April 29, 2022


WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) participated in a panel on the lessons learned from the U.S. economic policy response to COVID-19, hosted by the Hamilton Project and the Hutchins Center and moderated by CNBC's Ylan Mui. Chairman Jeffries was joined by Gene Sperling, Special Advisor to the President and Coordinator of the American Rescue Plan and Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, Virginia.

MUI: The White House just this morning put out a request to Congress for $33 billion in funding for Ukraine and also asked Congress to fund $22.5 billion in additional COVID relief. Can Washington come together to get this done and continue to address the root causes of the twin crises we're facing now?
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: I think we can come together and we absolutely must come together, particularly as it relates to continuing to be in a position to stand up a public health infrastructure, working through crushing the virus, dealing with the various variants that have come forward and will likely continue to come forward. And, of course, dealing with the crisis in Ukraine, Putin's war of aggression.
I think at least in my journey over the last several years, you know, we've found ourselves dealing with one crisis after the next. Certainly, that's characterized the Biden administration's tenure over the last 15 or so months. And I think from the very beginning, our objectives were really threefold… Crush the virus, provide direct relief and assistance to everyday Americans who are struggling, small businesses, state and local governments who provide services to everyday Americans and then lay the foundation for the most robust economic recovery possible. And I still think that those are the guiding principles as we as we move forward. And certainly, I'm hopeful that we can come together. A response is going to require a bipartisan commitment in the Senate and I'm hopeful that it will be that.
MUI: Is the goal of fiscal policy to create transformational investment during a time of recession? Should the goal be to build something that’s even bigger than what you had initially?
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: At the federal level, you know, a crisis in many ways does provide an opportunity to act decisively to address some ills that have been ailing society. And I think the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on communities of color, under-sourced communities, Appalachia, rural America, Indian Country were really brought to the forefront.
The American Rescue Plan in particular, in all the ways that the mayor and Gene have laid out, was incredibly important. But it also provided an opportunity to lean into some policies. For instance, the child tax credit that managed to significantly reduce child poverty in the last six months of 2021, because of this transformative policy, and should lay a foundation for us to move forward with a greater degree of permanence.
The pandemic was really clarifying that not every American has access to the high-speed Internet necessary to either work from home, learn from home, receive telemedicine from home, communicate with your family, friends and loved ones who you couldn't otherwise see. And that's a problem in America. And we were able to lay the foundation with a pandemic broadband benefit that then became part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. And so, I do think there is something to be said for the opportunity for a crisis to shape even a longer-term public policy approach to confronting the challenges of America.
MUI: Is inflation a political constraint on the amount of spending that lawmakers might be able to agree on?
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: I think the question to be asked, you know, moving forward is not whether we should be concerned or alarmed that the robust response laid a foundation for approximately 8 million jobs, good-paying jobs, to be created in 15 months, a record in American history in terms of a similar period of time. We shouldn't be alarmed at the fact that we've got the fastest rate of economic growth in 40 years, shouldn't be alarmed at the fact that unemployment went from 6.4% to 3.6%, can't be alarmed at that the fact that wages have increased in a meaningful way for the first time in decades, can't be alarmed at the fact that the deficit – with all of that happening – was reduced by more than $350 billion in President Biden's first year and will be reduced by over $1 trillion in his second year. Can't be alarmed at the fact that demand, presumably related to those dynamics, came roaring back.
I think the lesson to be drawn is what do we do about the supply chain challenges? And I think early on, the way Congress thought about things, left and right, Democrats and Republicans, it was an awakening that so much of what was necessary in terms of the public health response, items manufactured not domestically, but overseas, and we were somewhat constrained and overly reliant in terms of the geopolitics and the economics of supply issues, and I think that has grown and developed into taking a look at, you know, domestic chips production.
And I think that [with] the America COMPETES Act…we can invest in a meaningful way in semiconductor production domestically…So I think one of the lessons hopefully that Congress will draw moving forward from a policy perspective is, you know, how do we strengthen our domestic supply chain in the area of chips, semiconductors and possibly in other areas related to manufacturing and make it in America more decisively, which is good for the country, it's good for jobs and potentially will put us in a better position moving forward in terms of some of the inflationary pressures as they arise.
Video of the full Q&A can be viewed here.