Then, in 2012, after Jeff Bingaman announced his imminent retirement, Heinrich decided he should be the Silver City native’s successor in the Athenian halls and chambers of the US Senate. In November of that year, Heinrich put down a challenge from former Republican Representative “Leather” Heather Wilson and thus became acquainted with the lofty position of Senator.
Heinrich’s been working for New Mexico families since then, burning the progressive lantern brightly as he fights for truth, justice and the American way. Serio. He’s one of the best advocates and leaders this state has and last Saturday he returned to Burque to participate in the Taste of Nob Hill event.
Weekly Alibi caught up with Heinrich as he trooped through the fiesta, sampling the best from local merchants, vendors and eateries. He had an update for his constituents, a hopeful set of calm, reasonable and practical words uttered amidst the turmoil and uncertainty that are currently all the rage with a Republican administration struggling for credibility on the Hill.
Here is what Heinrich had to say about la politica on a warm and sunny Saturday in Albuquerque.
Weekly Alibi: Let’s talk about the Health Care Reform Bill!
Martin Heinrich: You mean the tax cut masquerading as a health care bill.
Wow! Yeah, let’s talk about that …
It [the legislation] would kick 250,000 New Mexicans off coverage. It would take so much money out of Medicaid in particular that it would leave the state $1 billion a year in the hole, and the estimates are that a quarter of a million New Mexicans would lose coverage as a result. All of the gains we’ve made in the past five years in terms of coverage and bringing down the uninsured rate would disappear. One of the things that people forget is that rural hospitals really stepped up during the original health care bill; they said, “We’ll take lower payments because we want more people to be covered.” With the current House bill, it puts those people back in a position where they’re not covered, but it doesn’t give a dime back to the rural hospitals. Rural hospitals across the nation may close as a result.
What sorts of plans are in the works to ameliorate those sorts of losses?
I think we need to start from scratch, I mean the House bill is absolutely a disaster for New Mexico. It doesn’t protect people with pre-existing conditions adequately. All the promises that were made—about lower costs, not losing coverage, protecting pre-existing conditions—turned out to be false.
What does that restart entail?
Stop this bill in its tracks. We need to shift from a repeal and replace, high income tax cut and work on actually fixing those things in the current health care system that clearly need work.
Does the Senate have the votes to stop the legislation from advancing?
My hope is that as people start to see the details—especially those Senators from states who have seen huge reductions in the uninsured rate as a result of the existing structure—as they start to see the risk, we’re going to see some Republicans peel off and they [the GOP] won’t have the votes to pass the legislation. If that happens, then we need to pivot toward bi-partisan solutions. I’ve been working with Senator Dean Heller, he’s a Republican from Nevada. We’ve been trying to fix the so-called “Cadillac Tax,” which has ended up being a middle-class tax. We’re trying to repeal that. There are a number of places [in the Senate] where there’s broad, bi-partisan consensus. Because they [the GOP] has been so focused on a repeal and replace effort, we [the Democrats] haven’t been able to move forward. My hope is that if we can kill this legislation, we can turn back to some of those bipartisan issues.
How good are the chances of killing the bill?
This legislation has a 32 percent approval rating. And that’s falling fast. The more my colleagues hear from their own constituents, hear about the risks associated with this legislation, the more likely it is that it will not move forward.
Well, that’s hopeful! I did remind readers last week to reach out to you …
And tell them to call on our governor too! Even Republican governors, like Kasich in Ohio have stepped up and said, “This is terrible for our state; you can’t do it this way. Our governor has been silent on the issue. We’re a Medicaid expansion state—we stand to lose coverage for a quarter million citizens—and it would be great if Governor Susana Martinez or Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez would step up and join us in trying to fix this.
Well, I hope that happens. Do the reforms, as expressed by the Republicans in their legislation, constitute a danger to America’s middle class?
I think one of the most important things you can do to make sure the middle class functions and prospers is to make sure that people have affordable healthcare. The middle class doesn’t need to take any more hits.
How do jobs and job creation fit into that functionality?
We need to invest in the things we do well here. And we need to make economic development job one. I’ve worked really hard to work on renewable energy development and infrastructure management, so that we can become net exporters of clean energy to the rest of the country. We haven’t always had the same level of leadership from our governor, for example. But in Washington, we passed a set of incentives for wind and solar that are driving growing industries in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Las Cruces, too. Investment in wind [power generation] in rural areas is growing, and they desperately need that investment. We’re seeing several projects going up in rural New Mexico as a result of the incentives. It will add up to more than a gigawatt of wind [power generation] … And it creates permanent jobs for technicians who will be living in those rural communities. That’s the kind of pragmatic investment in economic development the state should be making.
There’s a fear that the clean energy initiatives are in danger because of Trump. What are your thoughts on that? Will those initiatives get stalled as the administration moves back to an oil and coal economy?
Absolutely not. We were able to set those incentives in stone. We are not reliant on the Trump administration to like those [environmental and energy] policies. They are current law, and they’re going to be for a number of years. In addition, the economics just don’t work anymore. If you have to spend 10 cents per kilowatt hour for coal but you can create a wind conract [for wind power generation] for 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour, well, the economics are now in place where they will drive the coming transition. That’s why we’re seeing so much investment. Our state could literally export electrons to Arizona and import dollars that we could use to fund early childhood education, to rebuild our infrastructure, to invest in our people
As a consequence of all of this, even with Trump in power, should citizens remain hopeful?
This is the most erratic and unpredictable administration I’ve ever seen. That said, I think most Americans and most New Mexicans have realized that governance really matters; they’re engaged in a way I haven’t seen in many years. I think we’re going to see a correction and would urge all people to get involved in their local community. From there, changes will bubble up to Washington, D.C.