Democratic Caucus Leaders Say It’s Time to Put America Back to Work
WASHINGTON – House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (CT), New Democrats Caucus Vice-Chairman Rick Larsen (WA) and Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Keith Ellison (MN) held a press availability today before the Democratic Caucus meeting on jobs and the economy. Below is the transcript and video:
Chairman John B. Larson: Good morning.
We ought to be about the business of putting America back to work. That is the number one issue our Members heard when they went home over the break. A cry-out on behalf of the American people to put this country back to work, for Congress to cooperate together.
We’re going to continue to press the Super Committee, the Select Committee, on job creation because we believe job creation equals deficit reduction. And what better time than now when we face a severe problem in terms of unemployment and are also looking to bring our deficit down? That we know that by lowering the unemployment rate we can drop the deficit by as much as 25 percent. We believe that the Select Committee ought to have the same kind of time constraints and the same kind of trigger as it relates to job creation as it does for deficit reduction.
The President made a bold speech last night, but he made a very pragmatic and practical speech as well where he called upon the United States Congress to take action on behalf of the American people. We ought to be able to as he challenged us like China has done to have the kind of infrastructure that will make this nation second to none in terms of its economic superiority in our ability to move commerce across this nation, and to put people back to work. Jobs that are ready and ready to go – waiting and ready to go are something that we need to make our investment in.
And whether it's roads or bridges or sewer systems, or reacting in the aftermath of the great hurricanes and rains of the Eastern seaboard, the fires in Texas, the storms that have taken place down in the South, this is time for us to put America back to work in a compassionate way, but also both in the short term to bolster our security, but also in the long term to make sure this country is the number one, preeminent economic leader in the world. It’s a time for this Congress to decide whether or not it will just say no and continue to rebuff the President’s agenda, or stand up and act, not for either party, but for the people of this country that need to go back to work.
And I’d like to yield to Rick Larsen of Washington state, Chairman of the Caucus and representing New Democrats.
Rep. Rick Larsen: Thank you, Chairman. Don’t confuse Rick Larsen, me, with John Larson from Connecticut. We only look a little bit different. I’m the tall one with no hair, but I’m Rick Larsen, Washington State second district, I’m also here on behalf of the New Democratic Coalition, and Vice-chair of the coalition, and also Co-chair on their task force on critical infrastructure and manufacturing.
The country needs a forward looking plan for long term economic growth that works for the people of this country, that invests in American--in the infrastructure, invests in innovation, and keeps America ahead of the competition. I think the President’s speech laid out that plan last night.
Over the break – I’ll give you a quick little geography lesson here – my district is about as far North and West as you can get from Washington, DC in the lower 48. We’re up in the Northwest corner of Washington state under the Canadian border, so we are a long way from D.C. and we like it that way.
But those folks are saying something very clear, and what they’re saying can be best expressed by a little placard my wife and I this summer. It said that, 'Public notice: due to the downturn of the economy, budget cuts, and the rising cost of oil and gas, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.' You know that’s what the American people actually think. They actually do think that, and when Congress doesn’t act on this jobs plan, they are going to continue to think that because they’re going to think they are more people here in Congress who are more interested in keeping that light at the end of the tunnel turned off until after the next election, instead of keeping the light turned on, working for them.
And in the President’s job plan they introduced last night was a message to the American people: we’re going to work to keep the light turned on and not wait until the next election. As Co-chair of the New Dems Task Force on Critical Infrastructure and Manufacturing, I was especially pleased to see an emphasis on this investment in roads, and bridges, and highways.
The last point I want to make is that, another message to the people back home, is that what they said generally is that Congress isn’t meeting the expectations of the American people. We are not meeting the expectations they have for how great this country is, and the President’s jobs plan and his speech last night was a clear message to Congress to act, to act on the jobs plan, but act in order to meet the expectations of the American people. They think this country is still great, and they want a Congress that acts that way, and we need to step up. Thank you.
Chairman Larson: As we approach a very solemn weekend where we pause and reflect on the events that transpired 10 years ago, and what’s seared in all of our memories. It’s a time for – again – for shared sacrifice and bringing the nation together. I recall very vividly all of us standing on the steps of the Capitol and coming together and putting aside our differences. The same kind of crisis with 14 million Americans out of work that we face, and the need for us to bring people together, and this coming in the midst of proposed threats on New York City and Washington, D.C. A person who understands and has done a great job, and just back from a tour across this country, and clearly in his home state, is Keith Ellison representing the Progressive Caucus.
Rep. Keith Ellison: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, from the Progressive Caucus standpoint, we just want to say we stay with our Caucus on making jobs first. Staying with the President saying jobs must be the issue, should have been the issue a long time ago. Very glad that it is front and center because it has been front and center in the American people’s minds for quite a long while. So we’re going to be forcing this issue of jobs now. We’re going to be standing shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues. And I just want to ask you all to just consider what life might be like for you, having been out of work for maybe a year, 18 months, 2 years? Your skills would start to deteriorate, they'd have machines on your old job that you might not know how to operate, you might get rusty at the work you did before, maybe you’ll even go through an ad that says “Only the employed need apply” for the job you’re looking for.
Right now the unemployed are facing discrimination because they are unemployed. Your kids are looking at you in a way that you’re not sure that they’re as proud of you as they used to be when you used to charge out that door every morning and put food on the table. Maybe your unemployment’s run out. The fact is, Americans are in a desperate situation--14 million of them. And a couple of generations ago, our government stepped up and met the needs of unemployed Americans. We did it with the WPA, the CCC, and a whole range of other things. It is the role of government to work with the private sector to make sure Americans are working and the economy is working, and I think this generation cannot do any less.
Speaking generationally, it was just a generation ago that President Eisenhower said, you know, we need to have infrastructure all over this country, and responded to the needs of our nation at that time. We’re still driving around on our grandparents’ infrastructure. So in America we need to make some investment, we need to make it today, we need to get our economy moving, and this is a great place to start, and we look forward as the CPC, the Progressive Caucus, standing with our colleagues, making jobs number one.
Chairman Larson: Thank you, Keith. And with that, we have a Caucus at 9:15, but we’ll entertain a couple of questions.
Reporter: Who will be coming from the Administration and what kind of questions can they expect?
Chairman Larson: Well, you haven’t been to a Democratic Caucus sure, but they can expect every question imagined under the sun. And Gene Sperling will be heading up the Washington economic team.
Chairman Larson: I think he’s doing the right, balanced approach. As the President said throughout, these are proposals that are not new. These are proposals that both Democrats and Republicans have embraced. He’s been so dogged about the fact that whatever it takes, he’s going to bring this country together, and points that out bipartisanly, that these things have been embraced, and went to great lengths to demonstrate Republicans that have proposed a number of the alternatives as well as Democrats, so there’s nothing in there that couldn’t be taken up and passed immediately. And that’s the bottom line here, is that we need to act now, not wait for 14 months, not drag the leg, so to speak, dead-leg this whole process into a presidential election. The public also, what you heard when you’re home, 'A pox on both your houses, and running for office. Put us back to work.' That’s the only thing the American people are focused on right now: put us back to work.
Reporter: With the President asking Congress to find additional cuts to pay for his proposal, you’re not really stimulating the economy, are you?
Chairman Larson: We’re stimulating the economy by both investing in the infrastructure and you can make cuts to--National Journal came up with, you know, 11 separate ways that you can put the country back to work without even impacting the deficit one iota. There has to be a commitment to jobs, and I think, as the President said last evening, there’s short term and long term visions that have to be embraced as well, and even more that has to be done. You heard Keith talk about the need for investment. The National Journal--again, to go to a non-partisan source--there are 18 ways to make strategic investments to grow this economy.
The question becomes this: do you want to grow the economy and put America back to work, or are you going to dead-leg a process where nothing gets done in Washington, D.C. and it continues to be a partisan morass. Or do you take what this man has said in a bipartisan fashion, and bring it up now and vote on it? And that’s what we ought to do.
Chairman Larson: Postpone? Tell the 14 million people out there that need jobs what we have to postpone. That was the message last night: 14 million Americans turning to their government.
The President was clear – government can’t do it all, but we sure can help. I’m out of work and I have to go back home and say, “Well geez, you know, what we thought we’d do is postpone that.” The public perceives that as kicking the can down the road, and not stepping up. He’s got a plan – he’s laid it out there. What is the problem with voting it up or down? What, will we have to stay in a little bit longer? We only have less than 40 legislative days left before December 23rd – and that being the day for the select committee to make its final vote up or down on its decisions. So the time to act is now. The President’s right – and he may have to go all around the country – as I’m sure he will, to make this case to the people.
Chairman Larson: Infrastructure. Take it right to the Floor tomorrow. Bring the infrastructure bills to the Floor that the President has recommended, put us to work right away, get those construction workers out there. Everybody travels back in their district –
you heard Rick and Keith both talk about it – the light turned off at the end of the tunnel, bridges that are in desperate need of repair, a whole East Coast that has been ravaged by disaster. Put the people back to work. We suggested the other day a Community Revitalization Corps that would come out there in response to what just transpired with these storms. Put them back to work. You don’t have to create a new bureaucracy: have FEMA work with them, have the Ag Department work with them, have Homeland Security work with them, put our youth back to work. But it’s time to put America back to work. Stop the excuses. Take a vote – up or down.