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Boebert, Bennet and Hickenlooper outline legislative priorities for 2022

Lawmakers focused on public lands and partisanship, but have different means for accomplishing goals
Bennet, Boebert and Hickenlooper

WASHINGTON – Colorado Congressional representatives emphasized immigration, forestry management, public lands protection, and monetary aid to families and small businesses as areas of particular interest as they head into the second session of the 117th Congress.

The Durango Herald spoke with Rep. Lauren Boebert and Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper about what bills they are prioritizing that could directly affect constituents. Their responses reveal parallel focuses on wildfire prevention and forest management and diverging priorities on topics such as immigration, tax credits and space science.

A new Congress consists of two annual legislative sessions, which generally convene in January and adjourn in December. The current session of Congress convened on Jan. 3 and the clock is ticking for Democrats to pass their legislative priorities before they potentially lose control of a three-branch majority after the 2022 midterms.

Bennet: ‘Working with our allies’

Bennet is the senior senator for Colorado, having served consecutive terms since 2009. He is a member of the Senate Finance; Intelligence; and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committees.

Bennet

At the top of Bennet’s priority list is the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which would preserve about 400,000 acres of Colorado public lands by designating it for recreational use or as protected wilderness.

“The CORE Act is a testament to the hard work and commitment of people in my state who care deeply about protecting our public lands,” he said during a June Senate floor speech. “They know how much public lands matter to our economy, our heritage and our way of life. This bill is their best effort to strengthen and sustain that legacy for the next generation of Americans and Coloradans.”

Another pressing issue for the senator is keeping the expanded Child Tax Credit included in the Build Back Better bill after President Joe Biden suggested it may not survive negotiations about the final spending package. On Wednesday, Bennet and several of his Senate Democrat colleagues pushed Biden to make the tax credit a centerpiece of the package. In Colorado, 600,000 households receive payments from the expanded child tax credit program in 2021.

Another option, Bennet said, is to bring a package through the Senate Finance Committee that replaces tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans with his proposed tax credit.

“I think a bill that reverses the unpopular Trump tax cuts for the wealthy – 52% of it went to the top 5% – and replacing that with the Child Tax Credit and enhanced Earned Income Tax Credit will be a very powerful step forward,” he said.

Bennet is also lobbying for his Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, a bill that would pay for forest and watershed restoration and wildfire risk mitigation. He said the $60 billion investment “would represent the biggest investment that we’ve made since the dust bowl” that directly benefits farmers and ranchers in Colorado trying to balance production with conservation.

“In August, we met with people in Durango to talk about what they’re having to do with forest management and they’re really thinking about it as infrastructure, which is how I think about it,” he said. “All of our watersheds begin in these national forests, so this is an investment that’s critical for Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West.”

Though plans are still fluid, Bennet said he hopes to either attach the legislation as a rider to Biden’s $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package, commonly known as the Build Back Better bill, or find another legislative vehicle to attach it to.

Boebert: ‘It’s really unfortunate how polarized Congress is’

Boebert, who assumed office in January 2021, serves as a member of the House Natural Resources and Budget committees. Reflecting on her first year as a House representative, Boebert said she was frustrated with a lack of bipartisanship that prevented her from securing more victories for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.

“In our constitutional republic, majorities absolutely matter – the House of Representatives is a self-governing majority-rule body and what the majority says goes,” she said. “... I want to be in the majority so we can show America and the rest of the world how possible it is to actually get these accomplishments over the line without backing down on your principles.”

The representative identified her top priority as promoting her Active Forest Management, Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act, which would pay for the logging of 6 billion board feet of lumber annually. The bill is intended to remove trees killed by bark beetles, reduce the risks of wildfires by thinning forests and make it harder for logging opponents to sue. No House Democrats co-sponsored the legislation, and it hasn’t advanced through the House since it was introduced six months ago.

“As a conservative, I don't take a hands-off approach. I want to be a good steward of the land and at managing it,” Boebert said.

When asked whether she would support Bennet’s Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, which addresses similar issues, Boebert said she would first need to see some “serious amendments” that lowered the legislation’s costs.

She is also focused on immigration policy to address what she called “a complete invasion at our southern border” and said she is drafting a bill to end Biden’s Legal Access at the Border program, which provides legal services, but not an attorney, to migrants to prepare them for the immigration legal process.

Other top legislative priorities she named include eliminating “critical race theory” from schools, an academic theory not currently included in Colorado’s K-12 curriculum, strengthening the integrity of elections and reversing “unconstitutional vaccine mandates, medical mandates.”

As Boebert acknowledged, it is unlikely that much, if any, legislation she penned will pass while Democrats retain control of the House and Senate.

Hickenlooper: ‘Bipartisanship can still work’

Hickenlooper also concluded his first year in national office as Colorado’s junior senator. The former Colorado governor serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. He is also chairman of the Space Science Subcommittee.

Hickenlooper

Hickenlooper identified protecting small businesses amid growing inflation as one of his top priorities for this congressional session. The first package of bills he introduced in 2021 sought to increase access for underserved people to Small Business Administration loans and resources, legislation he hopes to push through the Commerce committee this year.

“We’ve seen how fragile our workforce is right now as we try to work our way out of this pandemic and … really beginning to push how small businesses can connect with and be more successful at attracting people into their business and making sure they get the training they need,” he said.

Another priority is increasing funding for pandemic preparedness. Hickenlooper earlier this month introduced a bill to fund research into viruses with pandemic potential in the hopes of hastening the nation’s response time to a future pandemic.

On the subject of space, he plans to continue advocating for the permanent Space Command headquarters to stay in Colorado, after former President Donald Trump signaled a relocation to Alabama.

Like other Colorado lawmakers, Hickenlooper also plans to support climate change legislation, particularly Bennet’s CORE act.

“I am a foot soldier in Senator Bennet's army,” he said. “The blessing is that I was able to get appointed to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, so I can be of use. In other words, I was able to secure a hearing last year in front of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and I think … we got enough support now that we’ll get a committee vote here in the next couple months.”

Looking toward the rest of the congressional session, Hickenlooper said he feels optimistic about overcoming political divides brought on by the coronavirus and the impending midterms.

“You know, I was always the optimist and always a great believer in bipartisan success, and that’s going to be a little harder this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get it done,” he said.

Skye Witley, a senior at American University in Washington, D.C., is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez. He can be reached at switley@durangoherald.com.

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