House Democrats: It’s Time To Act To Get America Back To Work
WASHINGTON – House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (CT), and Reps. Charlie Gonzalez (TX) and Kathy Hochul (NY) held a press availability today after the Democratic Caucus meeting on the need for Congress to address Jobs. Below is the transcript and video:
Chairman Larson:* …More than a third of the deficit can be reduced by lowering unemployment from its current rate of 9.1 to below seven percent. This of course would both produce jobs and also lower the deficit.
As the President has said, dating back to September when he announced his jobs package, fourteen million people out of work can’t wait fourteen months for a decision. It’s now down to thirteen months. And Congress still needs to act on the President’s bill and, I dare say, on all jobs bills that are before the United States Congress.
We do have a grand opportunity in front of us, but time is running short. On November the 23rd, the Super Committee has a deadline that it must meet in terms of presenting and voting on a plan that it will send to the Congress. That gives us, counting the few days that we have left this week and until the business days that we’re in for November, approximately twelve days to accomplish that feat. And if you look at the business calendar after November 23rd, we have eight business days to accomplish the goal of passing something before the December 23rd deadline. Obviously, there is a strong constraint of time but a great opportunity here.
We remain optimistic in the Members that we have appointed to that committee, because of their desire to do something that is both bold, balanced, and big, and that will put America back to work and deal with our deficit issues and allows us to assume our preeminent position in the global economy as the military, cultural, and social leader in the world and send a clear message to all the world that this is where, if you’re looking for solid investment, if you’re looking for a place to do business, it’s the United States of America, because Congress can act.
Why are we optimistic? We’re optimistic because we can accomplish these things without the cloture vote in the Senate and without poison pill amendments in the House of Representatives. This is the clearest path forward for us. And so, we recognize that this is a lot of responsibility that is on the shoulders of twelve people, but those twelve people are joined by Members of Congress who understand the importance of their success.
We witnessed, before we broke – you know, when I was back home in my district, people were saying, “how could this possibly be that the vote was 51-49, and it lost?” No third grader in this country understands a process vote called cloture in the United States Senate that would deny the majority will of people to put them back to work and pass the President’s jobs bill. And by the same token, we continue to see the hold up of the China currency bill that the Senate actually acted upon, and that we all know from listening to economists would create a million jobs.
So, it’s under those circumstances. And perhaps it is so, that the bodies are so polarized that they can’t take action as they should, rightfully so. So then it further places emphasis on the need for the Super Committee to respond on behalf of a nation; on behalf of fourteen million Americans out of work, 25 million Americans who are underemployed.
This is what Democrats are continuing to work on. That’s what Charlie Gonzalez has been doing down in his district and representing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well.
Chairman Gonzalez: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.
As John has mentioned, I represent half of San Antonio, Texas. And you may wonder, well, what’s the big problem in Texas? Because obviously, you’ve been hearing about the Texas Miracle and we’ve been immune to the economic downturn, which is not true. And we have been given ample opportunity to go back home and listen to our constituents. And so, what is that we’re hearing? Well, there’s no real Texas Miracle taking place. Everything is relative and we may be in a better position than other parts of this country, but the truth is Texas suffers the highest unemployment rate in the past 24 years. San Antonio, Texas suffers the highest unemployment rate in the last 21 years. So no one is free from, obviously, the detrimental effects of the downturn in our economy.
So what am I hearing when I go back home? “You're not listening to us, Charlie. Washington is not listening to us." So of course I get defensive, and I say, well I'm listening, it's the other side that's not listening. Well, guess what? The constituents in the 20th District of Texas don't want the big political debate going on, in my discussions with them. They want answers. So when I tell them what the jobs bill would provide, they simply say, "Well then why aren't you moving on it?"
And now we get into a political discussion, which was fine when I went and spoke to the Northwest Vista Junior College government class. But it's not fine when I'm out there in the street or a restaurant and someone approaches me. It's not fine when I'm talking to the Chamber of Commerce. It's not fine when I'm talking to a small business owner, who's being challenged. Because who's going to buy a product or service when we have this kind of downturn, whether it's San Antonio or any other place?
So the discussion has to be, but I have to explain as John just went over, we're not in charge in the House. I have to be realistic. Our bill is not going to see the light of day. They say, "Well, aren't you in charge of the Senate?" Meaning the party that I belong to. Yes we are. Now I've got to go into what a filibuster is all about. In Texas we have real filibusters. You want to block something? You've got to stand up, you've got to talk forever. So they think that's what's going on. I say no, it's not that complicated. It's actually very simple. And it's there for the right reason: to protect the rights of the minority. Heaven knows we should know about that in San Antonio, Texas. But the abuse of the legislative process that has brought gridlock to Washington, D.C. So if political considerations are always going to trump policy, I'm starting to wonder if maybe the American people just need to really start speaking loudly, and saying, "You're so politically focused. Let me tell you what the cost is going to be: it’s going to be your political future.”
The American people need to start really talking and start speaking so that we do listen and we do hear them – that they’re not going to tolerate the gridlock. We’re not going to prevail 100 percent on our bill, but there are many good things in our bill. Now the President is going to take it piecemeal. That’s fine. The question really is: is even that going to move forward. So why we’re debating all this, and why we’re considering our political fortunes of 2012, the economy does not improve. And so I do have people that come up to me, “my son or my daughter graduated but they can’t find a job.” And this is San Antonio, Texas, and I’m telling you we’ve got it a lot better than most other folks throughout this nation. But if that’s a situation worth facing, imagine how dire the circumstances are elsewhere. So what we’re telling them is – we’re showing them all the pieces to our bill. A week ago Saturday, I’m speaking to a group, I have someone come up to me and they say, “my husband just came back from Afghanistan. He’s having a hard time finding a job.” Because they’ve never really heard that the President’s jobs bill has a provision in there, again, directly addressing this particular issue.
When I talk to small businesses about regulation and about taxes, I tell them what’s in the jobs bill that will provide all sorts of benefits, they’re surprised. So it’s really hard to get into the pieces of the legislation, and we’re hoping the President will get that message out there. But this is what’s going to happen: the President may educate a vast majority of my constituents and I will try to do my best, but when we still go back and we still have that discussion, they’re going to say, why haven’t you gotten it done? And I’m going to have to tell them that politics reared its ugly head and predominated the debate and we’re still where we were a year ago. And that’s not a good place for the American people.
Chairman Larson: We’ve been joined by Kathy Hochul, who is now going to speak as well. The gentle lady from New York.
Rep. Hochul: Thank you John. Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this.
There’s no more important task in this country right now than to pass this jobs bill and get our people back to work. That’s not me speaking. Those are the constituents in a Republican leaning district that I was just very fortunate to win an election in, just this past Spring.
So I view part of my responsibilities is to spend as little time here in Washington as I can, and get back out there in the district, as I did this past week, listening to people, conducting town hall meetings. And after seven town hall meetings, the number one issue I took away was jobs. Number two was, why can’t y’all just get along? And I’ve decided I’m going to start a caucus, called the Why Can’t We All Just Get Along Caucus, because that’s what people want us to do. And if I’m one person alone, I’ll sit there and have a beer by myself. But that’s what’s going on in this country – people want us to get along.
Because the President has put forward a very thoughtful plan, and some sides of my aisle didn’t go far enough, and other people think it goes too far, but guess what? There’s a very pragmatic approach – something that Republicans have said they’ve supported at other times in their lives, they have supported this.
So, whether you want it as a whole package, which I think the people would like to see us do – get it over with, get it done, or we could break it off into smaller bite-sized pieces, count me in, because I know the people I represent in upstate New York, where the economy is hurting, want us to do something. Whether it’s the infrastructure element, and I’ll tell you, my bridges are falling apart, folks. And I’m putting this Congress on notice that if something happens with one of my bridges, and we had the ability through this Jobs Act to provide infrastructure money to fix my bridges and something happens, well I’m sorry folks, you were forewarned.
So, I said this on the Floor of Congress yesterday – we have to get the infrastructure part done. But our small businesses need our help, our veterans need our help, and I’m hearing it loud and clear. So we have a moral obligation to use all of our resources, pool together, start treating each other like human beings on both sides of the aisle, do what the people want us to do: stop the fighting, get the job done, deliver for the American people. So, thank you very much.
Chairman Larson: Thank you, Kathy. We’ll take questions that you have.
Q: This week, on the Floor, you all are voting on the repeal of the three percent repeal tax, which is – resembles a piece of the President’s jobs plan. Republicans say that’s a piece of the President’s plan that there is bipartisan support for. Do Democrats support that? Do they support the Medicaid bill that would pay for it, and would that action be the bipartisan victory that they say it would be?
Chairman Larson: I don’t think it’s as bipartisan as the Republicans would like to couch it, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s been a long-standing concern in the Democratic Caucus about the pay-fors, as they relate to Medicare and Medicaid, and that is problematic. And especially in the context of a committee that’s taking up a much larger or what should be a bold, balanced, and big initiative, that’s where the problems would stem from the Democratic side.
Q: Mr. Larson, you all talked a lot about bipartisanship here and lack of bipartisanship here. Mr. Boehner is supposed to give a speech here today, of heritage about Russia and US policy toward Russia. We used to talk about foreign policy stopping at water’s edge. You don’t hear a lot of discussions about foreign policy now. Is there a dissonance here, even on things like that: he’s talking about how…
Chairman Larson: Well, you would hope not, especially given this President’s success with foreign policy. When you look at what this Administration has been able to accomplish, when you can see what is tantamount to the reversal of the policy of the previous Administration, after inheriting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and reversing what amounts to the policies of preemption and unilateralism, and in fact, doing almost the opposite, as most recently noted in Libya and with the capture and death of Ghadaffi, underscoring, without a single loss of American life, but with having the rest of the world pull together to assist this nation and with America playing a role, but a role that encouraged NATO, and in fact for, in a very positive way also, countries of the Arab League joining in with us, demonstrates the kind of policy that we need to have going forward. The Speaker, and he of course, can say anything that he’d like and I won’t conjecture on speaking ill of the country or having foreign policy end or disagreements end at our shoreline here, but that has been the tradition of the country.
Q: Conservative pay-for – Republicans argue that the Medicare and the Medicaid provision is actually something that the Obama administration had recommended, so is there…
Chairman Larson: Yeah, they recommended it in the context of a bigger package. They recommended it in terms of having a bold, balanced plan. And the Republicans know this and so do all of you.
And so, but this becomes one of those, you know, and people – this is what the American public tires of. People want to play gotcha politics instead of saying, look, we got a big issue that we have to solve here. The rest of the world is going through incredible economic problems, as well. The United States, this Congress, by acting together, this Super Committee, by coming together, could demonstrate not only to the people of this country, but everybody around the world what we need to do. And I guarantee you that money and investment would then flow to this country, because we would establish ourselves as a place where you can park your money, where you can do business and where we can create the kind of stability that we need.
My constituents have said, and I will never forget this lady’s statement when she said, “I wonder if Congress understands the dark abyss of uncertainty that all of us are in.” That’s our constituents. The whole world is experiencing this, and here we are sitting as the shining example of a democracy, playing gotcha politics, instead of coming together and doing something bold, doing something balanced, and doing something big. There will be enough credit to go around for everyone.
I think our Caucus is pleased to see the President come up with his program and his plan. I think that our Caucus would like to see more done, as well. And so, it’s a good step forward. We believe that there’s more to be done, but I’m pleased that the President came up with this plan.
Listen, as you go around the country and you go back to your districts – and I know Kathy and Charlie have heard this, as well – we know that there are people whose mortgages are still underwater. We know, though, that these same people were able to make payments.
Jim Moran has a proposal that’s out there that looks at fifty year mortgages, et cetera. You mean to tell me if that someone had the ability to make a payment prior to the collapse, still can make a payment, but we are going to foreclose and take their house away from them and not work to come with some kind of a rate or mortgage that would allow them to stay in their home and make payments? I believe that there’s a lot of room there for us to work together and expand, but I commend the President for his initiative.
Well listen, thank you very much. Oh yeah – I’m sorry.
Q: I just have a quick question on the House page program. Misters Dingell and Boren have introduced a bill to study the program and perhaps bring it back sometime in January or next Summer. Is that something your Caucus supports right now?
Chairman Larson: Well, we haven’t actually discussed it in our Caucus, but it is, you know, frankly, an emotional program. There’s been an awful lot of good that’s come out of the program, but an awful lot of liability, also, that has been balanced over the years and with the changing of actually how people receive information as opposed to a previous century – it cast a different light on it, as well. But it certainly is something that will be discussed in our Caucus and when you have the Dean of the House putting forward a piece of legislation, who is the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, that gets noticed.
Q: Also, a page.
Chairman Larson: And also a former page himself.
Thank you very much.
* The beginning of Chairman Larson’s remarks were missed because of a recording error.