Congresswoman Kathy Hochul: Freshman House Member is Unafraid to Speak Her Mind; Talks Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Lobby, Voter Anger, Millionaires and Billionaires Paying Their Fair Share and More

When we last spoke with Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Hochul of New York in July [see interview here], I invited her to visit with us again to speak about Medicare. Now, in this CYInterview, the congresswoman for the 26th district of New York is back for that discussion, as well to converse about what happened in Congress with the debt ceiling negotiations, in addition to other topics. Featured columnist Jay Bildstein joins me for this interview.

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Over the last few weeks, while Congress has been in recess, Congresswoman Hochul has spent time in her district speaking with her constituents. She tells us what she’s learned from her district:

“I learned that there’s no depth to the anger that people are feeling out in this district toward what happened in Washington… I’m hearing a lot of anger and aside from that, I think that people are extremely concerned about jobs, but they are also very, very focused on Medicare and that is something that I continue to hear regardless of what part of my seven counties I travel and it’s very much on people’s minds.”

In looking back on the debt ceiling negotiations, which led America to a near financial crisis, the Congresswoman shares with us what she’s learned during her time in Congress. She won a special election this past May. She reflects on lessons that can be learned from the debt ceiling stalemate and how Congress should work together going forward.

“I think a lot’s been lost when people make this personal, that they don’t look at the big picture, which is where can we give and take and do what’s right for the American people…We all stand by our principles and that’s great, but we’re not gonna move this country forward if we continue to dig our heels in and refuse to move in a direction that really amounts to compromise and that’s what people are saying in my Republican district. So I think that’s a lesson to be heard really across this country that they’ve had it with our fighting. They think it’s irresponsible and I couldn’t agree more and we’ve gotta do better. So I think if we stop viewing each other as the enemy and throwing political bombs every chance we get and recognizing that the American people have no more tolerance for that, they didn’t send us here for that.”

Congresswoman Hochul states that Medicare is hamstrung by the pharmaceutical lobby in Washington:

“I’ve heard no justification for the extremely high cost of pharmaceuticals and devices. The profit margins are enormous…If the pharmaceuticals don’t wake up to the fact that we’re no longer going to be able to sustain the high prices that they’re charging us…I’ve suggested many times in Washington and to people in the district, we’ve got 48 million beneficiaries on Medicare, what if we levered that purchasing power and demanded lower prices for pharmaceuticals. I’m told that was off the table in Washington. I said, ‘I didn’t sign on to that. I’m new and I’m willing to open this up again.’”

In focusing on the high cost of prescription drugs, Jay follows up with the Congresswoman discussing how truly embracing free market policies would give Americans the option to buy prescription drugs from other countries, which would go a long way in reducing the cost of medications people need. Representative Hochul stated:

“The truth is that pharmaceuticals that we’re now getting our drugs from very often are producing the drugs in foreign countries anyhow. Look at the packaging and that’s what was raised by my senior citizens at some of my town hall meetings as well. It’s not like most of the time we’re talking about American jobs producing a product right here in this country, they’re already being made offshore…I think it’s time with the objective of cutting down high costs of prescription drugs in this country, everything has to be on the table.”

Congresswoman Hochul agrees with Jay that there are some proclaimed fiscal conservatives and free market defenders who are, in fact, defending the pharmaceutical lobby. That lobby should be considered at least partially responsible for the high cost of prescription drugs.

“That is what’s going on here. I’ve seen that influence already in my short time in Congress similar to the way people are so willing to protect the interests of big oil when it’s not in the interest of our small businesses who have obscenely high fuel costs…There are strong interests at play in Washington to protect pharmaceuticals to protect big oil and other entities which are not in the best interest of the people that were sent there to represent and I’ve got a real problem with that. I’m one voice, but I’m pretty loud. So I’m going to continue saying that when I’m in Washington. I’m just simply reflecting the very strong views of people in a predominately Republican district.”

In closing, Jay brought up to the Congresswoman his proposal for a 50 percent pay cut for members of Congress, the President and the Vice President. He believes it would provide a very impactful, lead-by-example moment for the nation. It would give our elected leaders greater moral authority to work at making the painful cuts which will inevitably have to be made to bring the federal deficit and debt under control.

While reducing pay of elected officials, on a federal level, would only infinitesimally affect the deficit, it could be very powerful, at least symbolically. This is the Congresswoman’s response to his proposal:

“We need to make difficult decisions, shared sacrifice and again I’m willing to participate in that. But where the real money is going to come from, so it’s not just symbolism that it’s real money, is going to be in ensuring that the millionaires and billionaires in this country who have been enjoying the benefits of tax cuts for over a decade start paying their fair share and that is what I am hearing from Republican senior citizens, families and business owners when I have my town hall meetings. That’s where we’re gonna make the significant amount of money ensuring the long term stability of this country. So I think we gotta get our arms around something that’s realistic, likely to happen and certainly I’m someone who advocated no pay increases for the entire time I served on a town board in my community a decade ago. So I understand the importance of symbolic gestures.”

Cogresswoman Hochul’s official website is here.

You can email Chris Yandek at [email protected]