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Democrat Rep. Mike Thompson is confident significant climate legislation will pass

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

The fate of President Biden's signature legislation remains uncertain. Republicans in Congress appear to be uniformly opposed. Over the last couple months, Democrats have been debating the size and scope of what's called the Build Back Better bill. It's an ambitious investment in social policies and programs, including universal pre-K, paid family leave and landmark efforts to address climate change.

Progressives have fought to keep the bill big, while moderates have advocated cutting spending. Another bill with clear support focused on traditional infrastructure has been held up as a bargaining tool. Self-imposed deadlines on voting for the packages have come and gone. Another is fast approaching. And at the moment, there's a hint at the ear a deal may be possible, so we're checking in on where things stand. For that, we're turning to Congressman Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California and a member of the Blue Dog Coalition. That's a group of fiscally moderate Democrats.

Congressman, welcome.

MIKE THOMPSON: Thank you, David. It's good to be with you.

FOLKENFLIK: So this week, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for Democrats that they can reach some kind of consensus. Can you give us an update on where you think things stand?

THOMPSON: Well, I think we're in a pretty good place. The president wants to get this done. House and Senate Democrats - all of the House and Senate Democrats want to get this done. And the American people expect it to get done. So I think we're - got some good momentum, and we're moving in a good direction.

I think it's important, however, to point out that no House Democrats wanted to cut the spending in this bill. As a matter of fact, as the chairman of the Select Revenue Subcommittee on Ways and Means, you know, our full committee did that - did the pay-fors in this bill, came through our committee and we marked up legislation to pay for everything that's in the Build Back Better Act. So we've been pretty united on the fact that we've identified the funding sources. We're paying for it. It won't add to the debt. It won't add to the deficit. It's a pure investment in the American people.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, as you say, Democrats united want to get this done. And the question just is - what is the this? The original price tag for this bill was $3.5 trillion dollars. That's over 10 years, of course. Now, it appears the deal could coalesce around a package spending less than $2 trillion and, as you suggest, this really stemming from concern or opposition among Senate Democrats. But under that lesser deal, proposals for free community college would be gone. The child tax credit would be extended only for a single year.

Polls suggest that these programs and others that would be cut or cut back generate a lot of strong support among many Americans. How do you explain cutting them?

THOMPSON: Everything in the bill has tremendous support across the country. Americans know that this is important. It's important to invest in working families. It's important to invest in children. And it's most certainly important to invest in efforts to address climate change. So make no mistake, this is a very popular bill. The negotiations that are taking place, as you note, have led to some initial changes.

I believe, as the president does, that once these programs are extended - child tax credit, for example - we know that child tax cut provisions that we did - the Democrats did in the COVID legislation reduced child poverty by 50%, where if we pass this bill and extend it by a year, that 50% reduction in child poverty rates will continue to be out there. And that's a good investment on which to build on in the out-years. Once these programs - the benefits of these programs are seen, it's going to be pretty hard to roll them back.

FOLKENFLIK: Your district and your state have been hit hard by wildfires in the last couple years. It's a threat only likely to become more ominous as climate change intensifies. The fate of major climate change provisions in the act, however, are up in the air, it seems, due to part to the opposition of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. How seriously would what seems to be emerging begin to address the climate crisis?

THOMPSON: Well, part of the Build Back Better Act is something called the GREEN Act. That's legislation that I wrote. It is very much intact in this bill, and it has tremendous support from the White House, from the Treasury secretary and from House Democrats. I believe that that piece will stay in the bill, stay intact and will contribute more than any piece of legislation in history has to addressing climate change. It's going to be the most significant climate change legislation ever passed and signed into law. There's an additional - there's a part of that bill that allow us to meet President Biden's goals of fossil fuel reduction. And because this bill will also create a lot of new jobs in the renewable energy space, it will also help him meet his goals for increased employment.

FOLKENFLIK: Your party, Democrats, control Congress. They've set - the latest deadline to vote in this package is by October 31. How likely is it that Congress will be ready to vote?

THOMPSON: I think it's reasonable to expect that to happen, you know? House Democrats and - led by Speaker Pelosi - you know, we've wanted to vote on this for the last three weeks. So we're continuing to push it forward. And I know the White House and the House and the Senate continue to negotiate. And I feel fairly confident that we're going to get something and get it before the 31.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, Congressman, you've served in office there since 1999. I covered Congress back then. I wonder if you have some perspective to offer hearing about this back-and-forth, the fights, the cuts within your own party, folks hearing about the uniform opposition from the members of the other party. How much harder or how is it different to legislate now than it was when you first joined a little over two decades ago?

THOMPSON: Well, remember, I came out of the California state Senate. And when I got here, I couldn't imagine it being any worse. So Congress has never been an easy place to legislate, you know? We're in an environment whereby a lot of my colleagues sadly are more concerned with how many social media hits they can get rather than legislating. And it's really distracting from a legislative perspective. And you point out on this bill, you have absolutely no support on the other side of the aisle. And it makes it really tough to do that. So it's not an easy place to make - to accomplish things, to legislate. But it's necessary, it's important and you just got to keep going and make sure that we get it.

FOLKENFLIK: We've been hearing from Congressman Mike Thompson, a California Democrat. Thanks so much for joining us.

THOMPSON: David, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.