CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES ON PRESIDENT BIDEN'S BUDGET: "YOU CAN BOTH INVEST IN AMERICA, HAVE A FAIR TAX CODE, BE FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE AND REDUCE THE DEFICIT"
WASHINGTON, DC – In case you missed it, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, appeared on Bloomberg TV's Balance of Power with David Westin to discuss President Biden's vision for America, which is reflected in his budget focused on fiscal responsibility, safety and security at home and abroad and a commitment to Building a Better America.
WESTIN: Let's stay on that subject of the budget and turn to Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's a Democrat of New York and Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. Mr. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. I understand you just came from a meeting of Democratic leadership on the budget. Take us into that meeting, what was discussed, and — maybe let me really put the question very directly — why does this budget matter?
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, thank you very much, it's great to be with you again. The White House Director of OMB Shalanda Young, testified before the House Budget Committee today and presented the budget that is an "Invest in America" budget, as well as investing in our safety and security here in America and throughout the world. President Biden has had an extraordinary track record in turning the economy around in a very short period of time. Fastest rate of economic growth in 40 years, unemployment down to a pre-pandemic low of 3.8% — when President Biden came into office it was 6.4% — wages are up, 7.4 million good-paying jobs created during President Biden's time in office — that's a record in American presidential history — and during President Biden's first year, the deficit was reduced by more than $350 billion. That represents a great start for President Biden, but more needs to be done in terms of lowering costs for everyday Americans, and that is what this Biden budget represents.
WESTIN: So I guess I ask the question why it matters in this sense, we hear that it's what you and I as lawyers would call "precatory," that's to say, it's intentional, it's desirable, but it's not going to be the legislation that's actually passed. How much will this influence whatever actually does get passed, maybe later in the summer or even in the fall?
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, it's an incredibly important statement of values, and it lays out a framework that will ultimately, in large measure, make its way into legislation, both in the context of the work that the Budget Committee will have to do and in terms of the work that the House Appropriations Committee in the Senate Appropriations Committee will do. We just passed our year-end spending agreement. Of course, that was in March of 2021, but it did represent an extraordinary investment in the American people. And as we race toward the conclusion of this current fiscal year, which will happen on September 30, hopefully this budget will provide a baseline for the type of work that we need to do in terms of continued job creation, bringing manufacturing jobs in the supply chain back to America in a way that's good for the economy and good for our national security, as well as ensuring that we still have a strong social safety net so that the American people, as we are emerging from this pandemic, can get back on their feet.
WESTIN: Congressman Jeffries, as we look at the fact sheet released by the White House yesterday, the number-one thing it mentions is fiscal responsibility and reducing some of the deficit that you referred to. At the same time, it didn't take 24 hours for Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia to come out and say, "I can't live with this because the way they're getting that deficit down is by tax increases I'm not comfortable with." Why does it make sense for the White House to come up with a budget that we know Joe Manchin — and he's a critical vote as we know — won't agree with?
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, the budget is a framework statement of values, and it's the start of the discussion, not the end of the discussion, as you pointed out, and certainly with a 50/50 margin in the Senate, we've got to make sure that in order to get to an ultimate agreement that every single one of those senators, Joe Manchin included, is comfortable. But it is important to point out that you can both invest in America, have a fair tax code and through stronger economic growth, be fiscally responsible and reduce the deficit. I think the great thing about the Biden budget is that its target goal is deficit reduction of about $1.3 trillion, building upon the more than $350 billion in this most recent year, his first year in office.
WESTIN: Is it realistic, as a practical matter, to tax people for wealth they've accumulated, but they actually haven't cashed in on? That is to say, some of the unrealized capital gains, things like that. As a practical matter, as you know better than I, it would take an awful lot of auditors an awful lot of time to appraise everybody's wealth every year.
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well it's an idea to be explored, it's in the public domain. Certainly, we want to strike the right balance. The President has also proposed raising the corporate tax rate back to 28%. Of course, initially it was 35%. It was dropped all the way down to 21%, and corporate America wasn't even asking for a 21% tax rate — and we know that's higher than what the effective tax rate is. In terms of the tax on billionaires, I think the foundational question is, should it be the case that we have billionaires in America who pay less in taxes annually than police officers or firefighters or nurses or social workers, sanitation workers, transportation workers — those who help our country run, help keep us safe? I think most people would agree that should not be the case and we need a fairer tax code.
WESTIN: Congressman Jeffries, as you well know, another part of the budget is increased spending on defense — something we don't always expect out of the Democratic administration. Would we have had that same increase, but for Ukraine? How much of what we're seeing in Ukraine right now is influencing that part of the budget?
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: It's a reasonable question to ask. I think the White House can provide some clarity on that. The world is an increasingly dangerous place, however, and we're seeing that play out in real time in Eastern Europe with Vladimir Putin and Russia's unjust invasion, horrific and brutal attack on the Ukrainian people. We certainly have to make sure that NATO is strong, that America remains the strongest military in the world and that we have the capacity to help our allies, like Ukraine, defeat Russia. Because that is a battle not just between two countries, it's a battle between democracy and autocracy, between freedom and tyranny, between truth and propaganda — and we've got to make sure that democracy prevails.
WESTIN: And finally, Congressman Jeffries, obviously there's a midterm election coming up in November. I'm sure you may have focused a little bit on that, at least for your own election. And most pundits right now are saying it's going to be awfully hard for the Democrats to hold the House. How important is this budget to that? Does this budget help Democrats come November? Because it looks like you have an uphill climb.
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: Well, good policy makes for good politics, and as long as we can continue to build upon President Biden's economic record of success, the COVID turnaround that he has helped to engineer when he first took office, less than 2 million Americans were fully vaccinated — now more than 250 million Americans are fully vaccinated. That doesn't happen by accident. It's because of the American Rescue Plan, which also saved our economy. So we're going to keep legislating. The budget is an important document in that regard. And if we can deliver for the American people, particularly with a focus on dealing with inflation, gas prices and lowering costs for everyday Americans, we have a strong chance. I believe we will keep our majority in November.
Watch the full interview here.
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