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Rep. Perlmutter (D-CO) talks COVID, Build Back Better bill, the debt ceiling, and marijuana reform

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Representative Perlmutter (D-CO) joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the current state of the economy, the recently discovered COVID-19 variant, the debt ceiling deadline, marijuana banking reform, and the outlook for enacting the Build Back Better legislation.

Video Transcript

JARED BLIKRE: COVID cases continue to surge in the US as we enter the thick of the holiday season and now dealing with a new Greek letter, Omicron.

We want to get the legislative perspective with representative Ed Perlmutter of Colorado. Representative, thanks for joining us here today. And as we were discussing in the break, I actually have some family members in your district, so I'm really keen to hear your views on this.

In New York here, we just got not a mask mandate but a strongly worded letter from the mayor's office that they are reinstituting a mask recommendation, recommending that everybody, regardless of vaccination status, wear these indoors. This is a densely populated urban area. But I'm just wondering what your constituents are coming to you about with this latest Omicron development.

ED PERLMUTTER: --the Delta variant. So in some of the urban and suburban counties, we do have a mask mandate. We were very well sort of protected, it seemed like, over the course of the summer and the early fall, but this November, just like last November, we've had a surge.

And now we've got this Omicron that, you know, I guess was located in South Africa. And listening to some of your earlier, you know, panelists, we're not quite sure how transmissible it is or how dangerous, how virulent it is.

I serve on the Science Committee, and about three, four months ago, we had a hearing. In fact, we had a professor from South Africa as one of our witnesses because South Africa has had a number of different variants of concern.

And so, I mean, clearly the market was shocked by it on Friday. Seems to have evened out a little bit today. But we just don't know very much about this. It may be more transmissible but potentially might not be as dangerous as some of the other variants.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, and that seems to be the real concern, the uncertainty around all of this, at least from an investor perspective.

You've obviously got Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Fed Chair Powell testifying before your House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday at a time when there's a bit of a mixed picture in the economic recovery. Last week we saw jobless claims or weekly jobless claims fall to a new low, and yet we're continuing to see cost pressures build up. What are some key questions you have for that hearing as you try to get a better handle on where we are in this economic recovery?

ED PERLMUTTER: I think my key questions are those that you've been asking some of your prior speakers. One, how long lived and how sharp do we think inflation will be over the course of the next 3, 6, 9, 12 months? And what kind of concerns will they have because of this new variant of concern, the Omicron virus?

And so there are a lot of uncertainties, which markets never really like, out there. I mean, we've seen inflation in some areas here in Colorado, but we've seen decreases in pricing in other things.

The virus has really disrupted across the board, whether it's the supply chain or labor supply. And so we're going to have some oscillations in the economy over the course of the next year or two because the thing has been so big, so worldwide, and so disruptive.

JARED BLIKRE: And on the legislative front, I just wanted to get an update on the Build Back Better plan. Obviously left the House, in the Senate now, but wondering if there's any communication, back channels or otherwise, that you could tell us about and maybe any other legislative affairs that you're dealing with now.

ED PERLMUTTER: Sure. Thanks, Jared. The Build Back Better passed the House right before Thanksgiving. We were very happy to do that because Build Back Better is really investing in people. It's investing in housing. It's investing in education, you know, whether it's Pell grants or apprenticeships. It's investing in health care. And obviously with this virus still circulating the way it is, I mean, health care is front and center for everybody.

It also has a lot of science in it to kind of rebuild and reinvest in our space programs, NASA, in our National Renewable Energy Lab-- so in the energy labs. And so there is a lot in Build Back Better.

We expect, you know, that the Senate will make some changes to it and it will come back to the house. But in any event, it will be a substantial investment in people as we are making substantial investment in hard assets-- roads and bridges, waterworks, electrical grid, broadband, which was what was in the infrastructure. And this is going to help America-- the quality of life for Americans but also keep us competitive with the rest of the world for the next 50 years.

AKIKO FUJITA: With that said, Congress has a lot on its plate come December. You've got that deadline approaching in December to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling. To what extent do you think negotiations over that could slow down the passage of Build Back Better, and what kind of timeline are you looking at?

ED PERLMUTTER: Akiko, that is the $64 question, I would say. We do have, at the end of this week on Friday, deadlines concerning funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. My guess is they're part and parcel of all the conversations concerning Build Back Better going on in the Senate right now.

And so I see all of these things coming together. It's to be very complicated and difficult, but I think all of these things will come together and move forward together. So we may have to continue for a short period of time the funding of the government, maybe the debt ceiling, but there are a lot of pieces coming together. I think we're going to work them out, just as we have so far on the infrastructure bill and the rescue plan that is still available to us to deal with things like this new variant, this Omicron variant. There still is a lot of funding for states and for health care to deal with this virus and the different mutations it takes on.

So this month is going to be very busy. The National Defense Authorization Act is also up for a vote in the Senate. Jared, you asked what do we have? I have-- I added an amendment to that involving SAFE Banking, which was to provide a safe harbor for financial service businesses, banks and credit unions that provide financial services to the marijuana/cannabis industry. So we'll see exactly how that goes, but that's another must-pass bill that we expect to take up in December.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, and certainly something, Congressman, that you have really been focused on, but want to get back to Build Better, specifically on the timeline. How confident are you that you can get a vote? I mean, you're in the house, but the Senate can vote. And how likely do you think if, in fact, it does pass the Senate in some form, I mean, are we talking about a potential signing in December or you think it's just inevitable, given everything that's on your plate, that this gets pushed to next year?

ED PERLMUTTER: Well, Akiko, you know I'm the eternal optimist. I feel that there have been a lot of negotiations that have gone on to this point, and so there's not a lot of new information. I think people are keeping an eye on inflationary trends, but there's not a lot of new information that needs to be gained.

So I have confidence something's going to happen in December on Build Back Better. And then it'll come back to the House, and hopefully we will then forward it to the president for his signature.

But, you know, there have been a lot of ups and downs with the negotiation around infrastructure, which is now done and signed by the president. There have been ups and downs with Build Back Better. I think we'll probably still have a few ups and downs. But I really am optimistic we'll get it done by Christmas.

JARED BLIKRE: And before we let you go, I want to come back to that SAFE Banking Act that would provide federal relief for banks to be able to accept cannabis companies and process their payments legally. And I'm just wondering-- because there was a lot of enthusiasm when you introduced this. I believe it was a week, two weeks ago, this latest introduction of it. Then that faded and a lot of Wall Street analysts saying that's not going to happen during Biden's first term here. That seems a long way out. What are the hang ups here? Is it simply the Senate, or is there more at play?

ED PERLMUTTER: It's the Senate, and I'll-- you know, we've now passed the SAFE Banking Act with big bipartisan support out of the House. 2 and 1/2 years ago when Senator Crapo headed up the Banking Committee under the Republicans in the Senate, we passed a big bipartisan bill to them, and then that sat there for two years.

Now Democrats are in charge. We sent a big bill, bipartisan vote to the Senate back in March. Sherrod Brown is the head of the Banking Committee. It's been sitting there.

That's why we added SAFE Banking to the National Defense Authorization Act. There's a part of it dealing with cartels and foreign money laundering, that kind of stuff, so it's germane to that bill, and we hope that it will stay on there.

But we've had resistance from Senator Schumer, Senator Booker, and they would like to have a much bigger piece of legislation that, you know, decriminalizes, deschedules, taxes, has criminal-justice reform. And I support all of that, but I don't think they have the votes for that, and I'm pretty sure the votes in the Senate are there for SAFE Banking.

In fact, we just had five senators from the Armed Services Committee in the Senate-- Senator Kelly, King, Peters, Rosen, and Cramer, Democrats and Republicans, asking the Senate Armed Services Committee to keep SAFE Banking in the National Defense Authorization bill. So I think there's still a good chance for us getting that passed.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, Congressman, I know you've been working at this for a long time, so really appreciate you always keeping us in the loop here. Congressman Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, great to have you on today. Really appreciate the time.

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