Fighting to Expand the Social Safety Net: an Interview with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

 /  Nov. 12, 2017, 5:14 p.m.

Rosa DeLauro

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, of Connecticut’s Third Congressional District, visited the University of Chicago on October 16 as a part of the national book tour for her new book, “the Least Among Us: Waging the Battle for the Vulnerable.” Congresswoman DeLauro serves as the Co-Chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, as well as Ranking Member on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. She is also dean of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, having first been elected in 1990. The Gate spoke with her after her event at the Institute of Politics.

The Gate: Tell us a little bit about your book: who are “the vulnerable,” and how are you fighting for them?

Rep. DeLauro: The book is The Least Among Us: Waging the Battle for the Vulnerable, and it is focused on the social safety net and my battles to protect it and to expand it. The social safety net technically is a group of government programs but as I talk about them I believe it also reflects the values of this country. The book is about social responsibility for one another, accountable to one another, especially in times of great need for people.

These programs were crafted by Democrats and Republicans, which is the story that I tell, and they have made a difference, a substantial difference. These programs include Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, child tax credits, nutrition programs, unemployment insurance, minimum wage. I said here tonight, my hope is that healthcare will become part of a social safety net.

The safety net has raised people out of poverty: social security raises twenty-six million people out of poverty; refundable tax credits, eight million; the food stamp program, three and a half million; SSI, about another three and a half million; and housing assistance, over three million people, are lifted out of poverty because they avail themselves in these programs that are available to them. And they’re means tested! It’s not a free ride, especially with the nutritional programs and housing: these are means-tested programs.

Gate: What brings a Connecticut congresswoman to the University of Chicago?

DeLauro: I’m delighted to be here! The Institute of Politics is very well-known, very well-regarded. I’m a close friend of David Axelrod, who runs it. As part of the book tour I’ve been doing I’ve been in New York, San Francisco, Connecticut, D.C., and tomorrow I’m going to Seattle. I’m going to Los Angeles and Boston. In November, I’m going to Denver and to the Book Fair in Miami. Wherever anyone will listen to me, you know?

Gate: As Ranking Member of Labor, Health, and Human Services, how do you see the debate on healthcare moving forward with the President working to undermine the Affordable Care Act? Do you think that there is a bipartisan solution?

DeLauro: First of all, in regards to the bipartisan solution in the Senate right now, I don’t know what it looks like, and I want to see what it looks like. Senators Murray and Alexander are working on a bipartisan healthcare proposal*, and, as I said, I haven’t seen it yet, and I’m waiting to see what it is.

My vote for the Affordable Care Act is one of the proudest votes I ever cast in the Congress, but we knew it didn’t address every issue. It’s got very serious consequences; it’s a big transformation of the system, and to that end we should look at increased premiums and deductibles, we can look at bringing down the cost of public drugs and a public option, and lowering the age of Medicare to 55, increasing subsidies up to about five hundred percent of poverty, there are a number of ways to do that.

In the meantime, we have been fighting a battle just to save the Affordable Care Act. The President and Republicans in the Congress could not do that through a legislative process. They lost three times—three times!—because the American public stood up and said, when rhetoric came to reality, that they were relying on the Affordable Care Act, because, for many, it was the first time that they had healthcare, especially for people with a pre-existing condition.

So now, since the President could not win legislatively, he is undermining and sabotaging the Affordable Care Act in a whole variety of ways. The most recent was on the cost-sharing subsidy, to destabilize the insurance market. Those were put in place to help deal with the high cost of premiums and deductibles for people of modest means, so it helped to control their out-of-pocket costs. What they’d done in the appropriations bills, and in the bill where I am the senior Democrat, they have put in a rider which says, “None of the funds in this bill can be used to implement the Affordable Care Act.” They’ve cut back on the advertising to tell people how they can access the program; they cut money to CNS; they cut money for the Navigator Program, which are counsellors to help people make their way through the process; they have curtailed the enrollment time for people to be able to enroll; and they are going to shut the website down for a number of hours so people cannot access the website.

We have to do what we did to fight them on the legislative side, and that was, while the Congress was united on that effort, and there were Democrats and Republicans opposed to what they were doing, the American people were the real heroes because they marched, they went to members’ offices, they petitioned, they protested, they called, they stood tall and said, “No, you cannot do this.” We have to do that all over again to keep them from undermining the Affordable Care Act and take a look at this bipartisan solution and see if it has merit.

* Senators Murray and Alexander’s proposal was announced two days after this interview.

This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity. Image licensed under Creative Commons; original here.

Annika Hildebrandt

Hugo Barrillon


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