President Joe Biden’s far-reaching infrastructure packages continue to move through Congress. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the $ 1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes money to rebuild roads and bridges and expand broadband Internet service, will get an initial vote next week . Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have also approved a $ 3.5 trillion plan to invest in child and elderly care.
While the details of the plans are being worked out, “Marketplace” presenter Kai Ryssdal spoke with US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo about infrastructure, care industry and supply chains. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Let me jump right into the news of the day, a Federal Reserve tidbit this morning about factory production. And I’ll just read you the first sentence from Bloomberg: “Production at the US factories unexpectedly fell back in June amid persistent supply bottlenecks and rising material costs.” You are now in charge. Infrastructure is your thing. What is the plan?
Gina Raimondo: Yes. So listen, we have a serious glitch in a lot of our supply chains that we shouldn’t be surprised about, should we? Because a year ago, during COVID, we essentially shut down the economy. And now we’re trying to open it again. So we’re doing everything we can to reopen the economy and increase supply, which, by the way, will also lower prices. I know people are talking about inflation. So we have to increase supply in order to lower prices.
Ryssdal: You said that our supply chains make us vulnerable, that this is a national security risk – they are because there is more than one supply chain, a national security risk – and an economic security risk.
Raimondo: I think that’s right, especially with semiconductors. You know, everything we do, everything digital, requires semiconductors, everything. And we don’t make enough semiconductors in America. We don’t actually make any of the most sophisticated semiconductors. And so we are absolutely vulnerable. So right now, Congress has a proposal to invest $ 52 billion in America’s semiconductor industry.
Ryssdal: Is that enough do you think?
Raimondo: I think it’s a fantastic start. And yes, that’s enough. It is enough to boost the production of chips in America. And oh, by the way, you create a lot of jobs with it.
Ryssdal: Let’s talk for a second about the infrastructure plans going through Congress. I am sure you saw in your package of informational materials you received this morning, how I sure get every cabinet secretary, that Senator Schumer will put the first package, the bipartisan package, on the floor of the Senate I think next Week. It occurs to me that $ 4.5 trillion is a lot of money for both packages. Is that enough?
“A product of compromise”
Raimondo: It’s an excellent question. So this is great news for now. Second, whatever comes out Wednesday and after, this is a product of compromise. So it is not all that the President proposed. But it’s several trillion dollars. It will be the largest bipartisan infrastructure law ever in our country’s history. So, yes, if we can land the plane with these packages it will be a great day in America.
Ryssdal: I want to talk about the second half of the Biden government’s infrastructure plan. There’s the hard infrastructure plan, the bipartisan plan including, you know, roads, bridges, broadband that matters to you, especially in your portfolio, but also the $ 3.5 trillion plan that is geared towards that is what is now called the care economy. And you said: “Look, competitiveness is my job here at Commerce. And if we don’t do the nursing economy right, we will not be competitive. ”So I suspect my question, and what follows is the question of whether or not $ 4.5 trillion is enough money, all in all, what if we do that Not doing the care industry right?
The care economy
Raimondo: It will be devastating, devastating to the millions of women who work in the care industry, many of whom work full time and are poor because they earn so little. It will be devastating for millions of working women who cannot enter the labor market because they cannot find care for their sick and elderly parents or children. Every other major country has paid family vacations, general public pre-K, a better system of care for the elderly in their homes. We are not. We are in the back. That doesn’t make us competitive as a nation. And as you know, like you mentioned, women just got knocked out during COVID – they left the job market like we’ve never seen before. Millions are still unemployed.
And I, you know, I don’t know your personal situation, Kai, but I have a 90 year old mother. She is confined to a wheelchair, doesn’t want to go to a nursing home, shouldn’t go to a nursing home. And so we have a care team for you. And even with a great care team, it’s still very difficult to get it all together. But my brother is a doctor, my sister is a college professor, and I’m in the cabinet. And that is necessary for what we can do.
Ryssdal: Let me ask that on the way out. You’re a woman with an incredibly high performing job that probably takes up 26 out of 24 hours of the day. It is true, isn’t it? How much time and mental energy do you spend thinking about your mother? And then you translate that to a woman who’s earning less than the minimum wage and trying to get through, you know?
Raimondo: I know. In all honesty, I don’t know how women do it. Each day you spend some time thinking about it or trying to coordinate care or doing something. And I’m super, super happy. And by the way, think of the women who take care of it. You know we have to take care of them because they take care of our loved ones. And they make about $ 11 an hour with no sick leave. It is a very vulnerable system and I hope that Congress can back it up and achieve something.