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Saturday, January 29, 2022

He’s running — harder: An interview with Colorado Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter

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Warner: When you say everyone can feel comfortable, Democrats have not been united on the issue of building back better. Of course, there is uncertainty about the economy due to COVID, and inflation is rising for consumers. Is now the time to spend that kind of money?

Rep. Perlmutter: I think the Democrats are united. I think we all come together. These are huge legislation that will affect us decades or more into the future.

You’re driving up inflation — and obviously, we all have to watch — but if you look back at the start of COVID, you can’t buy toilet paper at any price, you can’t get Purel, you don’t get masks. In the end, the market is catching up. When too many people do the same thing at once, you have disruptions in the economy. I think, over time, we’ll see the volatility in the economy even out.

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Warner: Do you paint a very rosy picture of the unified nature of the Democrats on this?

MP Perlmutter: No, I don’t think so. I have friends on the left [who are] Too liberal in our assembly, [and friends who are] Very conservative in our gathering, and we all want to take advantage of this time where we can really build and rebuild America, whether it’s solid infrastructure or just people and their education and taking care of their children and their health.

And building back better — there’s a lot of scientific investment in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Department of Energy’s labs, there’s wildfire mitigation, climate change so we have a sustainable future. There are differences in specific little things but in general there is agreement.

Warner: Do you think a vote on Build Back Better by Thanksgiving can be taken then, as the speaker wishes?

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Representative Perlmutter: Yes. We know there are some budget numbers coming back for a good chunk of the bill, and we’re waiting for the rest over the next few days. But the first step really was the approval of the infrastructure bill, and I don’t think we can overstate the importance of this bill. For example, in Colorado, we will have dozens and dozens of bridges repaired and rebuilt, which we haven’t seen since the Interstate Program was first designed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

We’ve seen the electrical grid start some wildfires or completely disintegrate due to wildfires. With severe weather, we’ve seen the entire grid in Texas go down, so there’s flexibility for the electric grid in the infrastructure bill. And then water systems, even in Colorado, our water systems are obsolete. And these are millions of jobs over the next ten years.

Warner: I’d like to talk a little bit about the midterm elections. Colorado’s congressional districts have just been redrawn, including the seventh district. Are you planning to run for re-election?

MP Perlmutter: Well, we’re working on putting a campaign together. How is that?

Warner: I’ll take a yes or no.

MP Perlmutter: All right. What if we put a campaign together?

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Warner: Right. Why don’t you just say yes?

MP Perlmutter: Quite frankly. I had to file a paper a year ago to say I want to run again, so yeah. And the region itself is as beautiful as it is in America.

Warner: I just want to point out that you won that area by 20 points last time, but the new seat is only seven points away for the Democrats. Next year is expected to be tough for the Democrats, and the Republican Super Party in Congress has announced that it will spend the money against you. Are you preparing for a tighter race?

Representative Perlmutter: When the 7th District was first assembled in 2010, that district was equal — equal number of Democrats, unaffiliated and Republicans — and over time it became more blue and more democratic.

It was never this easy before, but we worked hard to make it happen. The last time the National Republicans targeted me, I won by 22 points, so this is going to be a more difficult area. It is a lot of new territory, but the electors are primarily in the suburbs; Broomfield Suburbs [and] Jefferson County suburbs likely account for 620,000 out of 720,000 people. Then it extends to the mountains.

Warner: I want to talk to you now about this program that helps former workers at nuclear facilities. This includes Rocky Flats in your area, about a half-hour drive northwest of Denver. This plant was making bomb-catalyzed plutonium until 1989. It took 15 years to clean up the radioactive contamination. Many people who worked in those facilities got sick from exposure, and There is a federal program that provides them with medical and financial benefits. I have lobbied hard over the years for improvements to be made to this program. At this point, are you satisfied with the way it works?

MP Perlmutter: I’m more satisfied. It has been very difficult for many people who have worked at Rocky Flats and other nuclear facilities across the country, but things have improved over time – and they can still be improved.

It’s the Energy Employee Compensation Fund to learn about the different types of illnesses people get from working around plutonium, uranium, and any radioactive materials. Starting in the ’90s, we really started seeing people get really sick and that’s when the Compensation Fund was first set up. But the numbers are kind of stacked against the workers, and we’re trying to improve that over time.

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Warner: One of the people who benefit from the program is a gentleman named Herman Flores. He is 57 years old and lives in Thornton. He has lung damage that he says can be traced back to his 23 years at Rocky Flats, and he told us he’s definitely happy to get the program but said the application process is too complicated, and he’s worried that other workers aren’t getting the help they need. Do you have a feeling that there may be workers, many of whom are eligible for benefits, who have not applied? Who is the No be serviced?

Deputy Perlmutter: I think many people who got sick have applied. But for Hermann, the application process over the years has been difficult, and you had to fall within these exact criteria to be able to receive the compensation you deserve for being a Cold War-era veteran.

Negotiating a maze of bureaucracy has been really difficult. We have added an ombudsman to help people and it has been improved. But Flores is right: It’s still hard to get the compensation I think people deserve.

Warner: How about a status report on another permanent bill for you? The Safe Banking Act will allow marijuana companies to do business with banks. They can’t currently do that because pot is still illegal under federal law. This bill has been passed through the House of Representatives repeatedly, but it cannot pass through the Senate. Just for a while, any sense of his prospects now?

MP Perlmutter: I feel good about that. We’ve passed it twice now—once when Republicans were in charge of the Senate, we’ve passed it by a massive bipartisan vote from the House. He went to the Senate and hung under the command of the senator. [Mike] Krabo [R-Idaho] who headed the banking committee.

We passed it again in March of this year. Now the Democrats are in charge and Senator Sherrod Brown [D-Ohio] is the chair. Republicans felt the bill was too big and too broad and Democrats felt too narrow and too limited.

But I know there is a lot of support in the Senate, just as there is in the House. Because it was not mobile, we added it as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act in the House of Representatives because there is an element in the bill that deals with cartels and deals with foreign money laundering and is closely related to the bill. This bill must pass. We will ask that the bill remain on as part of a conference between the Senate and the House of Representatives. I’m optimistic that it will become law, either as part of that or in something else.

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