House Democrats United on Need for Jobs & Middle Class Tax Cut
WASHINGTON – House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (CT) was joined by Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (MD) for a press avail after the Democratic Caucus meeting this afternoon on the need for Congress to focus on jobs and averting the fiscal cliff. Below is the transcript and video:
Chairman Larson: Well thank you for joining us. We just concluded our Caucus.
And let me start by saying, it’s incredible the enthusiasm amongst our new members and what a tribute to this great democracy that we live in. Fulfilling what Jefferson always thought would be the renewing and pruning of a democracy with a new energy that we see.
And yet we face some very daunting tasks. We were pleased today to be joined by Chris Van Hollen, who’s done an extraordinary job for us as our budget chair. Who along with Norm Dicks and Sandy Levin made presentations to both the freshman and our current members about what we face.
We know this, first and foremost, this situation that we find ourselves in and memos attributed and in the packet by Rich Neal, and by Sandy Levin, and by Norm Dicks, and Chris Van Hollen all point to the nature of how we got here to this point. And the nature of this fiscal problem that we face and how it was created. And yet there is the optimism that we can get something done. Why? Because we believe first and foremost, everyone who spoke, is that we got to put the country back to work! It’s about jobs! It still remains upper most about putting the country back to work. Because if all our speakers have said, job creation equals deficit reduction.
It hurts when you say that we are going to be leaving on Friday and we still haven’t addressed the issue of putting the country back to work. It’s something that Democrats and Republicans both agree on. Clearly, during the campaign Republicans chided the President for not having put the country back to work. We can, get a jobs bill out of here and put the nation back to work and we can do it in a manner that will also bow to the Republicans.
When Chris Christie and Barack Obama met in New Jersey they in the spirit of understanding they’d have to repair an infrastructure and the President said to Chris Christie and we can expedite this process because of the nature of the emergency.
And so there can be a common ground where you talk about how we look at regulations and expedite a process to deal with an emergency.
We not only have an emergency that’s impacted the Northeast, but we been dealing with an economic emergency let’s act as a body before we leave in job creation.
And we all agree on taxes. Everybody agrees that there ought to be a tax, you know, that we, we want to make sure that the middle class gets its tax cut and Chris Van Hollen has said time and time again, that’s two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for everyone. Not just the middle class but for everyone, including the millionaires and billionaires. And so there is common ground here for us to act.
And then long term, dealing with this deficit reduction in a very focused manner that will be allowed, quite frankly, because of the exchanges taking effect and our need to deal with the issue of healthcare at-large.
The President of the AETNA said, look, there is seven hundred and fifty billion dollars of waste annually. We should not only be able to bend the curve that will drive down healthcare costs and also drive down our deficit. We can all work together on this.
This is the great hope that we have, but we will not yield on the principles of what we believe in terms of putting our people back to work, providing the tax cuts that the middle class to prevent further harm to our economy and also making sure that social fabric of this country, meaning it’s programs of Social Security and Medicare are there for our citizens. That was the discussion in our Caucus.
I’m so proud to be joined by our Budget Chairman, Chris Van Hollen, who has done just an extraordinary job.
Ranking Member Van Hollen: Thank you. Well first of all, thank you John for your incredible leadership as part of our Caucus, Chairman. And as you’ve always said our Caucus is America’s Caucus. And John Larson has also kept us focused like a laser on jobs.
And so we talked about our dual objectives here.
Number one, is the priority to accelerate the economic recovery. At the very least do no harm, but beyond that let’s find a way to accelerate it. So, we need to make sure we extend all the middle class tax cuts, but we also need to adopt other parts of the President’s jobs initiative, like his infrastructure investment. You know, how much of that other package you do in six weeks, how much of that you do in six months, those are things we can talk about, with respect to the middle class tax cuts we should act immediately so we don’t go over the so called, fiscal cliff.
The other objective is to develop a long term plan to reduce the deficit in a balanced and credible way. And this was not a secret during the campaign. The President talked about the fact that in order to do that you’ve got to ask high income earners to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit. Because simple math tells you if don’t ask higher income individuals to pay a little bit more, everybody else gets wacked harder as part of the budget process, seniors on Medicare get hurt, less money for our kids education, less funds to invest in our infrastructure and scientific research. So, that’s why we’ve insisted on taking a balanced approach going forward.
So, we’re looking forward to working with President and our colleagues to avoid going over the fiscal cliff and as I’ve said to some of your before, I mean the keys to the car heading towards the fiscal cliff are in Republican hands. And I just think it’s politically unsustainable and as policy, makes no sense for them to say that, nobody in the country gets extended tax relief unless higher income individuals get a bonus tax break on all their income above $250,000. That is the position they’ve taken. The Congressional Budget Office report that just came out, shows that has, that would have a trivial impact on jobs and growth. The higher income piece, they made clear that a much more important component of the fiscal cliff from a tax perspective, in addition to the middle class tax cuts, was the payroll tax cut extension for one year, which is why I personally, have said we need to find a way to either extend that for one year, or its equivalent. Something like we did with, Making Work Pay because according to the Congressional Budget Office, that gets you a lot more jobs for your dollar than other components of the fiscal cliff.
So, thank you, thank you Mr. Chairman and thanks for bringing us all together.
Chairman Larson: Thank you. We’ll take a few questions.
Q: What do you make of the, some folks on your side of the aisle saying that would like a one to one ratio on this and Republicans saying, well you know, they seem to be locked in their positions and that their way is the only way to fix it?
Chairman Larson: Well, as I said, I think there is an opportunity here for us to agree on the things that we can agree on. And you tell me? Is there any Republican you talk to that is not in favor of jobs? I don’t think so. Is there any Republican that you talk to that is not in favor of tax cuts, especially for the middle class? I don’t think so. We agree on those items and I think the ability to work within that to a grander solution. And while at the same time as Chris pointed out, the fairness involved to making sure that we’re attacking this debt problem from the perspective of fairness first. And I think that’s what the American people expect. And most of all, they want to see is a) working and b) working towards solutions. If, if we cannot, if there is failure it will not be because we didn’t put forward issues that we can both agree on and enact.
Ranking Member Van Hollen: The only thing I would add to that, the only thing I would add to that is.
September a year ago, we did a trillion dollars worth of cuts. 100% cuts. Right? There were no revenues as part of that package. So as we go forward in a balanced way to reduce the deficit it’s time to look at the revenue piece and specifically focus, as the President has said, throughout the campaign, on higher income earners and the need for them to contribute more to reducing the deficit. Otherwise, when it comes to additional cuts you’re going to be doing it at the expense of everybody else in the country. So when you take those ratios into account, remember, there’s already a trillion dollars in cuts that have been made when you start thinking about next steps.
And I apologize, Mr. Chairman I’m going to have to get out of here. All politics is local.
Chairman Larson: I'd just say this: I can remember one time being in church and I was observing one of our neighbors and when it came time for the collection, he was only able to put in a small amount of money; it was maybe a dime or a nickel. And I asked my father about that, and he was sitting next to a wealthier person who was able to put in much more. And I said, "Wow, the wealthier family really does a lot more." And my father said, "No, that person who could only afford that dime put in as much and maybe more than he could afford already." And so it gets back to a fairness issue with respect to the public.
Q: With that, I want to ask you about your plans for the next Congress. The three leaders are—
Chairman Larson: Well, I'm telling you right now that—I'm glad you asked that—I'm heading up the feather duster caucus. I'm fond of quoting my grandfather, Nolan, who famously said, "Just remember: peacock one day, feather duster the next." And so I'm looking forward to this very engaging role that I will have.
I'm going to stay actively involved in working with the leadership and with the new Members who have come in, and with our current Members, a number of the task forces that we've initiated and started. I firmly believe that it's great that our roles as chairman and vice-chairman, and I've served both, are term-limited, because it allows for new leaders to come up through the ranks and I think allows you to continue to engage with the Members. I expect to play more of a prominent role on the Ways and Means Committee where I'll be moving up as well, but by and large, our theme coming out of all of our caucuses has been one of unity. And I can tell you both by the enthusiastic nature of our incoming Members and also the coming together of our Caucus that we have that kind of a unity in a caucus that's the most diverse body every assembled by a nation-state in the history of the world, a body I call, as Chris says, America's caucus. It's quite remarkable.
Q: By more prominent role on the Ways and Means are you for, like, a top role—
Chairman Larson: Oh, Chairman or … [laughs] No, well, we'll be moving up and we go through our committee selections, et cetera, but the nature of the job of chairman of the Caucus means that oftentimes you're not at as many meetings as you'd like to be.
Q: Obama's been adamant and you guys have been adamant about allowing the expiration of the Bush-era tax rates on the highest incomes, up to the Clinton levels. Now there's some talk that a compromise might be doable, moving the rate up, not to the Clinton level, but somewhere above—between now, between what it is now and Clinton levels. Is that something you could support?
Chairman Larson: Well, I think that—well, you'd have to look at everything first and clearly I think it's good to hear that the word 'compromise' is something that isn't viewed as a bad term. Although we've seen some recalcitrance, I think that Speaker Boehner has struck the right chord. Probably less so in the Senate. But you know, Senator McConnell is probably fearful of the fate that befell Mr. Lugar and Mr. Bennett and why Olympia Snowe didn't run. And so always politics factor in to this, but I would hope that the tenor that's been struck here about the need to come up with a solution, a need to do it in a balanced way, can be achieved. And in this environment—let's be honest, you're all pros—there's oftentimes the need for people who've staked out a position to be able to save face and to be able to get to a position where we can seek compromise but in a way that allows them to hold onto their principled beliefs and yet still accomplish the same goals. So I'm heartened to hear that people are talking about that.
We'll see—you know, there's a great deal of speculation what will come down. You all are aware of everything from Domenici-Rivlin to Simpson-Bowles to the Gang of Six, Seven or Eight, various proposals and other subterranean groups that are meeting constantly. And of course the President will play a major role in this and we're hopeful that the meeting tomorrow, after meetings with labor and the business community and then tomorrow with legislative leaders results in something.
Personally, again, I think we should be here with regards to whatever they come out of that meeting tomorrow, we need to be here and working, putting people back to work. You know, that is the—nobody disagrees with that, and that is the formula.
And here's people back home. You know, you've heard me refer to Augie & Ray's quite a bit here—you guys probably missed that a lot, right? But it is what they are thinking back at home. You say 'sequestration' to somebody back at home they go [makes confused face], they look at you like you like you're on Mars, and they say, "Look, put us back to work. Can't you guys get together and put us back to work? Just put us back to work and it will signal to us that you got the message from us. We need to go back to work."
Job creation equals deficit reduction. It's a good start. And then look at, please, you're not going to let these tax cuts sunset without benefitting the middle class people, and having us go off these cliffs that were artificially imposed through a legislative process that was more political than substantive and should be dealt with and we should give people the certainty that that's not going to happen, and then deal with jobs and deal with tax cuts. And then long term, recognize that we do have problems as it relates to the health and well-being of the nation and that clearly we can come up with good ideas on both sides as we head towards an exchange to drive down that cost curve. And as the president of the Aetna said, that will help both the deficit and the efficiencies and also make Obamacare affordable.
Q: So it sounds like you're not drawing any lines in the sand?
Chairman Larson: No. Well, I'm drawing lines in the sand with respect to what we need: putting people back to work, tax cut for people below $250,000, and making sure that we're preserving our social safety net. You know, I'm in agreement with those who've said Social Security shouldn't be a part of this negotiation, and that we have before us the opportunity and the ways to together—there's good ideas on both sides; let's put 'em together. And let's make this work both in the short run, what we agree on—jobs, tax cuts—and long term. We're gonna have an exchange that opens in 2014. We know that the cost of healthcare is at 17 percent of GDP, no one else, including a private sector nation like Switzerland which is probably closest at ten percent but has full coverage for everyone—we know that this can work. We know that we can apply this. And so I'm hopeful that this happens.
Q: You said a minute ago you say 'sequestration' to somebody back home and they look at you like you're from Mars. Coming out of your caucus, one of your new Members was asked by somebody said, "What'd you think?" and he said, "That sounded boring as hell." Is that the fundamental problem? These aren't constituents, these are Members.
Chairman Larson: Well, yes. I think if you're coming out as a Member and listening to, you know—and you guys have chronicled this pretty well—look at the broad list of things that still remain on the agenda. And you know that the nature here is to talk about things like, "You have new freshman Members" and we're talking about the AMT. Guy goes, "What?" You know, and they can't possible absorb all of this at once, but when you say the alternative minimum tax and this is what its impact is, I think it becomes more helpful and instructive. And yes, this stuff can be very tedious. In fact, it doesn't lend itself to 30-second sound bytes. It lends itself to the grist of what a legislative process is all about. Nonetheless, I think everyone that spoke there today came out with one myopic focus: jobs.