MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Starting tomorrow, scores of American parents are going to start finding extra money in their bank accounts. It's coming in the form of an expanded child tax credit - up to $300 a month for eligible families. Now, that tax credit is part of the stimulus package that Democrats passed in March. The increased payments are temporary, but New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker is one senator who believes the payments are transformative, and he would like to see them become permanent. He joins me now to talk about this and other matters.
Senator Booker, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
CORY BOOKER: It's really great to be on. Thank you.
KELLY: I got to start by asking - these tax credits, of course, were passed, as we said, in March, in part to help families recover from the real economic pain brought on by the pandemic. But with the economy coming back, why do you think they need to be permanent?
BOOKER: Well, one, we have a moral obscenity of child poverty in this country. Out of the 36 wealthiest nations, we rank fourth from last on high poverty rates. This will cut child poverty virtually in half. This child allowance will put us in line with other peer nations who understand, if you invest in children, your entire country will flourish. And giving middle-class families a break - 90% of American families will benefit from this - helps them with everything from diapers all the way, frankly, just to helping ends meet and relieving financial insecurity.
KELLY: Your point being child poverty is a chronic problem. It's not going to go away just because the pandemic is hopefully going away or at least easing.
KELLY: Do you have any concern, though, about the economics here, about pumping more money into the economy at a time that we're seeing record levels of inflation?
BOOKER: Well, we know empirically, you know, that every dollar invested in raising a child above the poverty line gets $7 back for our overall economy and lower health care costs, lower involvement with the police, better overall lifetime earnings. So of all the things you can invest in in our country right now, the best thing to invest is in children. And that doesn't account for the immeasurable benefit of when a child is more secure economically, they are more likely to be the next inventor, the next artist, the next entrepreneur. We cannot let other countries around this globe out-invest in children than we are.
KELLY: Let me shift you to some news. This is news that Democratic lawmakers have reached a deal - 3 1/2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill, which you plan to pass through reconciliation because Republicans are not on board. I want to ask - Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of your colleagues. He's calling this one of the most significant pieces of legislation since the Great Depression. Whether you like it or not, it's a huge political undertaking. And I'm curious, what makes you, what makes other Democrats so confident that Americans want this, that Americans want bigger government?
BOOKER: Well, we had the president come in and speak to our caucus today. And one of the things he did is just started talking about the pillars of the plan and how wildly popular they are for Republicans and Democrats. Some of the parts of this plan are upwards of 80% for, 6% against. And we live in a nation right now where - take, for example, a person in Michigan living a mile away from a person in Canada. When it comes to things like paid family leave and affordable child care, there is a dramatic difference in the experience of other countries than compared to us and how hard it is for those human infrastructure things, like affordable child care, paid family leave.
Americans want this. We know that. People may say it's expensive. But just like the child tax credit, this is something that if we make investments, middle-class, working-class Americans are going to thrive. And it's going to, in the long term, add to our economic growth and re-bolster the very idea of what the American dream is about.
KELLY: But just within your party, is there unity? Because there's been so much back and forth between what progressives wanted, which was more, and what more moderate Democrats have been willing to give.
BOOKER: Well, I'm on the side that thinks we should be doing more. We shouldn't be just trying to restore 20th century infrastructure. We should be going to a 21st century infrastructure.
KELLY: This is 3 1/2 trillion. This is not chump change.
BOOKER: And I agree with that. But Republican President Eisenhower, in today's dollars - the infrastructure he laid down tossed over a trillion dollars in today's money. And it is now - that infrastructure alone has about a $2 trillion deferred maintenance on it. We are still talking about, I think, the things we need to do to get ahead of our competitors, on everything from high speed rail to universal access to broadband would just put us on par with some of our countries. And the great thing about this compromise - it's not everything Bernie Sanders wanted. It was done with Mark Warner, one of the more conservative members of our caucus. They struck a deal, and that is a good sign that we can get the kind of coalition necessary in the Democratic Party to get this over the line.
KELLY: One more thing to ask you about before we let you go, and that is police reform and the timing. Your colleague, Senator Tim Scott - he's been the leading Republican on this. He says if Democrats don't get it done by August, it's not going to happen. Do you agree?
BOOKER: Tim and I - Tim's a friend, and we've been locked in negotiations for months now. We're getting closer and closer to getting this done. We need to have a nation where every citizen is confident that there is transparency in policing, accountability in policing, that we set standards so we do not continuously see these horrific murders of unarmed - particularly African Americans, but unarmed people in general. We live in a nation right now where the practices of our police departments don't even fall in line with a lot of larger unions. I've been working with the FOP and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Their best practices we're not living up to. So Tim and I feel a sense of urgency. It is tough negotiations, but I agree with him.
KELLY: Do you feel the same urgency, though - make or break by August?
BOOKER: I try not to put timelines on negotiations. They often come back to bite you. But I will say, you have a rare moment in American history. We've never had three Black men in the United States Senate. You have two of them, one a Republican, one a Democrat, at the table, both who have shared painful experiences not just with each other - on the Senate floor about our experiences being pulled over or being accused of stealing things, being accused of stealing a car. Both of us know the everyday reality for millions of Americans. We have to address this.
KELLY: The sticking point, it's been reported, is qualified immunity. Is that a make-or-break issue for you?
BOOKER: God, this idea that there's a different standard of accountability for some Americans, not others - we should have equal justice under the law. This is - when a police officer violates someone's fundamental civil rights, right now we have a country which says, well, the police officer can't be held accountable. So this is something I'm, at the negotiation table, trying to create justice so that when that happens, a family has the ability to collect. There's a lot of issues around this that are fundamental to me. Now, how this will end, I don't know. But it is one of many issues.
KELLY: But that sounds like a yes. Like, this is a make-or-break issue for you.
BOOKER: Again, I'm not going to say make or break. I definitely have lines. I definitely want to make sure that we have a bill that's not going to solve all the problems, but that makes substantive advancements in police accountability, transparency and changing the standard of American policing. If I can get that done, passed through Congress, president signed it, we'll be better off as a nation.
KELLY: Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, thank you, sir.
BOOKER: Thank you always. Thank you for having me.
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