Lawmakers zero in on AI, insulin costs, pandemic prep in D.C. policy discussion
WASHINGTON — Nearly a dozen members of Congress on Wednesday outlined their work on policy during an annual legislative session focused on fostering bipartisanship.
As part of the 34th legislative seminar by the law firm BakerHostetler, lawmakers in separate discussions touched on topics in which bipartisanship could be key such as artificial intelligence, agriculture and pandemic preparation.
Among the lawmakers from both parties from across the U.S.:
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat, talked about his work as a senior pastor at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and how his faith helps him build a bridge to work with Republican senators on issues on which they agree.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Warnock said he’s worked with numerous Republicans to address farming issues such as affordable housing, pesticides and sustainable practices. He said that same approach is what helped get him reelected and win two runoffs in the Georgia Senate race.
“I try to meet people and voters where they are,” he said.
Warnock said he’s currently working with Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana on a bill that would cap insulin prices at $35 for people with private insurance and those who are not insured.
He said about 11% of Georgia’s population has diabetes, and about 15% of Louisiana’s population also has the chronic illness.
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to get this done,” Warnock said of the bill with Kennedy.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, an Arkansas Republican, said that Democrats and Republicans need to better understand digital currency such as blockchain and cryptocurrency.
“We’re behind the curve on this in the United States, to have a regulatory framework that embraces companies who want to do a distributed ledger or blockchain-based business strategy,” Hill said.
He also talked about the future of artificial intelligence and how Congress should approach it. He said one of the biggest ethical questions around AI should be, “what is the code of use of AI,” and how to make sure the technology is not used in a malevolent way.
U.S. Sen. Katie Britt, Republican of Alabama, spoke about her experience as a freshman in Congress and how her previous work as the chief of staff for former Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby has shaped her approach to Congress.
She said her biggest takeaway from working for Shelby was that “relationships matter.”
“I think we have lost that in this day and age, we have turned into something where you cannot, you’re not allowed to respect someone that you don’t agree with,” she said. “And I tell people all the time, if you ever think you’re going to agree with someone 100% of the time, you clearly (have) never been married.”
Britt said she is looking at policies on social media safety when it comes to teens and young children.
“If you look at the numbers from 2011 to 2019, the rate of depression in our high school and teenagers, and it’s no coincidence that that coincides directly and obviously with the rising use of social media for that age group,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, said the U.S. is going to need to “have imagination” when it comes to preparing for the next pandemic. He said the federal government should fortify its supply chain management and strategic national stockpile of protective personal equipment, ventilators and masks.
“The way that the federal government managed the national stockpile was abysmal,” Cassidy said. “We need to have a kind of modern management.”
He added that the coronavirus pandemic showed the world what a potential bioweapon event could look like in the future.
“If our potential enemies of the future didn’t do (the coronavirus) on purpose, they certainly know how to do it next time,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, focused on tax incentives for research and development companies and how Congress should tackle AI.
“One hundred dollars of research and development in a U.S.-based business, you can deduct $10 from your taxes,” Young said. “To make that same investment in a China-based business, you could deduct $200 from your taxes, 20 times more generous.”
Young said he would like to see some changes in the tax code to give those companies incentives to set up their businesses in the U.S.
He said that senators should continue to learn more about AI and how the technology is used in the private sector.
“I think probably the best way to counter some of the threats that we will experience from A.I. is to use artificial intelligence,” Young said. “It’s to use this tool of leverage of human intelligence to identify the anomalies when it comes to cybersecurity, to develop smart technologies so that we can be more productive, so that we can fight wars more effectively. All of that is going to require the use of artificial intelligence.”