Lawmakers have focused on public lands and partisanship, but have different means to achieve their goals
WASHINGTON — Colorado congressional officials have highlighted immigration, forest management, protection of public lands, and monetary assistance to families and small businesses as areas of particular focus heading into the second session of the 117th Congress.
The Herald of Durango spoke with Rep. Lauren Boebert and the Senses. Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper of the bills they prioritize that could directly affect voters. Their responses reveal parallel goals on wildfire prevention and forest management and divergent priorities on topics such as immigration, tax credits and space science.
A new Congress consists of two annual legislative sessions, which usually meet in January and adjourn in December. The current session of Congress convened on Jan. 3 and time is running out for Democrats to pass their legislative priorities before potentially losing control of a three-pronged majority after the 2022 midterms.
Bennet: “Working with our allies”
Bennet is Colorado’s senior senator, having served consecutive terms since 2009. He is a member of the Senate Finance Committee; Intelligence; and agriculture, nutrition and forestry committees.
At the top of Bennet’s list of priorities is the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which would preserve about 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands by designating them for recreational purposes or as protected wilderness.
“The CORE Act is a testament to the hard work and commitment of people in my state who care deeply about protecting our public lands,” he said during a June Senate address. “They know how important public lands are to our economy, our heritage and our way of life. This bill is their best effort to strengthen and maintain that legacy for the next generation of Americans and Colorans.
Another pressing issue for the senator is keeping the expanded child tax credit included in the Build Back Better bill after President Joe Biden suggested it may not survive negotiations over the final spending package. . On Wednesday, Bennet and several of his fellow Senate Democrats pushed Biden to make the tax credit a centerpiece of the package. In Colorado, 600,000 households are receiving payments from the expanded child tax credit program in 2021.
Another option, Bennett said, is to present the Senate Finance Committee with a package that replaces tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans with his proposed tax credit.
“I think a bill that reverses Trump’s unpopular tax cuts for the wealthy – 52% of them went to the top 5% – and replaces it with the child tax credit and the improved income tax credit will be a very powerful step forward,” he said.
Bennet is also pushing for his Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, a bill that would pay for forest and watershed restoration and wildfire risk mitigation. He said the $60 billion investment “would represent the biggest investment we’ve made since the dust bowl” that directly benefits Colorado farmers and ranchers trying to balance production with conservation.
“In August we met with people in Durango to talk about what they have to do with forest management and they really think of it as infrastructure, that’s how I think of it,” he said. he declares. “All of our watersheds start in these national forests, so this is a critical investment for Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West.”
While plans are still fluid, Bennet said he hopes to either tie the legislation as a rider to Biden’s $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package, commonly known as the Build Back Better bill. , or find another legislative vehicle to attach it to.
Boebert: ‘It’s a shame to see how polarized Congress is’
Boebert, who took office in January 2021, is a member of the House Natural Resources and Budget Committees. Reflecting on her first year as a House Representative, Boebert said she was frustrated with a lack of bipartisanship that kept her from securing more victories for Colorado’s 3rd congressional district.
“In our constitutional republic, majorities are absolutely important – the House of Representatives is an autonomous and majority body and what the majority says is worth it,” she said. “…I want to be in the majority so that we can show America and the rest of the world how far it is possible to achieve these achievements without giving up on your principles.”
The representative identified her top priority as promoting her Active Forest Management, Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act, which would pay for the logging of 6 billion board feet of timber annually. . The bill aims to eliminate trees killed by bark beetles, reduce the risk of wildfires by thinning forests and make it harder for opponents of logging to sue. No House Democrats have co-sponsored the bill, and it has not advanced through the House since it was introduced six months ago.
“As a curator, I don’t take a hands-off approach. I want to be a good steward of the land and manage it,” Boebert said.
Asked if she would support Bennet’s Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, which addresses similar issues, Boebert said she would first need to see “serious amendments” that would reduce the costs of the legislation.
She is also focusing on immigration policy to deal with what she called “a full invasion on our southern border” and said she is drafting legislation to end the lawful access program of Biden at the Border, which provides legal services, but not a lawyer, to migrants. to prepare them for the legal immigration process.
Other top legislative priorities she named include eliminating “critical race theory” from schools, an academic theory that is not currently included in Colorado’s K-12 curriculum, strengthening the integrity of elections and the cancellation of “unconstitutional vaccine mandates, medical mandates”.
As Boebert has acknowledged, much, if any, of the laws she drafted are unlikely to pass as long as Democrats retain control of the House and Senate.
Hickenlooper: ‘Bipartisanship can still work’
Hickenlooper also concluded his first year in national office as a junior senator from Colorado. The former governor of Colorado sits in the Energy and Natural Resources Senate; health, education, work and pensions; Commerce, Science and Transport; and small business and entrepreneurship committees. He is also Chairman of the Space Science Subcommittee.
Hickenlooper has identified protecting small businesses amid rising inflation as one of his top priorities for this session of Congress. The first package of bills he introduced in 2021 aimed to increase underserved people’s access to Small Business Administration loans and resources, legislation he hopes will pass the Commerce Committee this year. .
“We’ve seen how fragile our workforce is right now as we try to come out of this pandemic and…really start pushing how small businesses can connect and be successful in attracting people into their business and make sure they get the training they need,” he said.
Another priority is to increase funding for pandemic preparedness. Earlier this month, Hickenlooper introduced a bill to fund research into viruses with pandemic potential in hopes of speeding up the country’s response time to a future pandemic.
On space, he plans to continue advocating for Space Command’s permanent headquarters to remain in Colorado, after former President Donald Trump signaled a relocation to Alabama.
Like other Colorado lawmakers, Hickenlooper also plans to support climate change legislation, particularly Bennet’s CORE Act.
“I’m an infantryman in Senator Bennet’s army,” he said. “The blessing is that I was able to be appointed to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, so I can be useful. In other words, I was able to get a hearing last year before the energy and natural resources committee and I think…we got enough support now to get a committee vote here in two coming months.
As for the remainder of the Congressional session, Hickenlooper said he feels optimistic about overcoming political divisions brought on by the coronavirus and impending midterms.
“You know, I’ve always been an optimist and I’ve always believed in bipartisan success, and it’s going to be a little tougher this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get there,” he said. he declares.
Skye Witley, a senior at American University in Washington, DC, is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal at Cortez. He can be contacted at [email protected]