House Democrats: Super Committee Fails if it Doesn’t Focus On Jobs
WASHINGTON – House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (CT), and Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA) held a press avail after the Democratic Caucus meeting today on the need for Congress to address Jobs. Below is the transcript and video:
Chairman Larson: Thank you for joining us this morning. We just completed a caucus where our continued focus is on putting the country back to work.
I am pleased and honored to be joined by my colleague and the Vice-Chair of the Caucus and a leader on the Ways and Means Committee, Xavier Becerra. And also playing – aren't you involved in some other committee that you're..? – Yeah. Someone who also serves on the super committee, as we've come to call it, as well.
We remain hopeful, and we remain hopeful about the super committee, even with just days before the November 23 deadline, primarily because we think this is a great opportunity for the country. A great opportunity for the country to be big, bold and balanced, and to underscore that the way to get there is through jobs, and that we feel that job creation equals deficit reduction. The CBO has scored that. And we continue to underscore that importance. There is no greater or significant way to reduce the deficit than by putting Americans back to work. And that will continue to be our Caucus' focus and I know that Xavier has had the luxury of listening to them and also listening to people all across this country while serving on the super committee as well.
Time is running out. But nonetheless, it is our hope that if our Members can continue to persevere and press on the Republicans on the other side – who we believe to be good people and desirous of the kind of momentous change that this could bring about to our country – embracing the President's plan, embracing plans of their own to put the country back to work, can only help this country and solidify our position around the world.
We reported in our caucus how we completed over the breaks more than 1,100 forums and hearings, all of which job creation was the central focus. We know that the Republican Conference was meeting at the same time and we hope that with that there they're hearing similar things of encouragement for us to come together and do what's in the best interest of the American people.
Someone who does that every day and who does an extraordinary job on the Ways and Means Committee, and is probably one of the nation's foremost authorities on Social Security as well, is Xavier Becerra.
Vice Chairman Becerra: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I would simply echo much of what you've just said.
Time is short. Those Members, the 12 of us on the super committee understand that time is short. And many of us continue to be optimistic. Pragmatically optimistic, but optimistic nonetheless that we can get this done, because it's better to have Americans, human beings, decide how to make tough choices than have some automatic trigger, some blunt guillotine, decide for us how we'll extract savings for the American people. And so many of us continue to hold out the hope that among the 12 of us, we can reach that sweet spot that gets us to that result.
And quite honestly, we're informed a great deal by the work of the Congressional Budget Office, which has told us that essentially a third of this budget deficit we face this year is due simply because of the effects of the economic downturn and the high rate of unemployment in this country. If we could resolve that issue of over 14 million Americans out of work, we could deal a great blow to this recession and get America back on track. And so many of us continue to hold out the hope that a solution not only will be achieved in the super committee, but one that will immediately strike this balance of getting Americans back to work by having job creation be the principle aspect of reform that the super committee puts before the Congress. We do that, and we're well on our way.
The other area where CBO has recently given us great information happens to deal with the hollowing of the middle class. Over the last 30 years, CBO documents that we have seen the divide between Americans--average Americans, middle class Americans--and the wealthiest in America grow so large. And it should be no surprise to people that today we have Americans who've been out of work for months if not years.
And so CBO has given us great information. And CBO will be referee which helps us come to a good solution. But many of us continue to believe that we can break this partisan gridlock if we simply tore up those special-interest pledges that keep the 12 of us from coming to an agreement that would be hailed by Americans and the markets alike because we would finally get America back on track and Americans back to work.
Chairman Larson: We'll take questions from the press.Q: Mr. Becerra, as a member of the super committee – many of us following this very closely the past couple of years – we've seen Mr. Van Hollen coming and going from meetings and things. It's been reported to several of us that you and Mr. Clyburn are not as engaged in this process at that stage. Is that true? Or are you there, involved in the minute-to-minute discussions as they try to reach an agreement?
Vice Chairman Becerra: We've all been part of the discussions and what you're finding is that there are discussions that have – they've become micro discussions. If 12 people can be described as a macro discussion, there are any number of micro discussions taking place.
The reality is that we've seen two formal proposals put on the table before the 12-member super committee: one by the Democrats and one by the Republicans. Everything else has been essentially strong conversation that any one individual or any number of individuals have put before some of the Members for conversation. And so what you find is that some people are perhaps engaging in more conversation than others but the bottom line is knowing where the 12 of us stand so we can come up with a deal.
I think I've been very clear how you get to a deal and get my support. I, for example, believe that we can do a number of things on programs, essential programs like Medicare and Medicaid. But before we start cutting programs that Americans have paid for like Medicare and Social Security, let's go after the programs that aren't working and where we can find some savings because of waste.
But the conversations should continue. They'll continue at the micro level and they'll continue at the macro level. The difference between conversation-no conversation is great, but the difference between conversation among the 12 and conversation among few is not that great. It's more a matter of trying to see if you can approach, as I said earlier, that sweet spot and I think some of us have made a little clearer than others what the sweet spot would look like.
Q: But you and Mr. Clyburn remain very much engaged in this process?
Vice Chairman Becerra: And certainly I'll let Jim respond for himself, but I would say absolutely. The 12 Members have had any number of conversations where we set forth the ideas that would get us to a good compromise. But again, I am not one who is prepared to talk about cutting programs people have paid for without a balanced approach to this. And so I don't need to repeat that over and over again so people know. I'm willing to make significant inroads into, for example, some of the mandatory programs, which include Medicare and Medicaid. But that comes as part of a big deal where everyone shares in the sacrifice to get some of the gain. And so if we want to have programs like Medicare or Social Security where people have paid for those services see cuts, and I know my Republican colleagues are willing to be aggressive in cutting benefits under Social Security and Medicare, I wish they were as ambitious when it came to finding revenue from the wealthiest Americans. And if we could breach that divide, we'd have a deal.
Q: On the discussion of punting some of the tax discussion to the tax committees: is that discussion happening only outside in the hallways where we are, or is that happening inside with you guys too, and where does that stand?
Vice Chairman Becerra: There are all sorts of discussions, as I was mentioning to Chad, taking place, including how you make this happen. I think there's a real desire to make this a big and bold deal. And with time quickly expiring, it becomes more difficult to package something big in the short amount of time and have the Congressional Budget Office be able to score it for us and give us the actual results of the work that we've done. And so you hear more and more the talk about trying to some of it now, a down payment now, and the rest later with some instructions to the Congress on how you get it done. The devil is, as always, in the detail: how you instruct the Congress to try to come up with that second tier, the second phase of that solution so that CBO says, "Yeah there's actual savings in it," and two, it actually reflects what the compromise was supposed to be in the super committee. So, any number of conversations going on including what you just discussed.
Q: Vice-Chair Becerra, is the war savings element a viable concept for the super committee?
Vice Chairman Becerra: I think the fact that we are beginning to see the draw-down, not just in Iraq but also in Afghanistan, means that we will begin to see savings. Remember, every troop, every soldier, essentially costs us about $1 million to train, equip and maintain. And so if you're able to draw down our forces, you're able to reduce the footprint economically, not just militarily, of our forces. And so there should be savings that we can extract. And if you talk to the Congressional Budget Office, they would agree that there can be savings had.
Q: Mr. Becerra, Mr. Clyburn said that the six Democrats in the super committee haven't coalesced around a plan. Would you agree with that statement?
Vice Chairman Becerra: There are any number of plans that are out there by individuals and groups. I believe the six Democrats would like to be able to present a plan to our Republican colleagues that could get Republican votes so that we could come up with the solution, that good compromise. At this stage, there are any number of ideas floating around, some that have been explored with our Republican colleagues. And so I would say to you that right at this moment, is there a plan that the six Democrats could present to our Republican colleagues and feel comfortable with? Absolutely. Is there a plan that has actually been presented to the Republicans as the six Members on the Democratic side? There's still conversations going on so it would be premature to try to end those conversations, bipartisan conversations, when they may still influence what package the Democrats ultimately believe can get a bipartisan vote. It’s a moving target and the ultimate goal is to get a deal, not to just present a plan.
Q: Do you personally support the two-step process or would you defer the tax issue until later?
Vice Chairman Becerra: I can support any plan that goes big, that is balanced and that gives clear instructions, not just for the 12 of us, but for our colleagues in the House and the Senate to implement. And I believe that the instructions should call for a quick resolution of the second phase, so there’s not a lot of guessing that would be involved. And I believe it’s important the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction be given some very clear instructions so that there’s no doubt what was intended. Ultimately, we have to get a CBO score, so I’m open to a two-step process. It could be a multi-step process, so long as it’s clear where we end up. And, quite honestly, the answer to that question about where we end up will be given by the Congressional Budget Office. If they can’t score it and show us that we actually will have savings, then it’s not real. And at the end of the day, CBO must tell us it’s a real plan with real steps that will lead to real results that get the American economy back on track.
Chairman Larson: If I could just add here just for a second: first of all, let me say, the incredible confidence that our membership and the Democratic Caucus has placed in Chris Van Hollen, Jim Clyburn and Xavier Becerra. We really know that they get the interests of the Caucus and the American people. And we further believe, as Xavier has said, that we’d like to see something big, bold and balanced.
What concerns a number of people--and we believe that if this becomes this unbelievable opportunity, where you can put aside the cloture votes that stop anything from happening in the Senate--as it has 497 times to us in the past--and not deal with poison pill amendments in the House, that there is an opportunity here to do something that’s great for the country.
And that's where our Caucus--but we will not stand by and see false equivalences. By that I mean contrasting defending Medicare beneficiaries versus subsidies for oil companies and say “Oh, they just can’t seem to get together, over on that.” Those are bridges too far. Consider the pressure that they are under and the microscope that they are under on a regular basis. They continue, I think, to do, with the compression of time, an extraordinary job and we have great confidence in them. I just wanted to--
Q: Congressman, considering you need to have a CBO-scored package 48 hours before the deadline, what is your understanding when you need to have your proposal submitted to CBO? Where is the deadline there?
Vice Chairman Becerra: Well, first I want to thank the Chairman for his remarks because I think he’s absolutely right. None of this works unless you have the vote of the people, and certainly the vote of the people will be reflected by the vote of the Members in the House and the Senate. And so it becomes very important to make sure that we’re doing something, not just big, bold and balanced, but something that everyone in the Congress can get behind.
In terms of time, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the clock is ticking, and if we don’t move fairly soon, we’re not going to get to take a good shot at the basket to beat the buzzer, and I believe that this could be a magical week. We should really try to get to the Congressional Budget Office something that they could have the time and the deliberation to score so we can put it before our colleagues in a way that gives them the confidence that they can vote for it. And so I believe that the elements of a deal are there. We could make it a big and bold deal, or we can make it a deal that meets our statutory obligation, but either way it’ll have to be a balanced deal and the elements of a deal are there. Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office has scored most of the different elements or ideas that have been put on the table and it’s more just a matter of making sure that they can score the interactivity of all those elements to come up with some numbers for us. So I think it can be done, but the clock is ticking.
Chairman Larson: Thank you.
Q: Would you also send Medicare and Medicaid reform to the relevant committees? Would that be something else that would also be--
Vice Chairman Becerra: There’s no reason why you can’t, so long as, as I said, the instructions are clear. Thank you all very much.