Lowey on leveraging leadership on the Appropriations Committee

The congresswoman promises to fight against the border wall, for Planned Parenthood.

Nita Lowey

Nita Lowey Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

With Democrats winning a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, they will soon be installing chairs to run congressional committees – including the House Appropriations Committee, which manages the federal budget alongside the Senate. Its current ranking Democrat, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, will likely become the next chair of the committee. City & State spoke to the congresswoman about bipartisanship, her priorities and how she plans to advocate for New York.

What are your priorities headed into this next congressional term?

Well, if I have the honor as serving as Appropriations chairwoman, I intend to work across the aisle, fund our government, and meet America’s priorities. The federal government must do more to help the people we represent. We have to make sure that we boost the funding for safety net programs; rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, which is a priority shared with Trump; make higher education more affordable; fund Head Start, child care; and invest in job creating programs like transformational energy research. It’s important that we protect Social Security, Medicare, lower health care costs; clean up corruption; and, of course, protect the Mueller investigation.

When will it be known whether or not you will be chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee?

The election will probably be in a few weeks.

How are you feeling about that?

I’m feeling good. I’ve worked hard. I have the support of my colleagues. So I am very enthusiastic about getting to work with Appropriations.

If I’m not mistaken, you’d be the first woman to do so. Is that correct?

Yes. The first woman in history.

How will you leverage the Appropriations committee to combat the Trump administration?

We have many opportunities on the Appropriations Committee to oppose the extreme agenda. We, for example, support border security, but oppose Trump’s wasteful border wall. And we intend to challenge the cruel immigration policies like the family separation fiasco. Very important to me is to stop the attack on women’s health care and defend Planned Parenthood. And we want to make sure we continue to have clean water.

How would you go about addressing those issues?

We have the opportunity to legislate, work in a bipartisan way and support the priorities of the American people – and we were successful in the last cycle. I want to finish the appropriation bills for this year so we can go on to next year.

What do you think people might misunderstand about the responsibilities of the Appropriations Committee?

I’m not sure that they understand or misunderstand. We appropriate $1.3 trillion. As I’ve mentioned before, the funding has to do with infrastructure, Head Start, child care and other job creating programs. So it’s a very important committee because we have the opportunity to do really positive things for people. And I’ve always worked across the aisle in a bipartisan way and I intend to do so.

How will Democrats having the House majority affect how you navigate your role in the committee?

Even though we have the majority and we ended up with a bipartisan bill, the Democrats introduced 150 amendments on many issues – like family planning, education, health care, Pell grants, fixing our election process in 15 states – and the Republicans voted against almost every single one of them.

What were the ones they didn’t vote against?

They worked with us on money for education. We managed to protect health care. But when we wanted to stop their opposition to Planned Parenthood, family planning, we were not able to do so. I think with the majority we have a good opportunity to have a positive agenda.

So you’re hopeful?

Of course! I’m always hopeful and I’m always optimistic. Our first priority in January would be a bipartisan spending deal. We have tremendous challenges for the future.

How will the Appropriations Committee affect your New York constituents specifically?

All of these issues affect us here in New York – what we do on infrastructure. If I travel around my district, and I know the other districts are similar, the roads, the bridges, the highways are all crumbling. We really need investments. If you look at some of our bridges, if you look underneath, they’re really in bad shape. There’s a lot of support, for example, for Gateway, so I hope we can get bipartisan support for it. I’d have the authority as the chairwoman of the committee to recommend numbers and build support for those investments. And as I said, I hope that we can get a bipartisan spending deal.

A few seats in your district flipped from Republican to Democratic recently. Some examples are Terry Celement’s defeat of Jim Freeman and Shelly Mayer’s defeat of Julie Killian. What does that all mean for Rockland and Westchester?

I have never seen such an active group of women – and some men – going door to door, making phone calls. Indivisible and other groups were really effective in certainly electing George Latimer (as Westchester County executive) and flipping the other seats you’re talking about. I’m hoping that we can keep everyone active and that they understand that this is their government, they’re a part of it, and that we can continue to move ahead and help people. That’s what our job is.

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