Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) dropped by the offices of the Cortland Standard Tuesday morning to speak with the newspaper’s editorial board on issues ranging from broadband internet access, hyperpartisanship, the successor trade deal to NAFTA and crucial issues facing rural areas.
Over 45 minutes, here’s what Brindisi had to say:
• Broadband: Brindisi said he looks at broadband as a crucial infrastructure issue and he wants to see more rural areas covered. He also said he favors municipal broadband as a way of accomplishing that goal.
Part of the reason rural coverage is lagging is because current state and federal methods for mapping and measuring high speed internet coverage are “insufficient,” he said.
Grant programs to extend access, and potentially set up municipal broadband systems, are required, he said, but he also wants to see greater accountability for these programs.
But serious public investment is necessary to make broadband a reality in rural areas, he said. He said it’s possible, and likened it to the push for rural electrification as part of the New Deal.
“We can do that with broadband internet expansion,” he said.
Brindisi said he sees broadband as a requirement for allowing business development, because many businesses will not locate in areas that don’t have broadband.
Congressman makes local visits
Rep. Anthony Brindisi visited Gutchess Lumber in Cortlandville on Tuesday, had a senior town hall at Walden Place Assisted Living Facility and visited a Family Health Network facility.
“I visited with business owners, workers, seniors, and health care providers about the issues facing Cortland County and how we can work together to end the trade war, lower prescription drug prices, and increase access to health care for rural communities,” said Brindisi (D-Utica). “I got a lot of good ideas from the people on the ground, and I look forward to taking them back to Congress.”
Brindisi toured Gutchess Lumber and talked with employees about the effects of tariffs on the lumber business. China imports a large amount of U.S. lumber, particularly hardwoods. Gutchess Lumber employs more than 200 people in Brindisi’s district.
At Walden Place, Brindisi took questions from residents on Medicare, Social Security and prescription drug costs and promoted his bipartisan Ensuring Timely Access to Generics Act, which would limit tactics used by pharmaceutical companies to delay generic drugs from coming to market.
Brindisi also visited the Family Health Network facility in Cortland, where hospital executives and health care professionals discussed the needs of rural communities.
• United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement: Brindis ifavors passage of the USMCA, the proposed successor agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The newer version is a solid trade deal, he said, and it has especially favorable terms for farmers, but he said there are legitimate concerns about labor and environmental enforcement that need to be addressed.
But he said he is worried that, because Canadian national elections are coming up this fall, the United States is running out of time to ratify the treaty with the current Canadian government.
“The window is closing,” he said.
• Partisanship: Using the USMCA as an example, he said many Democrats oppose it just to deny Trump “a win.”
“That mentality has got to change,” he said.
Brindisi, who identifies as a “Blue Dog” Democrat and serves as a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a group that includes equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans and votes as a block if 75% of all members, or 51% of both Democrat and Republican members, favor a bill.
“I think I’m a pragmatic person when it comes down to it,” he said.
He said most constituents he talks with share a preference for practical solutions over partisanship. “They are looking for people who can solve problems,” he said.
He took both the extremes of left and right to task, but singled out the progressive left for going “too far out of the mainstream” and pushing positions that are losers. Abolishing private health insurance, for instance, is “a losing argument,” he said, as is “decriminalizing the border.”
• Immigration: Brindisi said he wants “a tough but fair immigration policy.” He said the guest worker visa programs should be expanded to address a major need for workers. “We’re seeing labor shortages across the board right now,” he said.
• Prescription and illegal drugs: Brindisi thinks legislation is needed to bring down the cost of drugs and allow generic drugs to reach the market faster. He also wants to see pharmaceutical companies who are complicit in illicit diversion of fentanyl to be held to account. He said he was alarmed at the spike in overdoses — many from heroin cut with fentanyl — in several counties in the district.
• Gun rights: Brindisi said he supports an individual’s right to own a gun for hunting, target shooting and home protection, but also supports expanded background checks, red flag laws and magazine-capacity restrictions — measures he considers “sensible reform.”
He said he supports the 2nd Amendment. “I respect that,” Brindisi said. “We also have to respect that firearms are getting into the hands of dangerous people.”