As a recently elected Congresswoman, Kathy Hochul pulled one of the biggest upsets in recent political history, by being only the second Democrat in nearly 60 years to represent New York’s 26th district in the House of Representatives.
With debt ceiling discussions dominating headlines coming out of serious news organizations, we welcome Congresswoman Hochul to CYInterview to discuss America’s debt ceiling and the economy. Representative Hochul noted everything is on the table when it comes to cuts and balancing America’s budget. And Ms. Hochul is open to a congressional salary cut, as part of leading by example.
Our interview with the Congresswoman also discussed Medicare, cuts to America’s defense budget, experiences in Congress thus far and the possibility that her seat might be lost in the redistricting of the State of New York among other topics.
You can read or listen to this entire interview below.
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Chris Yandek: You’ve been in Congress for a little while now, I just wonder, going in you knew there was going to be some important legislation coming up on the economy and of course the future of America, but I just wonder now being on the inside if you feel like you couldn’t have become a member of Congress at a more crucial time?
Congresswoman Kathy Hochul: “I think you’re absolutely right about that. The issues that are pending before us really separate all of us based on our priorities and it really ties into the issues we raised during my election for example. I ran very strongly against making any changes to Medicare beneficiaries. I ran strongly on talking about the need to have shared sacrifice that when times are tough and we have to get our deficit under control, which is exactly where we’re at right now, we need to make sure that we do have proper cuts in place, which I support, but also that the wealthiest Americans, the top two percent, the millionaires and billionaires start paying their fair share to help us get out of the trouble that we’re in.
So it’s actually a really interesting transition from what we talked about in the campaign to actually being here on the ground in the Capitol when those debates are occurring and those very important decisions we made in hopefully the next ten days so we can take care of our country, do what we’re sent here to do and make sure that we don’t bring our country to financial ruin, which is pending if we don’t take care of this debt ceiling. So you’re absolutely right, the issues are very weighty and I’ve talked to a number of my new colleagues and many of them cannot remember a time when the issues were as scary as they are now.”
CY: Looking at the debt ceiling, I just wonder how you feel as the new kid on the block in Congress how both sides have dealt with this very important moment where a deal getting done by both sides hasn’t become a very easy process and not getting anything done of course could have numerous bad economic impacts on an already challenged economy?
CKH: “I think the expectation that I had is that when I came here and this is what I think the voters who sent me here would expect is that we all recognize that we face these problems together, that the American people don’t care about the political infighting. That they expect us to just get the job done and to move on and not have government bi-brinkmanship, which is what we saw during the continuing resolution debates just a few months ago when our government almost shut down over that and now again we knew this August 2nd deadline was looming for a number of months now and why we haven’t been able to solve this, I don’t have an answer to that question, but I feel like everyone is digging their heels in very much so and I don’t see the end game right now.
That’s troubling to not just to myself, but the American people and certainly the markets out there that are watching closely what we do. I don’t know what the answer is. I know we’ve come close. I know the President’s supported a grand plan that we’re intrigued by and wanted to look at and an opportunity to cut our spending by making sure we had enough revenues to run our government and people walk out of meetings and we’re back to square one. So that’s somewhat of a surprise to me that we just can’t seem to get our act together on this and we really need to.”
CY: Congresswoman, I’m with you that we need to have massive cuts and balance our budget and I agree with you that everything needs to be on the table. I believe we have to have shared sacrifice. But I don’t feel a good amount of your colleagues on both ends of the isle don’t [sic] share that perspective. Doesn’t everybody just have to wake up and realize that the United States of America and its government can’t be everything to everyone all the time?
CKH: “Well, there certainly is a sense of that. I represent an area that’s Republican enrollment edge and a lot of Independents, lot of Democrats and I know that their priorities are to make sure we get our fiscal house in order. So I’m here representing that point of view and again, there are many Democrats who believe that as well. I’m not seeing an era of people saying, ‘Let’s just tax and spend.’ No one wants that.
The Democrats I see in meetings and listen to and engage with are very responsible about this. They know that we went from a huge surplus a decade ago to deficit spending under the previous president and now we’ve gotten ourselves into a very serious problem. So no reason to point fingers, just a recognition that it was only ten years ago when we had surpluses How did we get from there to here and what are we gonna do to go ahead and fix it?
Everyone needs to take some ownership of it and move forward and be willing to make some tough decisions. I had a voting record recently as last Thursday. I voted to cut over seven billion dollars in everything from aid to Pakistan to infrastructure in Afghanistan and I said I was going to do that when I was running and I came here and I’m doing exactly that and many, many Democrats are subscribing to that as well that we do need to be more responsible to our spending, get that under control and everything is on the table including defense spending.”
CY: To those who are against the defense budget, as I want to mention to you and who are against those cuts, I want to bring that up. How much of the defense budget could realistically be cut without anyone being impacted? For those that don’t know, we spend more money on defense than every other nation combined.
CKH: “Well, that’s a problem and I think the awareness that we’re such a major player in funding NATO and let’s get back to the original premise behind NATO. It’s certainly to help our allies in Western Europe against a Soviet threat and the threats that are there, but at this point now when times are tough and we’ve gotta prioritize our spending, what’s going on with that and what’s going on at home, I think we need to take a fresh look at our financial obligations that are outside our boundaries and there are cuts that have been recommended by the Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense that I support and I think more can be done. So I support cuts there. I’ve already voted and acted on those recommendations and I’m willing to do more.”
CY: How much could we cut? How much could we cut do you think? How much could we cut?
CKH: “I don’t have the number, but a lot of proposals have been coming up to us. For example, I think it was 2.4 billion dollars in aid to Pakistan just a couple days ago and that’s just one country, but actually during my campaign ad, we talked about number one, the need to get our spending under control, number two to protect our seniors and not to hurt vital problems like Medicare in the process. The need to make sure the wealthiest paying their fair share and I tied up my last ad by saying we shouldn’t be giving money to countries that aren’t our friends like Pakistan.
So there’s plenty of opportunities here to do what we need to do without fundamentally altering programs like Medicare and that is something that I feel very, very strongly about. It was an important part of the message I brought here from my election and I also plan on being a staunch supporter of it. Now that being said, I’m very realistic and know we have to get the underlying costs that are pushing Medicare to such expensive levels under control.
What I mean by that is, the costs of health care in this country are obscene and that’s why Medicare is in trouble. It’s not because of what we’re giving the beneficiaries. I don’t want to touch that, but why aren’t we doing more to get the cost of prescription drugs under control for example. Why are we letting people who are the veterans, go over to the veteran’s hospital and get their prescription drugs? They’re paying dramatically less than our 48 million Medicare beneficiaries because they cut a deal to really do bulk purchasing if you will and consolidate the purchasing power of the veterans to get lower cost.
I’m saying, let’s do the same thing for our seniors in Medicare and no one’s biting on that and I’m not sure if it’s the influence of the pharmaceuticals here in Washington. I’m still finding out and asking those questions. I’m told we could save 100 billion dollars alone by just having, consolidating our purchasing power of prescription drugs.”
CY: Well, before we move on to two last things Congresswoman, I would say to you I would love to bring you back in the future for a more in-depth discussion with my colleague who couldn’t be here today to just talk about Medicare in general because I would love to talk more in-depth about Medicare reform, absolutely 100 percent. Two quick things before I let you go, thank you for your time today.
I want to bring this up to you, a former Congresswoman before you came into office by the name of Ana Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, presented in the last Congress a bill for a five percent reduction of Congressional salaries. There were about 30 sponsors. My colleague Jay would like to see lead by example, leadership by example. He couldn’t be here today and he believes that Congressional members should lead by example and cut their salaries maybe even as much as half. Would you be willing to take some kind of salary cut at any level and what percent?
“That would not be new for me cause even when I was a local government official, I voted against pay increases for 13 years straight. The next I went to as country clerk, our salaries were frozen into I think 1980s levels. So clearly I’m not here for the paycheck and it’s something I think everything should be on the table and if we need to step up to the plate, that’s certainly something I’m willing to do.”
CY: If you were an individual yourself, how much would you be willing to cut from your salary right now?
CKH: “If it came down to it, I’m just figuring out the expenses of living here and all, but I certainly think we should be leading by example and I’m willing to look at the recommendations that came from Congresswoman Kirkpatrick and I think that made a lot of sense.”
CY: Yeah. I absolutely do. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining me today. Last question, there’s a lot of questions about the redistricting as New York is gonna lose two Congressional seats, is your seat possibly gonna be redistricted or taken out or is there any word on that yet?
CKH: “I don’t have any crystal ball to really know what’s being talked about, but I ran for this race knowing the odds we’re against me to number one to even win. So I’m delighted to be here and I always said, hey, if I have to worry about redistricting, that means that’s a good problem to have that I made to Congress and I am a member. I do feel that the opportunity created with the vacant seat down in New York City takes some of the pressure off finding an upstate Democratic seat to remove.
Again, I’m not sure how this is all gonna play out. Some other states it’s already settled. They’ve got independent commissions where their members already know their boundaries. New York being New York, it’s probably going to be duked out until to the fall and the winter and then probably see some litigation over it. I don’t know that we’re gonna see the boundaries for quite some time. So I’m operating under the assumption that I’ll have the exact same district that I have now with seven counties expanding from the suburbs of Buffalo to several areas of Rochester and all the rural areas in between. So I’m out there treated it as if that’s my long term district and will have to see where the cards fall.”
CY: Congresswoman, thank you so for the time today. Greatly appreciate the opportunity. I hope in the near future when your schedule permits and when it’s good for both of us we can talk for a long discussion about Medicare and health care and all those reforms that need to be done. We’d really appreciate it.
CKH: “I’d love to hear your ideas as well. Thank you.”
CY: Thank you so much.
Cogresswoman Hochul’s official website is here.
You can email Chris Yandek at