Republican Sen. Rick Scott Talks Infrastructure, Climate And The Pandemic In Florida NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., about the infrastructure bill, climate change and the state of the pandemic in Florida.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott Talks Infrastructure, Climate And The Pandemic In Florida

Republican Sen. Rick Scott Talks Infrastructure, Climate And The Pandemic In Florida

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NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., about the infrastructure bill, climate change and the state of the pandemic in Florida.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Congress was supposed to be on summer break over the weekend. Instead, they spent yesterday debating a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill. This package seems certain to pass, which would make the bill a rare bipartisan accomplishment for Congress. If it does become law, that will be despite the opposition of people like our next guest. Senator Rick Scott is a Republican from Florida who has raised objections over the impact the bill will have on the deficit.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

RICK SCOTT: Hi, Ari. How are you doing? Yeah, we spent all weekend talking about the bill. And, you know, what's frustrating is I like infrastructure. You know, I was governor of Florida from 2011 to the end of '18, and I spent $85 billion on roads, bridges, airports and seaports, but I also paid off a third of the state debt and cut taxes and fees a hundred times. With this...

SHAPIRO: So are you saying there is an infrastructure bill that you could support, and this one is just bigger...

SCOTT: Oh, absolutely.

SHAPIRO: ...Than that?

SCOTT: Well, it's not paid for. First off, remember, Ari, they told us all along that this was going to be fully paid for. And then, the CBO score came out, and the CBO said it's going to add $256 billion to our national deficit.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned the CBO - it's the Congressional Budget Office.

SCOTT: Yeah, think about that - quarter of a trillion dollars...

SHAPIRO: This is a familiar argument.

SCOTT: ...On one bill.

SHAPIRO: When Donald Trump became president, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that deficits would be 2% to 3% of GDP, and by 2019, they were 4.6% of GDP, thanks in part to a tax cut that Republicans overwhelmingly supported. We often hear Republicans in Congress complain about deficit spending when Democrats are in the White House, much less so when Republicans are in the White House. Why should Americans believe this is a sincere concern and not just a partisan one?

SCOTT: Well, I've been clear from the time I ran for office back in 2010 that I believe we should live within our means when. We have reckless spending, who gets hurt? The poorest families, people on fixed income because we have inflation, and we've got big inflation now. Gas prices are up a dollar a gallon in the last 12 months. Food's up. Housing's up. I believe we need to live within our means. I believe we need to invest in infrastructure, in the environment, in education. I had record funding on all of those things as governor, and I did it in a responsible manner by growing our economy and watching how we spent the money.

SHAPIRO: You described this as reckless spending. Democrats and Republicans who support the bill say if your roof is leaking, sometimes you have to put the roof repairs on a credit card, and if you don't fix it, it could cave in and cost a lot more. If this bill does not pass - if your position opposing it were to win - would that mean the country would eventually be on the hook for a collapsed roof because it didn't fix it when it was leaking?

SCOTT: Less than half of this bill is for roads, bridges, airports and seaports. This is not...

SHAPIRO: But, of course, infrastructure is more than that. Infrastructure is also broadband. There are things more than roads and bridges that are infrastructure.

SCOTT: Well, I think what most Americans believe is that we should invest in roads, bridges, airports and seaports. And let's remember what we're doing here. This is the first of two unbelievably expensive bills. And then, now, we'll start on the next bill, which total cost is going to be $5.5 trillion. It's a bunch of liberal priorities. It's going to raise taxes, and the poorest families are going to get hurt by this.

SHAPIRO: We're also speaking to you on the day that the United Nations released a report that blares screaming alarms about the rate of climate change, calling it a code red for humanity. And your state, Florida, is at the center of so many climate crises, from hurricanes to rising seas. Why aren't you pushing for the climate mitigation measures that are part of the infrastructure bill, programs that could help your state and ensure the safety of your constituents?

SCOTT: I think we clearly want to, and need to, address the impacts of climate change, and we've got to protect our environment, but we've got to do it in a fiscally responsible manner. We can't put jobs at risk. I did it as governor. I grew the economy, and I was able to dramatically increase the investment in our environment. But you can't go kill all the jobs and think you're doing something good for families because you're not.

SHAPIRO: When you look at recent disasters in your state - like the condo building collapse in Surfside, which may have been linked to sea level rise and higher storm surges - what do you say to your constituents who are facing these disasters, not in the future but today? What is your message to them?

SCOTT: First off, I was down in Surfside, and I met with the families, and your heart goes out to anybody that would go through a tragedy like that. I had four hurricanes as governor, and my goal was to make sure that everybody survived that and would be able to get back to a normal life. We've got to focus on the impacts of climate change, but you've got to do it in a manner that you don't kill our economy.

SHAPIRO: You're saying people need to survive hurricanes and get back to normal life. The U.N. is saying normal life is something of the past, and the future looks dire unless dramatic change happens now. It sounds like you're saying as long as it doesn't kill jobs or affect the economy.

SCOTT: Well, I'm - what I think was we can do both. I think we can focus on the impacts of climate change and not put our jobs at risk and kill our economy.

SHAPIRO: Finally, I want to ask you about the coronavirus crisis, which is more severe in Florida than almost any other state in the U.S. Your state has 1 out of every 5 infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States, 19,000 new cases a day. In an interview on Fox Business two weeks ago, you blamed Democrats for fearmongering. When you look at these numbers right now, do you think you could have done more to help your citizens stay out of the hospital?

SCOTT: Well, first off, anybody that's in the hospital, my heart goes out to you. I had COVID. I have had my vaccines. I've been very clear that if you feel comfortable, you ought to get the vaccine. But here's what I think we ought to be doing. We ought to make sure that every family in this country has good information and believe and trust that they will make good decisions. They will. I don't believe that government should be doing all these mandates. I think what the government should be doing is providing good information and let businesses and let people make their choices. I think what this has been used - all right? - is it's been used by a lot of people for fearmongering And. I think that this is a significant virus...

SHAPIRO: With 19,000 cases a day and hospitalization rates that are...

SCOTT: Ari, it's a significant issue.

SHAPIRO: ...Higher than almost anywhere else in the country, isn't fear justified?

SCOTT: I think what you've got to do is you've got to inform people. When I had a hurricane, I went and informed people, and people made a good decision. They evacuated their homes if they needed to. They put up sandbags if they needed to. What you can't be doing is shutting this economy down again, shutting down our school systems, so that our kids don't get educations. That's wrong.

SHAPIRO: You're saying the government should not be telling people what to do. At the same time, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is saying schools that want to set their own rules about masks are not allowed to. He signed legislation saying private businesses cannot require proof of vaccination. A court recently issued a preliminary ruling striking that down. But aren't those measures another version of the government interference that you're objecting to?

SCOTT: Well, I've been very clear. I believe a business, a private company, has the right to make a decision, you know, whatever they want to do with regard to requiring vaccines. And for you, as a customer...

SHAPIRO: So you object to that legislation that the governor signed?

SCOTT: I've been very clear that a private business gets to make its choice, and you as a customer, an employee, you get to make your choice. So as an example, I am very pro-vaccine. I took the vaccine. My wife took the vaccine. I am against government mandating these things.

SHAPIRO: Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, thank you very much.

SCOTT: Thanks, Ari. Have a good day.

SHAPIRO: And we'll hear the White House respond to Senator Scott's stance on addressing climate change and the economy in another part of the show.

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