By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Rep. Ro Khanna, age 43, is a second-generation Indian American and a 2nd term Congressman from Silicon Valley. He is a member of the the Armed Service, Budget, Oversight and Reform House committees.
Khanna is first Vice-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Co-Chair of Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Khanna states that, “I support Senator Sanders’ bill that would be paid for by taxes on corporations that would be less money for those corporations than they are currently paying for premiums and a tax on the 1% millionaires and billionaires.” Khanna is one of only six members of the House who does not take campaign contributions from PACs or corporations.
Two weeks ago he introduced a health care bill to jump start Medicare-For-All in states by helping them set up universal healthcare systems on their own.
“What this allows the states to do is take Medicaid and Medicare funding and put it towards a single payer system with the caveat that you have to provide better coverage than what the federal programs are providing and within 5 years you have to get 100% coverage,” Khanna said. His plan would require states to start out with 95% health coverage.
Tennessee wouldn’t qualify because its health-insured rate is only 83%. One in ten Tennesseans, about half a million people, don’t have health insurance. Khanna’s bill would provide supplemental federal matching funds to cover the insurance gap if the federal Medicaid waiver is not sufficient. But since Tennessee lawmakers rejected the Medicaid waiver in 2015, the state wouldn’t get federal matching funds either. The healthcare coverage gap in the Volunteer State is big and getting bigger.
Silicon Valley has a lot of unaffordable housing. Khanna noted that Apple and Google have put private sector funds into affordable housing as well as first time mortgages but it’s not enough. He supports a Housing First policy.
“We need far more federal investment in the expansion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC),” he said. “We need to have temporary shelters that will have services for those who have drug addiction or mental illness so we can accommodate the increased homelessness.”
Khanna noted a pilot program in his district that was helping people with rent and homebuyers before they default on their mortgages. “It has been quite successful,” he said.
Khanna has been pushing an Internet Bill of Rights that he hopes will pass before the 2020 Election. He doesn’t trust Facebook to remove false political ads that would interfere with the vote as they did in 2016.
“I don’t think it should be the Facebooks of the world policing speech based on their own preferences. It should be the role of a regulatory agency like the FCC or an independent agency to set clear standards for what blatantly false speech would be,” he said. He noted false speech does not have First Amendment protection wherever it is. Courts have traditionally made those decisions as well as what constitutes hate speech.
Khanna said he hoped social media companies would voluntarily take steps to prevent “bad” speech from going viral and take down false political ads that could interfere with our elections.
He said targeting a particular audience is not the real issue. Consumers are targeted with ads all the time in radio, TV, and magazines. But blatantly false ads take on a life of their own once they are posted and Khanna says somebody needs “to call the balls and strikes”.
“The burden of the failings in our democracy can’t be laid simply at their footsteps. It is also the case that cable news has led to increasing polarization and it’s also the case that the tone of our politics has become far more hostile and uncivil. So social media definitely needs to regulate what they are doing but it’s going to require a broader conversation to restore our democracy.”
Another part of Khanna’s Internet bill has to do with protecting consumers from big tech companies collecting data about them and invading their privacy. The bill would require an individual’s consent to have their personal data collected or transferred and it would give people the right to know what is happening with their personal information.
“It would make sure data was not being manipulated against their interests,” Khanna said. While the law would make it a bit harder for tech companies to collect large amounts of data, it would also protect peoples’ privacy. “Unlike in China, where you have mass amounts of data without any concern for personal liberties,” he said.
The fate of the Dreamers, children of undocumented parents who have lived in the U.S. since they were children, is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.
“I completely oppose any effort to terminate the DACA program. Congress should act so we can put it on a firm statutory basis…it’s xenophobia to deny them citizenship,” Khanna said. He added that it’s very sad that the Dreamers are going to have this uncertainty in their lives once again.
“It is hurting their sense of belonging in America and that is doing enormous damage as we are trying to stitch this country back together.”