Candid Clark Mindful of Midterms Jeopardy
As originally appearing in State House News

By Matt Murphy

NOV. 29, 2021…..With Congress entering a critical end-of-year stretch, U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark told business leaders on Monday that their support over the coming weeks could help preserve key elements of a $1.7 trillion social spending package, including money for child care, that Democratic leaders hope to push through the Senate in December.

Clark, the assistant speaker of the House, said House Democrats stood ready to “fight like mad” to see priorities like paid family leave included in any final version of the Build Back Better Act, but were also interested in finding a compromise, even if that means scaling back some proposals.

“Right now we have an incredible opportunity to rebuild a stronger, more equitable country and we’re already seeing what’s possible when we come together and invest directly in the American people,” Clark said during an hour-long virtual event hosted by the New England Council.

Clark, who said last week that she and her husband were moving from Melrose to Revere, recapped for council members the recent accomplishments of the House in helping to send President Joe Biden a bipartisan infrastructure bill and passing the Build Back Better Act.

As examples, the Democratic leader said Massachusetts stood to receive $4 billion for highway repair, $3 billion over five years for public transit and $100 million to improve broadband coverage across the state.

The Build Back Better plan that passed the House has even more money for child care and pre-school, to fight climate change, keep prescription drug costs down and expand Medicare.

Asked what the business community could do to help push the Build Back Better Act onto the president’s desk, Clark recalled the boost that efforts to fund child care and universal pre-K received when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in support of investment in those areas. The chamber opposed the House’s final Build Back Better bill.

“Your voice in the business community couldn’t be more important over the next few weeks as we are fighting to preserve the funding that we do have coming out of the House,” Clark said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, has said he would like to pass the Build Back Better Act before the end of the year, and Clark said that negotiations with senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders are ongoing.

“We are in the middle of the negotiation process but I can tell you this: We are so committed to getting this done. We know there will be changes,” Clark said.

Sanders has expressed problems with the expansion of a state and local tax deduction, and Manchin has said he has reservations over the amount of money in the bill for climate change, the paid leave program and immigration reform. Clark noted that the House had a margin of just three votes when it passed the bill, 220-213, earlier this month without Republican support.

“This is not a bill that any one of us would have written, but that’s the point of having a legislative process and it’s the commitment of the House to producing results, not just talking about what we’d like to do,” Clark said.

Asked if that meant there were no deal breakers for House Democrats that must be included in a final bill, Clark said, “Yeah, you got it.”

Clark also said she was hopeful this Congress would be able to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the “We the People” Act ahead of the midterm elections, when Republicans are growing increasingly confident they’ll be able to take back control of at least the House.

“We cannot continue to allow a rule of the Senate and the filibuster to potentially block such critical legislation,” she said.

The two bills, among other things, would potentially restore parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring federal approval of voting law changes, and increase access to voting through reforms like same-day registration.

Manchin is also at the center of those discussions, the House leader said.

With states around the country going through the redistricting process and the current balance of power only slightly in the Democrats’ favor, Clark admitted that history suggests next year’s midterms will be difficult for her party.

Clark, however, said Democrats feel comfortable trying to sell voters on a record that includes passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill and, hopefully, the Build Back Better Act, while Republicans debate whether to penalize members who voted for the infrastructure bill and “lead with obstruction.”

Many House Republicans said they were concerned about the impact the massive Democratic spending plans will have on inflation, as well as the priorities included in the legislation.

“Yes, that is the history that when one party has control of the House, Senate, White House they tend not to have a very good midterm, but we’re not in regular times and I think the contrast between what the Democrats are standing for and the Republicans couldn’t be clearer,” Clark said.

Clark concluded a question-and-answer period by expressing confidence that Congress would be able to avoid a government shutdown this month by funding the government and addressing the debt ceiling.

And she said she was “very excited” by the prospects for her own bills focused workplace harassment and internet safety.

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