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Congress is back in session. We talked to Nevada Sen. Cortez Masto about her priorities

FILE - Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., speaks during a news conference celebrating her U.S. Senate race win, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Las Vegas.
Ellen Schmidt
/
AP
FILE - Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., speaks during a news conference celebrating her U.S. Senate race win, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Las Vegas.

The latest figures from Gallup show that roughly three-quarters of Americans disapprove of the job federal lawmakers are doing in Congress. The numbers come as those policymakers return to Washington DC for another round of budget negotiations.

While it’s not the worst job performance number in the institution’s history, those polling results have stagnated over the last decade with many voters complaining about the lack of bipartisanship.

For Nevada’s senior U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, the narrative that Congress is riddled with gridlock is a misconception. As she explained on Nevada Public Radio's State of Nevada, lawmakers are still consistently working across the aisle to little fanfare.

“I think people in the American public need [to] understand there's more to what we're doing here in a bipartisan way and working on their benefit in their behalf than what they're hearing about in the national news,” she said.

Some of that bipartisan work includes legislation co-sponsored with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) meant to combat human trafficking around transportations centers.

“A lot of people [are trafficked] through airports, through bus stations, through transportation hubs,” said Cortez Masto. “The goal was to make sure that there’s signage, there's information for potential victims so they can reach out to seek assistance, and that the workers in those transportation fields are trained on what to look for. The legislation that I have is really patterned off what we've done in our airports and our regional transportation hubs in Nevada."

BUDGET TALKS

That willingness to work together appears to have extended into budget negotiations. Law requires Congress to pass a budget every year by the end of September or risk a federal shutdown. The Senate wrapped-up its budget talks earlier this month.

“Here in the Senate, we're already ahead of schedule, [and] in a bipartisan way, approved the appropriations of the 12 budgets that we have,” said Cortez Masto. “[The budgets] have already moved out of committee. So really, at the end of the day on the Senate side, we focused on how we can work together [and] appropriate what we need at a federal level.”

Some House Republicans, on the other hand, have been less willing to come to the bargaining table without guarantees of sharp cuts in government spending, and at this point, far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus have only agreed to fund the federal government until the end of October to extend negotiations.

“[It’s] a small group of individuals who basically have said, ‘You there, do it my way or nothing gets done,’ and they're willing to shut down the government,” she continued. “That's outrageous! They should be held accountable for that, but the American public should also know that there's bipartisan work to get this done. That really, we are being held hostage by those House Freedom Caucus members who think it's okay to shut down the government.”

PUBLIC LANDS

As the Chair of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee’s Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee, Cortez Masto has also spearheaded a number of bills aimed at public lands management. That includes one would end speculative oil and gas leasing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Another makes technical changes for permitting at North Las Vegas’ Apex Industrial Park. A third bill expanding the boundaries of the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area.

However, none of those bills would address affordable housing. According to Cortez Masto, that legislation is under consideration elsewhere, but her office has taken point on easing the bureaucracy that has previously tied housing development projects in red tape.

“The Southern Nevada Lands Management Act already has a provision in it that allows for affordable housing to be built on federal land,” said Cortez Masto.

“The challenge we've had in the past using it is that it was very onerous, and it was difficult to get HUD and the BLM to work together to move it quickly enough to build affordable housing. So recently, I asked HUD and BLM to get together to put together an agreement that streamlines the process for using federal land in Southern Nevada for affordable housing. They've just streamlined it and put together that agreement. So, the goal here is to do what we can and support that affordable housing in. In Nevada, particularly here in Southern Nevada, where we already have access to this ability through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act.”

AGE LIMITS IN CONGRESS

Some in Congress have begun calling for an age limit for elected officials after California’s Dianne Feinstein and Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell recently started showing signs of physical limitations caused by age and health.

For Cortez Masto, the recent ordeals experienced by her colleagues have reminded her of her late father, Manny Cortez, who served as a Clark County Commissioner then as the head of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority until his retirement in 2004.

“I believe elected officials, all elected officials, should step down when they are no longer able to perform the duties of the job” Cortez Masto said. “I think it’s an elected official’s responsibility.”


Guest: Catherine Cortez Masto, U.S. Senator

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
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