In Conversation: Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Emily Tisch Sussman

“It’s ridiculous that we’re the only advanced nation on the planet that doesn’t help families with childcare.”

Secretary Granholm on child care as infrastructure
(Image credit: Instagram)

Members of Congress and the Senate are continuing to negotiate the contents of President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda in the form of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Amid conversations and negotiations, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sat down with Marie Claire to discuss the importance of passing each bill.

As the head of the Department of Energy, Secretary Granholm is responsible for the massive role the department plays in the necessary clean energy solutions needed to combat climate change. “We’ve got 100,000 people who are researching next-generation solutions for our clean energy and climate problem,” she said.

In the spring, Secretary Granholm was tapped by President Biden to advance the American Jobs Plan, which is now known as the $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Now, as both bills continue to be negotiated, she and other members of the Cabinet are breaking down both the human and the hard infrastructure.

“When you say 'hard infrastructure,' we’re talking about roads and bridges, and broadband,” the Secretary noted in conversation with Tisch Sussman. “And then there is the human infrastructure. We want to make sure families have access to child care, that senior citizens can get health and dental through Medicare, that we can get people access to college. Both of them are necessary and important.”

Last weekend, Speaker Pelosi announced a new deadline for passing both bills, telling her caucus that October 31 will be the new target date. With new dates looming, there are whispers that the figures for the reconciliation bill will be drastically cut, putting essential programs like paid family leave, the child tax credit, and more at risk.

The Secretary remained hopeful during the interview, saying she thinks they are about 95 percent of the way there: "I think we are going to see this, if not by the end of this month, then, you know, by Thanksgiving."

Although October 31 is still a few weeks away, Democrats are still struggling to come to a consensus, potentially putting things like paid leave on the chopping block. “Having paid family leave is part of this human infrastructure,” said the Secretary. “They can take the time they need so that these little human beings have those important first months with a parent. “

Secretary Granholm is eager to pass Biden’s Build Back Better plan in its entirety, but she also understands politics. As former Governor of Michigan who worked with a less-than-friendly legislature, she knows what compromise is and laid it out honestly. “Do we give a haircut or do we amputate?” she said. In other words, do they trim each program down or do they slash programs?

It's clear that more than anything, she cares. “Who are we if we are not combating child poverty?” she asks. "It’s ridiculous that we’re the only advanced nation on the planet that doesn’t help families with child care.”

Right now is a critical moment in D.C., as the tough realities for millions meet policy. As a longtime leader and politician, Granholm knows that it’s the American people who will eventually get the final say. “You can hire them, you can fire them,” she said. “The most important thing that you can do is make your voice heard...Vote.”

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Emily Tisch Sussman
Contributing Editor

Emily Tisch Sussman is the Founder and Host of “She Pivots,” the podcast in partnership with Marie Claire about women, their stories, and how their pivot became their success. She is a contributing editor to Maire Claire and the guest host of the Marie Claire Instagram Live series “Getting Down to Business.”