Larson: Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves and Get to Work
WASHINGTON – House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (CT) held a press avail before the Democratic Caucus meeting this morning on the effects of the Republican budget and the need to act now to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling on over seven million Americans. You can watch the avail and read the transcript below:
Chairman Larson: Well, good morning and thank you. We’re back from a District Work Period where we were able to conduct more than 600 events that our Caucus members were able to put together back home in their districts primarily around jobs and also around the plight of Medicare and, of course, our continued efforts to focus on student loans.
In our Caucus today, we will again put up a time frame—the very short frame we have before student loans double and, in essence, in my district, I have to say, personally that the response we heard from students and their parents was heart rendering.
I will never forget the words of Lauren Mishkin in my district, who came and essentially said, I think I represent the typical American family. We have worked hard and played by the rules. I have two sons in school. One who’s graduating from William and Mary, but can’t go on and get his graduate degree because his loan debt has become so high that he feels he has to forego further study until he can get that under control. She has another one who is an honors student at the University of Connecticut; yet, she has exhausted everything within her control that she can use to help and assist her son. Their mortgage after 2008 went underwater and, so once when they were able to borrow, they no longer have that ability. So she turned to her meager pension that she has and borrowed everything she could from her 401k and now she can’t borrow anymore until that is paid off. And so in this recession—in this economy—not only has she been hurt by struggling to do the right thing, but, now, the dreams of her children are hurt, as well. And so to see this Ryan Budget ultimately eliminate — eliminate — Pell Grants. By 2014 all recipients of Pell Grants will receive a $1000 less and by 2020 it will be completely eliminated. As Lauren Mishkin said, to have the dream of college be something that’s only attainable by the rich is simply un-American.
So we can’t let this happen. We have to continue to draw the stark contrast that exists and hopefully we can prod our colleagues into doing the right thing, not only on student loans, but also on the economy.
It’s been nearly 500 days and we still haven’t been able to take the President’s Jobs Bill to the Floor of the House of Representatives – a bill that would put the country back to work. It’s already made. The Transportation Bill still hasn’t been passed and signed by the President. Infrastructure projects await for this nation to do and yet, in Congress, it’s bogged down over the desire to make sure the President doesn’t have any success.
Newsflash to the Republicans: it’s not about the President; it’s about the American people. They are hurting and whether it’s the Laura Mishkins that are struggling or the construction workers who want to get back to work, that will continue to be our focus here because we know that the simplest way to get this economy back on the road and deal with the deficit is that job creation creates deficit reduction. America needs to go back to work. They need to find that simple dignity.
We will be laying out before the Caucus a plan over the next couple of weeks. We’re calling it a Manufacturer’s Match where we going to specifically — where the Republicans won’t act – we’re going to roll up our sleeves back in our own districts and work with the Chamber of Commerce and labor, demonstrate that when people pull together they can actually get something done. I know because we’ve been able to do it successfully in my state and take the academic sector, the private sector, labor — have everybody pull together and line up positions in manufacturing and then do something that we call “speed interviewing.” In lining up people with absolute skills they can have a match with a specific company or if they find that they require skills, get the training, get the certificates, whatever skills are required to get that job. Or third, to notice a specific career path they can get further training for that has sparked their interest.
To create an employee base, to ease the burden on so many small employees and small businessmen, who don’t have the HR facilities, but allow them to make matches, especially as it relates to our veterans who are returning home from the front.
So that’ what the Democrats will be focusing on: an effort on jobs, attention to what’s happening out there to the citizens all across our country who consistently ask, “Why is it that Congress seems not to be able to do the right thing, but asks us to sacrifice? Why is it that Congress won’t step up to the plate and create the kind of jobs—assisting in creating the kind of jobs that can put us back to work?”
And with that, I throw it open to questions you might have.
Q: On the student loan issue: can you tell us about any negotiations that are happening? I know Chris Van Hollen met with lawmakers on that issue over the District Work Period.
Chairman Larson: Well, we hope that—obviously the Senate, as you know, is proceeding and I believe going to have a vote this week with regard to student loans and obviously they have a much different pay-for than taking away from cervical cancer and breast screenings and away from the Affordable Health Care Act.
And so we’ll see what happens with that in terms of the screening.
What we’re going to do is beat the drumbeat, with respect to that July 1st deadline that we are all marching towards. And there’s not an awful lot of legislative time, I would add, that we’re here actually working on these initiatives until that deadline reaches.
It's my sincere hope that we come to a resolution on this matter. But having said that, even if we prevent that from happening, we still have this atrocious budget that eliminates Pell grants by 2020; leaving Lauren Mishkin to say what I think a lot of parents would be saying: if you don't have means, and you're going to eliminate Pell grants altogether, is college education ultimately only for the wealthy? And these are people that work hard and play by the rules, have made their savings, have borrowed off of their mortgage, have borrowed off of the 401(k). They're out there working. And she's struggling; her pay has been reduced in the job that she's had. They're out there trying to make ends meet.
Q: This Manufacturers Match program, can you talk a little bit more about that? When will we see it? Is there a bill out there already? How many people have--
Chairman Larson: Well it doesn't actually even require a bill. But -- it may -- but here's the concept, and I think you'll appreciate this: People will always say to our Members back in their districts, "So," you know, "what do you mean, Congress is gridlocked? We have to get a job and we--" All of you have heard about the jobs that are available out there and some of that is true, especially in the manufacturing area.
So what we did in my district is take a trip around the district, talk with the small businessmen. What we found out is that, yeah, there are jobs available. But oftentimes, just by putting something out in the newspaper, and whether or not there's a specific match in the skill area. So we sat down with our Labor Department -- and I want to give them tremendous amount of credit -- we sat down with not-for-profits, like Capital Workforce Development, the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, we sat down with the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Higher Education and our community colleges and said, "What is it that we need to do to pool resources?"
Now it doesn't create any bill to pool resources, but in doing so, rather than every agency who all do very good work stovepiping and moving forward, let's collaborate here. Let's collaborate around a focus, in this case manufacturing, and find out what it is that those skill levels that manufacturers are requiring.
We had a number of businesses come and say the fact of the matter is they were hiring people in from Canada -- Connecticut not being that far from the Canadian border -- because people seemed to have the skills. Well, we think that people in America have the skills, they just haven't been matched. And then how do you maximize that opportunity?
So we came up with a concept of speed interviewing. And so what happens is that we got all of our manufacturers together who were willing to participate in it, and over 60 did. And then we lined up all the people who were looking for work, who had an aptitude in that area. They were vetted, and then they went through this screening process. We had Assistant Secretary Oates [of the Department of Labor] up and who had an opportunity to review it and then hear what people had to say afterwords. Even the people who didn't find work said this was the most impressive interview process they went through, because they got an idea and in a 10-minute interview – already vetted – where they sharpened their skills, knew what they had to have in terms of requirements, when they left that process, they either were going to have a job, know the skills that they were lacking, or even some said, "I didn't realize, after interviewing with this company, what kind of opportunities were there for me. I've decided to refocus my efforts in that area, or get another"
Q: So it's going to be a local campaign, not a national campaign?
Chairman Larson: Exactly. Well, but if you take local campaigns and you have the entire Caucus going out and doing it, if everybody says we're going to roll up our sleeves--now, couple that with veterans. So now we're doing a Veterans' Match. We're doing the first one on May 24 and then following along with one on June 14. We're trying to take every patriotic benchmark that we can find, and then to this, not only do we add manufacturing, but we added the trades along with this. And each step, we're going to add another layer, and another segment. Engineering, firefighters and police. You heard the President's initiative today calling again upon a jobs bill and for vets so that we can put them back to work as firefighters and police officers.
Bottom line is this: that as Congress continues to fiddle and diddle here, you can, back in your own district, get out there and roll up your sleeves and create the kind of job opportunity that will be appreciated by the small business and the large businessmen. And you also begin to explore and uncover the gaps that are needed within your districts and then proceed to fill those gaps. It'd be a lot more helpful if we had the bill and the money flowing through to the respective governments and into the private sector investment that would create the jobs that you need but there is much that can be done and we won't stand still. We know that people are hurting.
Q: Congressman, now Republicans are going to bring up the reconciliation bill to cover the defense side of the sequester on Thursday. They argue that you, Democrats, have not offered an alternative plan, so they're just going to go ahead and do this. What's your response to that, and what's your response to the--"
Chairman Larson: I believe that Mr. Van Hollen will be offering an alternative plan and an alternative budget.
Q: What's your response to the legislation that's going to be brought up on Thursday?
Chairman Larson: More of the same. You know, they would, you know, do away with Meals on Wheels and do away with the programs like Planned Parenthood and programs that have worked consistently, while, again, will not even remotely go near any subsidies for oil companies or any consideration of tax on the extraordinarily wealthy in the country. So it gets back to what this Lauren Mishkin said: "Where is the sacrifice? You're asking me to sacrifice, you're asking my kids to sacrifice. And yet, no person earning over $1 million--that's sacrosanct? But my kid can't continue his college education? We--you bailed out all these banks and automobile industry, but we can't get help for our kids? Come on."
And that's it. It's that choice that they face. I think all Americans are ready to make whatever sacrifice is required for the country to continue to be the preeminent military, cultural, social and economic leader in the world. But it's got to be a shared sacrifice. It's got to be fair. And they just don't see the fairness. And certainly not in the reconciliation bill.
Thank you very much.