially, Mr. Bennet presented his merits through the U.S. Family Law with Senator Sherrod Brown, a populist progressive representative from Ohio. But the other person to apply as a co-sponsor was a California senator at the time Kamala Harris. Bennett’s aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the senator had approached the vice president before the Biden administration’s plan was passed by Congress.

At the time, Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif) (left) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo), along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (center), were pushing for a Democratic presidential nomination, but failed. In the past, they have also been involved in child poverty policies

(Getty Images)

Bennet said he began thinking about child poverty when he was superintendent of public schools in Denver, a role he played before he was appointed to the Senate seat of Ken Salazar, who joined the Obama administration as Home Secretary. Mr Bennet said he often saw parents doing two or three jobs and still unable to get out of poverty, no matter what they were doing.

“I know from this experience that people don’t work, but they work incredibly hard, but they can’t afford housing or health care, higher education or pre-school education,” he said. “But the cost of these building blocks to free your children from poverty or the feeling of living in the middle class has outweighed the cost of doing so. And I’m starting to see child tax relief as the most elegant way to solve this problem. “

Bennett’s oldest friend in the Senate, a Colorado colleague John Hickenlooper, hired him as his chief of staff when Mr. Hickenlooper was mayor of Denver.

“He’s always been involved with kids, in all aspects, always,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “I’ve only been here a year, but I see it as one of two or three or four real driving forces for tax relief for children.”

Mr. Hickenlooper, who then served as governor of Colorado and also ran for president before he left to successfully challenge Republican Senator Cory Gardner, said Bennet helped him learn the Senate.

John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet

(Getty Images)

“He was the best mentor I’ve ever had,” he said. “He was too generous, extremely generous in his help.”

Mr Wyden, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which worked with him on unemployment insurance, praised his work.

“I went to school with a basketball scholarship and I don’t know a bigger compliment than saying Michael Bennet comes to play every day,” he said, adding that he and Mr. Bennet had been looking at unemployment for some time and said that during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic negotiated with the Trump administration. “This bill was also historic, as it also covered workers at concerts.”

At the same time, Mr Bennet’s work on both issues faces great political danger. Many Republican governors have completed extended unemployment insurance on the assumption that it prevents people from finding work, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the program. Second, January is the first month that parents will not see monthly payments after the Senator Joe Manchin killed the Democrats ’proposed Build Back Better bill and heavily criticized child tax relief because he cared it went to people who earn too much money, and he wanted to make sure he could go to grandparents raising children.

But Bennet’s aide said the senator told Mr Manchin, a Conservative Democrat from West Virginia, that parents are already eligible because they can claim them from their taxes. Similarly, the assistant noted that the credit is already being checked for property benefits.

Mr Bennet said he would continue to speak with Mr Manchin.

“I gave him a little break over the holidays, but I’ve talked to him a lot before and I’m going to talk a lot again,” he said. “And the last thing we should do is double the level of child poverty in this country.”

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who drafted his child tax relief plan, said he and Bennet talked about their various child tax breaks.

“We both found that to be a priority. I like my plan more than the presidents, but I would be happy to work with Democrats and do something together for good, ”Romney said. The Independent and praised Mr. Bennet, with whom he went rafting last year.

“He is a very reasonable, thoughtful person who, in my opinion, would be involved, a two-sided one, if that were the possibility,” he said, adding that he hoped they could work together. “We can and we have. I don’t think that’s the case, but we’ll see if it happens in the future. “

Mr Bennet said he was actually impressed with Mr Romney’s tax credit, noting that the credit of the former GOP presidential candidate was more generous for children under the age of six.

“So he has salaries there that I don’t like, but do I think he forms the basis for a possible bilateral agreement to extend the child tax credit at some point and make it permanent? it’s true to me. And I think it’s going to happen to become popular with Americans over time. “

In addition, despite being a more moderate Democrat ready for re-election, Mr Bennet said he had become convinced that this filibuster, as it stands at the moment, is indivisible and needs to be changed.

“And frankly, which is why I changed my mind about it, I don’t think we can compete with China with a minority of senators who have constant detail about what most want to do,” he said. “I just don’t think democracy will be able to compete with two hands tied behind their backs as a result of modern filibuster abuse.”

Mr Bennet’s words came the same week as his fellow moderate senator Kyrsten Cinema defended. But Mr Bennet said it would be one if it existed only once a year, and now it has become an obstacle to progress.

“And that means senators, who make up 22% of the state, can prevent everyone else from doing what needs to be done,” he said. “This is far from what the founders wanted. So I believe we can rebuild the Senate so that it is not like in Parliament, which is merely a majority body, but instead in the Senate, where you have broadened the debate by forcing people if they go to filibuster to actually be outside on ground having a Mr. Smith is going to Washington debate. “

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