Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand talked about pending legislation in the lame duck session, including the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
With a Republican-run House just around the corner, Congressional Democrats are scrambling to act on their biggest wish-list items before losing a lot of clout in January. Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans, passing the DREAM Act for immigrant naturalization—Democrats are trying to do it all in less than 30 days.
That's a daunting pile of legislation for a Congress that can't seem to agree on anything. However, Senator Gillibrand is confident that Democrats will be able to compromise with Republicans. That's "compromise with," not "concede to;" she said that while her party will have to do some bargaining, they're committed to getting what they want. On the issue of extending the Bush tax cuts, for example, there's talk of letting them expire for income over a million dollars. That's instead of letting them expire for all income over $250,000, as Democrats have long desired. Gillibrand said that raising the bar isn't ideal—she favors the $250,000 benchmark—but she'd support the compromise.
Men and women who have been very successful in our country and very successful in our state, they want to do their fair share. They want to come to the table and help during this very tough economic time and it's their generosity that will make the difference. Fighting for the middle class families and those small businesses is all our priority, because they need the tax relief.
There's less wiggle room on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT). Following the release of a Pentagon study which determined that repealing the law would have little effect on military operations and troop efficacy, Gillibrand said that there's no reason to wait any longer.
What DADT fundamentally does is make those men and women who are gay lie about who they are, who they love, what's most important to them, what they do in their free time, and it's a corroding effect. Even Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the first hearing that he believed DADT undermined the fundamental integrity of the entire armed services.
The issue remains polarizing in Congress, and Democrats can expect to face staunch opposition to repeal DADT from some Republicans. But even a less controversial bill, like the one that would provide health care cost assistance to September 11th first responders, faces an uphill battle. Republicans don't want to put another budget item on the federal government's tab unless Democrats can come up with a way to pay for it. Gillibrand said there's been progress on a compromise to close tax loopholes for companies doing business offshore.
What the pay-for is, it says you're a foreign company in a foreign country and if you don't have a tax treaty with the US, you can't just create a subsidiary in a country with a favorable tax treaty to not pay your fair share. These are foreign companies and they're getting an advantage over US companies, so if you want to protect US companies and help our economy grow, you want to make sure these foreign competitors are paying their fair share.
Finally, and perhaps the tallest order for Democrats in December, is passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide an opportunity for illegal immigrants who entered the US as children and young teens to become naturalized through military service or college education. The DREAM Act may be appropriately named, since getting Republicans to budge on citizenship for illegal residents could be something of a fantasy. However, Gillibrand remains undeterred, and she hopes her party will too.
I think it's an economic imperative, a national security imperative, and a moral imperative. This is something that is the right thing to do. These are young people who have come to this country with their parents through no fault of their own, and they want to be Americans. They want to go to college here, they want to serve in our military, and this creates that pathway for earned citizenship.
» Listen to the entire conversation on The Brian Lehrer Show.