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Politics & Government

Congressman Dan Kildee Discusses Newly Approved COVID-19 Relief Bill

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

But the bill isn't set to land on President Biden's desk just yet. First, it must head back to the House, which is expected to vote on the many changes made to its provisions in the Senate. Among those who will be reviewing the bill, Congressman Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat - he also serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. And he joins us now from Flint, Mich. Welcome.

DAN KILDEE: Thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are the chief deputy whip. It's your job to help build support for this bill. And the plan is still massive, but it is quite different from what the House passed last weekend. No $15-per-hour minimum wage, a reduction in added employment benefits. And it narrowed the eligibility for those stimulus checks. Will these changes prove problematic with your colleagues in the House?

KILDEE: Well, I think many of us are disappointed in the changes. But when we look at the legislation and see the alternative, which is to do nothing or to do far too little, I don't think there's much doubt that this should get our support. I'll support it. And I know just about every - well, absolutely every colleague that I've spoken to will do the same. The biggest change, of course, is the $15 minimum wage increase. The other changes, while difficult, don't fundamentally change the legislation. So my view is this is a big step forward. And I'll support it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to quote Democratic Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, who tweeted, what are we doing here? I'm frankly disgusted with some of my colleagues and question whether I can support this bill. While not a single Republican senator voted for the bill, your fellow Democrats in the Senate also voted against provisions like the $15-per-hour minimum wage. I mean, your reaction to your own party voting against central parts of the Democratic platform?

KILDEE: Yeah. The minimum wage piece, I think, was the most difficult for us to accept. This has been a priority for Democrats for a very long time. This was an opportunity to move forward on something that's long overdue. But I think at the end of the day, we do have to take a look at the crisis we're in - both a health and an economic crisis.

Despite the fact that this is not going to be included, this legislation delivers immediate and very much needed help to communities and to families and businesses all across the country. And it's something that I think is necessary. But yeah, there's a disappointment with not having that specific provision involved.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, but does it make it more difficult? You know, in particular, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia almost torpedoed the whole thing. In the end, all your legislation in the Senate is going to hang on the decision of one person. This bill may pass. But you are chief deputy whip. Do you foresee trouble keeping your party united on its priorities in the House, where your majority is also narrow?

KILDEE: You know, obviously, it's always difficult when a bill changes. And we have to take another look at it. But I think for the most part, the reaction I'm getting, you know, similar to some of the members that you quoted - disappointment, a desire that it looked differently. But I think at the end of the day, when we go to the floor of the House, we don't get to vote maybe. We don't get to vote yes, if I could put this provision in, I would vote for it. This is a yes-or-no question. And what I'm hearing from my colleagues is some disappointment but a pretty strong resolve that we're going to support the legislation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what I'm hearing you say is that you do not expect the House to make any big changes to the bill.

KILDEE: No, I believe we will pass it as is and get it to the president's desk this week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. I'd like to ask you about your district, which includes Flint. It's been hit hard. Many have been dealing with, of course, the contaminated water crisis for the past six years. And now the pandemic has brought a lot of economic hardship and a spike in violent crime. I mean, bring me to your population there. How far will this kind of stimulus spending go in lessening the suffering in Flint?

KILDEE: Well, it's one of the reasons that I support the legislation even in its current form. These changes will make a huge difference - the stimulus payment going to people who have been living in poverty. Forty percent of my hometown of Flint live in poverty. That $1,400 goes a long way, as does the supplemental unemployment benefit. Particularly among African American - the African American population, unemployment is twice what it is for the general population. Those supplemental benefits will go a long way.

But most importantly, this legislation will help us crush this virus. We invest in greater, much more expanded vaccination capacity, community vaccination centers, mobile vaccination centers. This will give us a chance to deal with the economic crisis, to lift people out of poverty in the meantime but also crush this virus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, I mean, any concerns about the fact that, you know, no Republican supported this?

KILDEE: Well, no Republican in Washington did. But more than half of the Republicans across the country do. And I think that's the real measure of bipartisanship, not what people in Washington, D.C., do but what the country thinks. And this has bipartisan support across the country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Congressman Dan Kildee. Thank you very much.

KILDEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.