WASHINGTON – Congressmen John B. Larson (CT-01) and Xavier Becerra (CA-31) were joined by Richard Trumka, the President of the AFL-CIO, and Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) for a press avail after the Democratic Caucus meeting this morning on the need for Congress to focus on jobs, not partisan gimmicks. You can watch the avail here. Below is the transcript:
Rep. Larson: Good morning everyone and thank you for joining us here.
We just had a very stimulating caucus. I'm proud that, as our guest, we had the opportunity to hear from the President of the AFL-CIO, Rich Trumka, who will speak today.
But let me start by saying that here we are, with only a few legislative session days left.
We could've passed a transportation bill over 100 days ago. And yet, as this construction season continues to dwindle away, we're still waiting to see whether or not we'll have a transportation bill.
We heard from Joe Courtney again today in our caucus about whether or not we'll have a student loan forgiveness bill that's up.
The fact of the matter is this Republican majority in the House has obstructed every opportunity to put the country back to work. Time and again the President has reached out. But even extending the courtesy to the President of the United States to put forward his jobs bill has been rebuffed by the Republican majority.
People in my district say it best: they face the dark abyss of uncertainty. And what they desire is the simple dignity that is derived from a job. The ability to look across the kitchen table at your spouse and children and let them know that you're working towards their security.
Instead, that uncertainty – because of their mortgages underwater, the continued squeeze that's placed upon them with the education of their children, and the shrinking of their wages – is our number one focus. Putting this country back to work.
And yet, what do we see on the agenda this week? A contempt of Congress.
Come on! Americans get it. They see what's going on here. And it's got to stop.
We will continue to fight on behalf of working people, to put this nation back to work, to make things here in America, to embrace an innovation agenda that has us focusing on creating jobs here at home and not outsourcing them abroad.
We heard an inspiring message this morning from the President of the AFL-CIO, and I'm proud to introduce Rich Trumka now.
Richard Trumka: Thank you. It's good to be here with you this morning. And I guess I'll just very quickly recap the message that I tried to deliver this morning and then open it up, I guess, for questions.
So here's what we said, that Americans want three things: jobs, jobs, and more jobs.
And they're tired of all the delaying tactics that they've seen from the other side, whose primary goal has been to make sure no progress is made. We find that ironic. They're frustrated with that and they're not going to tolerate it.
They're going to get a chance, I think, every politician's going to get a chance in just a few weeks, to really talk about whether they want to bring jobs home or whether they want to continue to reward companies that take jobs offshore. There's a bill called the Bring Jobs Home Act that'll be voted on in the Senate right after the July 4th break, probably around the 10th of July. We're doing field rallies and demonstrations on behalf of that bill. What it would do is remove deductions from people who move jobs offshore and give tax credits to people who bring jobs home and create jobs here at home. Every incentive to do it right. They'll get a chance to vote on that. Those that vote to continue to send jobs offshore, I think, are going to have a tough time in the fall ballot box because American workers will know who stood with them and who didn't stand with them.
They also want a fair tax system where everybody – everybody – pays their fair share. And they're not seeing that right now. They want a fair tax system so that we have the revenue. Because the myth that America is bankrupt really needs to be destroyed. We're a rich country. In fact, the richest in the world. We just need the revenues to bring it in. And the revenues come from people who've been avoiding those.
We've talked about that. We talked about a couple of other things this morning, but the gist of it is that Americans want hope. They want somebody who's going to stand up for them and say we're going to create jobs. And that's what this Caucus talked about this morning: ways to create jobs.
We used to have bipartisan consensus when it came to the transportation act, FAA, and a number of other things. It wasn't partisan because it wasn't Democrats or Republicans that owned bridges, roads, and our competitive future whenever those bridges and roads are the best in the world. Now every one of these becomes a fight. It becomes a, I guess, a cliffhanging experience, that they take everything to the edge of the cliff before they say okay, we'll extend this for a few months.
Look, we need to know that America's going to be competitive. We need to have a transportation bill that takes care of our roads, bridges, and other things. FAA bill, we need to have that. Clean water act. All of those things that do two things – make America competitive in the world, and create jobs - are in the breach.
So we're asking all those Representatives to come forward and help us create those jobs, help us make America more competitive. And those that don't really should be taken to task for that. And I think they probably will. It's called election day, and they will get taken to task on that day. Thank you.
Rep. Larson: Thanks Rich. Xavier.
Rep. Becerra: Mr. Chairman, thank you and to President Trumka, we want to say thank you very much for drilling down on what Democrats have been saying for quite some time today in our Caucus meeting. You really honed in on the message of jobs, jobs, jobs and we are with you on that.
We believe that every single minute of Congressional time on the Floor of the House of Representatives should be spent talking about putting Americans back to work. How can we help small businesses and large businesses in America get folks back to work? And part of that, of course, means creating the demand that generates the need for Americans to go out and purchase things and put people back to work. That's what we'd like to focus on.
And it's kind of interesting with just a couple of days left before we break, again, in this Congress and are gone, we have a number of things that are coming before us that could help us create those jobs. Both Chairman Larson and President Trumka mentioned we have a stalled transportation bill which Republicans in the House have kept us from voting on that would create some two million American jobs, especially in that construction industry which so much is in need of getting its members back to work. We have the American Jobs Act, which is the President's proposal which would create another million-plus jobs. There are three millions jobs out there for Americans that are sitting because Republicans in the House are unwilling to let us cast votes on those bills.
At the same time, rather than talk about jobs, Republicans seem intent on having a vote on the Floor of the House that has nothing to do about creating jobs for Americans but has everything to do with keeping the dysfunction of this Congress going, and that is a contempt citation as a result of an investigation which seems to have run aground. And it seems to be trolling for a way to have material to use against the Administration. I hope the [fourth estate] will help the House of Representatives take a close look at what a partisan witch hunt looks like in the Congress of the United States because it's time for us to get to work and deal with jobs.
I will close by saying the following: this week we're going to find out if Americans will be able to move forward with their healthcare and whether or not American families have to worry once again that if a child that they have is born with a pre-existing condition, if once again that child will be denied health insurance by an insurance company.
We're going to find out this week if the Supreme Court understands that a lot of young Americans who are under the age of 26 are very fortunate today, some three or four million of them are fortunate today, to have their health insurance because of the landmark health reform that passed and if whether or not the Supreme Court will allow those families to maintain health insurance coverage for their young adult children.
We're going to find out if the Supreme Court wants to help seniors continue to be able to reduce the size of that doughnut hole in their prescription drug coverage so they don't have to spend so much money out of pocket.
We'll find out this week if the Supreme Court is listening to the American people and following the U.S. Constitution or if it's becoming more and more what we've seen the past: a partisan body no different from the Congress, no different from the elections that we see on a semiannual or every four year basis and whether there are nine people on the Supreme Court who are going to try to do the bidding of special interests, who are actually interested in listening to the needs of the American people, guided by the Constitution of the United States.
We had a decision rendered earlier this week which dealt with immigration which confirmed that, once again, it's the federal government's role to deal with immigration reform. And I hope that that's a signal, a clear signal, to Republicans to take their foot off the brake and let us get to immigration reform the way most people want it to get done, because we have a broken immigration system that is in desperate need of action by Congress instead of by 50 different states giving us 50 different laws.
And with that, I yield back to the Chairman.
Rep. Larson: We're also going to find out this week whether or not student loans double and someone in our Caucus who's done an extraordinary job, who's on the Education and Labor Committee, Joe Courtney has led this fight for our Caucus.
Rep. Courtney: Thank you John. As you said, that is one of the issues we're gonna find out. In three days, 7 million college students all across America, most from working families because the subsidized Stafford student loan program is a means-tested program that helps middle-income kids pay for college, are going to find out whether or not the loan levels, the loan interest rates, are going to double on July 1st or not.
There is some promising developments that we're hearing from the Senate, that an acceptable pay-for has come together, at least for a one year extension. The House Republican leadership has been mum in terms of whether or not they actually will agree to that and Mitch McConnell himself said that the only question that remains in terms of whether or not this is going to get done in the final hours here is whether or not the House Republican caucus will do its job and come together as the Constitution requires with a common sense compromise to make sure again that student loan debt, which now exceeds credit card debt and car loan debt, is going to continue to go higher, whether we're going to make it worse or whether or not we're going to at least lock in a lower, affordable rate for seven million students all across America.
This should not have come to this. President Obama on January 25th, before the State of the Union address, challenged Congress to lock in the lower rate. The House Republican leadership stonewalled for three months. In March they passed the Ryan budget plan which locked in the 6.8 percent rate.
And, what I would note, is that if we are successful over the next few hours to get the lower rate protected, it will be the first real-life intrusion on the Ryan budget plan since it passed in the House in March.
It shows again, in issue after issue, whether it's Medicare or whether it's adequate financing for a whole host of issues, that when real-life issues, such as paying for college, match up against what the Ryan plan called for, in fact the Ryan plan loses with the vast majority of the American people. And even the Republican candidate for president conceded about a month and a half ago that the lower rate had to be protected.
So this is an issue which this Caucus, under Leader Pelosi, George Miller, John, Xavier, and all of us have been talking about for the last five months and we are going to continue to talk about in November because in fact, for working families in particular, paying for college is not going to be something solved by a one-year fix.
We need to have a comprehensive package in terms of making sure that higher education debt levels are going to be turned around and that we are actually going to have system which provides a way for young people to meet the workforce needs of this country.
And with that, I'll turn it back to you, John.
Chairman Larson: Thank you very much Joe. Thank you for that excellent report. And with that we'll take questions.
Q: Do you expect many Democrats to vote for the Holder contempt citation tomorrow and does the NRA play a role in that at all?
Rep. Larson: Well certainly the NRA will play a role. They do. But we expect the vast majority of Democrats, especially those that are familiar with the facts of the case. You know we found it very interesting today, and Elijah Cummings did a terrific jobs of explaining this, it's hard to imagine that when this action took place in 2006 under a previous administration and that when the minority, in this case Elijah Cummings, asked that we bring forward those individuals that were actually involved in that for testimony, that they were denied.
And I think as Chairman Issa admitted this past weekend that there is no involvement on the part of the President. In contradiction to, I think, what were some inflammatory statements on behalf of the Speaker. We begin to see that this is just all part of a continuing plan and whether its suppressing the vote, or suppressing the economy, this obstructionist regime that we see that continues to block because they‘d rather see President Obama fail than the nation succeed. And that’s thoroughly frustrating because we know there are people in this body on both sides of the aisle who understand the importance of putting this country back to work and embracing not only student loans, but a robust transportation bill that will put the country back to work.
President Trumka is right. A pothole isn’t Democrat or Republican. And neither are crumbling bridges, and sewage systems, and broadband for our schools that need to be fixed and that’s what we should be focusing on.
Yes, yes go ahead.
Rep. Becerra: I just have to add this.
The fact that the NRA is playing politics on this issue shows how far Republicans allowed the issue of government oversight to descend into an issue of Republican overreach.
To now inject the NRA on an issue that has nothing to do with the specific use or ownership of guns on an issue of a contempt citation, to me is why this congress, and this past year and half, has become a year and a half of failure to launch, failure to deal with jobs, failure to deal with the economy, failure to deal with the things that most Americans are concerned about.
What the heck is the NRA doing getting involved and scoring votes on the issue of a contempt citation?
That’s where we are though. And that’s what this House of Representatives under Republican leadership is spending its time on. It’s spinning its wheels talking about contempt citations on issues its not willing to fully investigate, at the same time Americans are crying out for help and trying to hold on to their homes and keep their jobs.
Q: Will we see Democrats vote against Holder because of their concern about the NRA?
Rep. Larson: I’m sorry what’d you say?
Q: Will we see any kind of influence on the NRA’s rating of Democrats regarding their vote?
Rep. Larson: Well, listen, you’d have to I guess, there has been no polling on our membership on how they’d respond to the NRA. But suffice it to say certainly that the NRA is a major force on this Hill. As the Vice Chair has said, it seems rather extraordinary that they would score this issue. But some members are impacted by that and you’d have to ask the individual members how they’re going to respond. But the majority of this caucus, strong majority of this caucus, will be with Elijah Cummings.
Rep. Becerra: By the way, what I expressed was my own personal opinion about the NRA and the fact that it’s playing politics on this issue.
Q: Mr. Larson, all four of you gentleman played a major role in 2009 and 2010 in getting the healthcare law bill, at the time, passed. Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will ultimately decide, you know, what’s left of it or keep it all intact, we all know the kind of permutations. Assuming that there are going to be changes made by the Supreme Court what is the Democratic response tomorrow when that ruling comes out? And Mr. Trumka what is labor’s response? What are some of the issues he has with?
Rep. Larson: Well let me start first by saying that I believe that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.
Q: I was actually going to make a caveat to the question that that we’re not going to say, will they uphold it or not.
Rep. Larson: Ok, so let’s assume that they don’t.
Then, I think because of the way that the Vice Chair outlined the benefits of the bill and let’s start with pre existing conditions.
If you strike down the individual mandate, again, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but if you strike down that individual mandate then you have an insurable risk issue and because unless they also strike down pre-existing conditions, you would have pre-existing conditions, in effect, with no obligation to purchase insurance. It would be like the ability to drive an automobile, get into an accident, and then say I’d like to buy insurance for this. So, it will create enormous chaos in this system.
I believe that the Supreme Court, that in looking at the commerce clause, and Congress’s ability to regulate and prescribe laws for commerce across this great nation, then there is no question that the commerce of health crosses state boundary lines; that they will rule favorably.
I also believe that irrespective of how they rule that everybody has acknowledged that there is a lot of work to do as we move towards the exchanges in 2014.
But we also know that the American people already benefitting from this act are looking in with eager expectations.
And Democrats will continue to fight on behalf of people who are in need of - the more than 44 million were without health insurance – who then would be thrown back into a system where they’d have to go to the emergency room for their only care, which will only further exacerbate a system that‘s trying to work its way out of this, it is making incredible headway. Where they are predicting economically that an additional $1.4 trillion is going to come into this area, that this would seem illogical and blatantly political if the Supreme Court were to rule otherwise.
Richard Trumka: First of all, I’d love to have a much longer discussion about the Supreme Court with you, although not today, because what we have is several Justices on the Supreme Court that, while they were being confirmed, talked about how they wouldn't be activist, have become the most radical activist judges we've seen. Just a decision this week against SEIU was a decision that wasn't even in front of them. And they decided a case or an issue that wasn't in front of them. That is radical activism by judges that they so aptly condemned.
But what we're going to do on the healthcare, regardless of whether it is upheld or not upheld, we're going to continue to do what we would've done. We've said that this bill isn't the end of healthcare. There's still much more work to be done. And so the day after the decision, or Thursday afternoon, we'll be looking to expand Medicare so that there's Medicare for all. We'll be looking to have a universal program where every American can look the words 'quality health care'. And we'll be pushing people that get elected to agree with us on that. And those that don't, we'll put that out to our members and to the working population and say these people don't want you to have healthcare expanded. They want it to be sort of the survival of the fittest, the law of the jungle. If you're rich enough to get care, well by gosh you should be able to get it, while the other 90-some percent of American who would have a tough time doing that, we'll have to fight. And we'll be fighting for them to make sure that we get quality health care for the rest of the country in compliance with the wishes of the country. Because the vast, vast, vast majority of American people think that one, the healthcare system that existed previously was broken, needed change, and two, every American should have healthcare.
Rep. Becerra: Probably the worst outcome we could see is a 5-4 decision. Because I think that will go, unfortunately, a long way in confirming this growing belief in the gut of the American people that the Supreme Court no longer cares so much about the Constitution. It cares more about politics.
And so I hope, for the sake of the institution, which this democracy has respected since the birth of the nation, that the justices, who too often play politics on the court, will recognize that we have a chance to move forward, abiding by the Constitution and abiding by the interest of the American public to have access to decent quality healthcare.
And so, as President Trumka said, after tomorrow, many of us are going to do everything we would've done the same way. We're going to continue to fight to improve healthcare, whether it's making sure we take care of the sustained growth rate issue, or so-called 'doc fix', to resolve that, or whether it's fighting the efforts of conservative extremists to privatize Social Security and Medicare and turn it into a coupon. There is work to do. And so, regardless of what the Supreme Court does tomorrow, we have to continue to work to improve healthcare for all Americans. But we should all take some time tonight to pray a little to make sure that the Supreme Court doesn't come out with another 5-4 decision which, once again, unmasks its political tendencies more than its desire to uphold the Constitution.
Rep. Larson: We will also be in a position, because the Republicans have said so, if it's a 5-4 decision as the Vice Chairman has outlined, that they have said they are going to repeal every aspect of the Affordable Healthcare Act. So we will be dealing with a group that cares little about creating jobs for the country – and by the way I would remind people of the jobs that were created under the Affordable Healthcare Act as well – but the dismantling of these programs for the individuals who are already in receipt of the programs themselves. That is how myopic they have become in their pursuit. And apparently if they don't succeed, Mitt Romney has said he will.
Thank you very much.
# # #