LOWELL — U.S. Sen. Ed Markey called for payments of $2,000 per month to American families, for billions in aid to state and local governments, and for infrastructure spending similar to that of the New Deal as he told The Sun and Sentinel and Enterprise that bold action is needed to stave off economic catastrophe as a result of the pandemic.
Markey, a Malden Democrat locked in a tight re-election race against primary challenger U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, called for the measures when asked whether he supports another round of individual payments to families from the federal government in a stimulus bill now being crafted.
Markey, who spoke with editors from The Sun and Sentinel & Enterprise for over 45 minutes, was less specific when asked by Sun Senior Editor Tom Shattuck how he would pay for the measures, saying the seriousness of the situation requires major action now.
“If we don’t think big right now, these families are really going to be decimated,” he said. “If we do nothing, we can already see what the consequences are. We’re at 17% unemployment in Massachusetts. We need programs to put people back to work.”
Markey said looking at the Trump tax cuts and counting on increasing tax revenue as the economy recovers would be among the ways to pay for the spending, but repeatedly stressed that we have to spend big to recover from economic collapse, and then find a way to pay for it later.
He also called for $1 trillion in local aid for states and communities, and for a federal infrastructure program similar to that of the Works Progress Administration in the New Deal that put desperate Americans to work building the interstate system and other major public works.
“That’s how we’re going to put people back to work,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to make sure that we’re building the infrastructure for the future.”
He said the lack of local aid in the Republican’s proposed stimulus bill would be catastrophic for schools and law enforcement.
“That’s going to wind up being a disaster because it’s going to lead to layoffs of teachers or public safety or health care officials,” he said.
He also called for billions in spending to ensure all American students have access to the internet, because anyone who doesn’t will be left behind as school systems move forward with online learning.
If such aid isn’t provided, “This is going to be something that’s catastrophic for those kids,” he said.
Markey made light of the Kennedy campaign’s recent gaffe in which they criticized him for not spending enough time in several towns, including three that have been flooded for decades by the Quabbin Reservoir.
“As soon as they get drained and they begin to re-establish themselves and we find an alternative source of water, I will be there to meet those community’s needs,” he quipped.
But Markey repeatedly sidestepped when asked if Kennedy’s criticism of the time he spends in Washington are unfounded.
He answered at length, but would not call the attacks unfounded, instead discussing in detail his family history, growing up poor in Lawrence and Malden, and said that history, as well as input he gets from local officials, drives everything he does in Washington.
“That’s what I try to channel every single day on the floor of the United States Senate,” Markey said. “I bring those values to everything I do in the United States Senate.”
Markey also noted that his wife, a highly respected public health official, worked in Washington for years, which kept her there, and that Washington is where his job is. Markey noted that staying in Washington to do his job has enabled him to have a hand in roughly 550 pieces of legislation, many of which addressed needs spelled out by those back home. As an example, he cited millions in grant funding he helped get for Lowell to replace aging bridges, and his work to help address the opioid epidemic
He also said his history in the Bay State has driven many of his policy goals, such as finding student loan relief. Markey said that having grown up poor, he was in his third term in Congress before he finished paying off his student loans.
Later in the conversation, when asked whether federal law enforcement should be in Portland, Oregon, Markey said he believes the issue should be decided by local law enforcement in Portland, and referred to all he learned about the opioid crisis from law enforcement here in Lowell.
“I learned everything I know about the opioid crisis from police officals,” he said. “The work I’ve done in Lowell with (District Attorney) Marian Ryan on opioids is just listening to the law enforcement officials.”
He also said the families back here in Massachusetts, such as the Dominican family he met when he knocked on the door of his childhood home while campaigning, drive his work in Washington.
“There was no senator from the United States … on the first floor of that triple-decker in Lawrence. And so from my perspective, I see that as my obligation to all of the children on all of the porches across the Merrimack Valley, to make sure that they have the same opportunities I was given.”
Asked about who he thinks Joe Biden should choose as a running mate, Markey said Elizabeth Warren is his “favorite,” but that if Warren isn’t chosen that it is the right time for an African American woman to be nominated.
He said he supports Warren because he believes she has “a clear vision of what is needed at this time from an economic perspective.”Pressed on whether his belief that now is the time for an African American woman to be nominated contradicts with his preference for Warren, Markey again cited the economy.
“I think she has just the perfect economic message for this time and I wholeheartedly support her candidacy, if she wants it,” he said. “But apart from her, I think that African American woman would be the perfect kind of pictures to be sending to our country.”