BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez was the speaker at this month’s League of Women Voters virtual Lunch with a Leader. She was participating from the car on the way to the airport to fly home from Washington, DC, but she covered a lot of topics and answered questions for attendees.
Karyl Ann Armbruster introduced Rep. Leger Fernandez who noted that the great thing about Zoom is that you can join it with only a headshot. She said she was joining the call from the National Airport.
“The amazing thing we do in Congress is that we get to impact federal priorities and local priorities but we always have to be very flexible on what happens in terms of our flexibility in terms of what happens with respect to our ability to vote so that we can be responding to what’s happening on the Senate side,” Leger Fernandez said.
She noted that what Congress has been responding to in the last two days was a vote on moving forward on the budget.
“That has been on everyone’s mind – how do we get the budget through, how do we get the National Defense and Authorization Act (NDAA) through. Those have been the two biggest pieces of legislation we’ve been working on. The NDAA passed out of the House. It’s over in the Senate and we expect that there will be a vote to amend it to have Senator Manchin’s permitting legislation attached. We understand that vote will not succeed but he was promised a vote on it, he will get a vote on it and then they’ll move forward on the NDAA,” Leger Fernandez said.
The NDAA not only authorizes funding for national defense, but will also include a lot of budget provisions that are important and related, she said.
“A couple of things that are important for New Mexico is that in the NDAA we authorize funds to accelerate the cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory by $286 million for LANL and then another $40 million for other facilities. We also included in the NDAA water projects. Water projects are key for New Mexico so we included money for acequias so they can improve their irrigation systems. We added $27 million for that,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said. “Many acequias don’t have the resources to be able to meet the federal cost share so we reduced the cost share so instead of 25 percent it would be 10 percent.”
She noted that some people that work at LANL might live down in the valleys below were acequias where acequias are actually important.
“We also got more money for infrastructure projects including almost $22 million for the City of Espanola’s wastewater project and I know that is close to everybody’s concern, and another $15 million for infrastructure in the City of Farmington and $2 million for Mora County,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said. “In general the NDAA is really moving towards increasing the protections for service members, for women service members and for increasing their pay, but we’ve also increased funding for basic research in advanced technology by $2.8 billion and I know that some of that will flow to Los Alamos.”
She also discussed the Omnibus Budget which has since been passed. (See separate story).
“It’s just been an amazing year to get a lot done for New Mexico, even if you look at just what we got authorized in the NDAA. I’m very excited about the Chips and Science Act, which authorizes about 10 innovation hubs . “I don’t let the president say hello to me without me saying to him, I want an innovation hub in New Mexico because in the Chips and Sciences Act we authorize about 10 innovation hubs and I want one of them to come to New Mexico. I think that’s key for New Mexico and we look to invent what we need in New Mexico, in America and manufacture here. New Mexico is ideally situated for that.”
Rep. Leger Fernandez noted that as the delegation get ready for the 118th Congress, a lot of what they are going to be doing is making sure they implement and that their communities on the ground see the benefit of the ‘amazing groundbreaking historic work that we did investing in our future in America from the American Rescue Plan infrastructure to Chips and Science, to the Inflation Reduction Act and so many other bills in between”.
Asked about Child Tax Credit, Rep. Leger Fernandez said Becky it is really crucial for poor families to get that monthly check.
“The Child Tax Credit raised 50 percent of the children living in poverty out of poverty. I think it was cruel of us to allow the Child Tax Credit to expire because we could not get the agreement of the Senate Republicans on being able to continue it. Rep. Rose DeLauro is the chair of Appropriations. This is a high priority for her to make sure that it stays,” she said. “We need to get 10 Republican votes on the Senate side for that. There’s a lot of attention being paid to the Child Tax Credit and its value. Our two senators are definitely in favor of it.”
She said another thing the delegation is really working on is that 70 percent of New Mexicans voted in favor of amending their constitution to allow additional money to be pulled out of the general fund and used for early childhood development and K-12 education. She said the entire delegation was pushing for the required congressional approval or that amendment.
Rep. Leger Fernandez also discussed immigration issues at the El Paso border.
“Our immigration system is broken. We have failed for decades to actually address it and fix it. Issues around immigration have become politicized in a manner that makes it hard to actually go in and start fixing them One issue is dealing with the border itself, security at the border, making sure we are interfering with any drugs coming across, dangerous things like we really need to make sure that we interdict fentanyl. We’ve sent a lot more money to the border so that we can look at that. Then there’s the issue of applying our immigration laws when people come to the border and want to seek asylum or immigration. We don’t have an Ellis Island anymore where people can actually come to the border and get processed. That’s another big issue that needs to get fixed,” she said.
She said what’s really need is an immigration reform bill.
“We sent over from the House three bills to the Senate dealing with Dreamers. Over 70 percent of Americans want us to make sure that those who were brought to this country when they were young and only know this country and are in school, are in service, are contributing to our country receive a pathway to citizenship. I was on the floor of the House during a special order hour convening colleagues as we each discussed the importance of fixing the issue around DACA and the Dreamers. We also need to fix issues around our farmworkers. We do not have enough hands to actually bring in the crops that need to be harvested and agribusiness and farm labor unions worked out an agreement. We passed it out of the House – bipartisan – and it hasn’t moved in the Senate,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said.
“If we can’t get 10 Republican senators to support addressing and fixing these issue we are going to come to the end of the 118th Congress incredibly frustrated. I have spent many a day and hour in the last couple of weeks trying to get a breakthrough, trying to get some agreement on something out of the Senate and we haven’t gotten it because it has been politicized in a way that does not allow us to do immigration problem,” she said. “We know that we have a labor shortage because we are not processing immigrants and we did do something with the Eagle Act which will increase the number of visas for highly-skilled as well as family reunification. We did pass that out but we need to see this happening on both sides. Next year the Democrats will no longer be in the majority so we do not anticipate that this issue will be fixed, but I am very interested in working with by Republican colleagues because I don’t care who gets it done. We need to address these issues around the border.”