Q&A: Stabenow on divisive politics, Detroit plans

 Senator is helping craft Dem playbook for midterm elections 

By Emma Fidel and David Eggert
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Passing legislation in Congress is notoriously difficult today, but it’s “a whole lot more fun than spinning your wheels,” according to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

The Michigan Democrat recently shepherded the sweeping agriculture spending bill through Congress and is helping to craft the party’s playbook for the November midterm elections. She spoke with The Associated Press on Friday about getting things done in what she called “horribly difficult, contentious, divisive times.” Here are some highlights:

AP: What did you do differently to pass the farm bill in the second round of negotiations?

Stabenow: It was a lot of listening to what people’s interests were, trying to find common ground ... Too much of the time right now in politics, people are trying to put the other side in a corner, make sure that you lose.

When the Tea Party killed it in 2012, rather than going back and trying to write this in a way they would like, we decided to keep a good bill and just work harder to get support. A lot of what happens today is people change things so that what they’re trying to do gets weaker and weaker.

AP: Can you apply those tactics to legislation being debated now?

Stabenow: I’ll take it back to the Violence Against Women Act that became very public a couple years ago. We ended up getting that eventually because the public got engaged and there was so much pressure after the 2012 elections.

The Pay Equity Act I think will end up like that. It will be very visible. Right now for some unknown reason it is partisan. We will see a lot of people being held accountable in the election.And then my guess is we come back next year and it passes. Same thing with minimum wage.

AP: Why aren’t more Democrats campaigning on the successes of the federal health care law?

Stabenow: I’m a strong supporter of the (Affordable Care Act)...People now are beginning to see for themselves. We now have people who are working 40 hours a week at minimum wage who can get Medicaid for themselves and their children and actually go to the doctor.

AP: Why aren’t we seeing ads about that?

Stabenow: It is part of the plan. You will begin to see more. It’s just that the other side has so much more money ... We have to be more measured and wait until closer to the election.

AP: How do you think Detroit bankruptcy negotiations are going? Should the federal government be kicking in money to help resolve it?

Stabenow: Somebody making an average of $19,000 a year in a pension should not be paying for the mistakes of other people. So that’s my biggest concern. There’s no question that changes need to happen. The Obama administration has stepped in in a very big way. We had the secretary of the Treasury in last week, we had the Homeland Security secretary in.

I’ve been able to strengthen through the Farm Bill efforts to support urban agriculture, urban forestry, farmers’ markets. We’re going to be hiring 5,000 people to plant trees this summer. We’re opening a kitchen incubator in Eastern Market that will allow people that want to create food products to get licensed in a commercial kitchen to be able to sell. So we’re focusing on small business.

AP: What’s being done on the proposed bridge from Detroit to Canada?

Stabenow: We are fortunate to have Canadian partners that are willing to step up with this bridge that is very much needed from a homeland security standpoint as well as an economic development standpoint.

What mostly concerns me is what I’m seeing from the state Legislature and the various proposals and lack of support to do this huge jobs project and homeland security project. This should not be a partisan issue.