WASHINGTON – Congressmen John B. Larson (CT-01) and Xavier Becerra (CA-31) held a press avail before the Democratic Caucus meeting today on the need for Republicans in Congress to put aside partisan interests and address jobs and a full extension of unemployment insurance and the middle class payroll tax cut before Congress. You can watch the avail here. Below is the transcript:
Larson: Good morning to everyone and welcome back. Happy new year and good cheer in general.
We’ll be joined by the Vice Chair of the Caucus, who is also one of our conferees, and I’ll leave it to Mr. Becerra to discuss some of those concerns. But we come back after a long recess with what my constituents still believe is the dark abyss of uncertainty, or lack of jobs that they need vitally. And with the opportunity for the leadership of the Republican party to place on the Floor the President’s bill that will put this country back to work.
Instead, what we read about is that instead of addressing the need to put America back to work, we’re going to be just further mired in political debate aimed directly at the President. That’s not how the country is supposed to work. It’s most unfortunate. I hope that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are ready as we are to roll up our sleeves and address the important issues that face this country. And the number one issue that continues to face this country is to put the nation back to work.
We also understand that we have items left over from the last session, most notably dealing with the payroll tax , dealing with the extension of unemployment, and dealing with what we commonly call the doc fix – to make sure that we protect our seniors on Medicare. We have to put choices on the table, again, that I think are important to the American people, not the least of which – especially as we observe the debate in the Republican party and we learn astoundingly in the case of what many consider to be their ultimate presidential candidate – that he paid 15 percent in taxes. Secretaries, rank and file citizens all across this country pay far more.
Is it fair to continue to protect the nation’s wealthiest one percent and have those amongst us, especially the middle class that are feeling the squeeze, have to bear the burden of two wars that are unpaid for, to pay for tax cuts to the wealthy – people in this country will have to suffer and continue to see programs cut so that the Mitt Romney’s can pay fifteen percent taxes? C’mon.
There’s a better way to do this. There’s a fairer way to do this. And the American people understand that. This is a time of shared sacrifice. This is a time when we need to roll up our sleeves, put this nation back to work, do what the President has asked – extend this payroll so we put money – this payroll tax – so we put money back in the hands of people, make sure that doctors are going to see their seniors, and for those that are out struggling to get a job and through no fault of their own can’t find any, extend them the benefits so they can continue to pay their taxes, not see their mortgages go into foreclosure, and then have Congress roll up its sleeves and address the issues of the day.
Put the President’s jobs bill on the Floor. Vote it up or down if you’re opposed to it or if you’ve got a better idea, bring it to the Floor, but extend the courtesy of a vote. That’s what the American people expect – not this political gamesmanship, where they’re going to continue to try to block everything that the President does. That’s just flat out wrong.
I hope our colleagues will reconsider that as we go forward. I know that they – the Conference, will go on their retreat starting this afternoon. We wish them well. We wish them all the good luck in the world but we want them to come together in a way that they can work with us to put America back to work.
With that, and I know that our Vice Chair will be here shortly, we’ll be happy to take any questions.
Q: Can you address the rhetoric from the Republican side, when they’re saying, well the President is asking for this debt ceiling increase? We all know – people who really understand how this debt ceiling agreement is, how they’re trying to pin this on the President. And secondly, how will you vote on the resolution of disapproval today?
Larson: Let me start with this being a manufactured crisis from the outset. And I think that anyone who has witnessed the events of this past summer where they took us to the precipice on an issue that Ronald Reagan did 18 times, that George Bush did 8 times in terms of addressing the nation fundamentally paying its debts. That’s what this issue is all about. And all this issue – the reason the Republicans are bringing this up is a face-saver for their hard line people, who make the wrong association between national debt and paying what you already owe. And so, that’s why we believe this is a fraudulent issue, a totally manufactured issue with respect to the debt ceiling.
And do we really want to go through another process where after we vote we watch the stock markets tumble all around the world? Are we going to do the right thing this time or will we see a repeat of what we’ve seen all throughout last year, where the Republicans bring us to the precipice of either shutting down the government or causing chaos, only ultimately to relent, but not until the damage has been done to the economy and what they see, and what they hope, is damage done to the President. That seems to be their agenda – to see what damage they can inflict on the President, not what good they can do for the American people.
Q: And how will you vote – the other part of my question, and for that matter also, Mr. Becerra, on the resolution of disapproval?
Larson: On the resolution of disapproval, I’ll be voting with the Democratic
party on that.
Q: And how is that?
Larson: Look, we think that this is a manufactured crisis. We think, and we support the President and the country’s obligation to pays its debt.
Q: Given that we’re now in an election year again, how productive do you think this Congress can actually be compared to last year, which as you’ve said, there was a lot of moving from crisis to crisis.
Larson: We’ll we’re disheartened by what we read in the papers to say that this is going to be, you know, just a focus on aiming at the President and creating political opportunities to go after him when there is ample opportunity. I have to believe that when Republicans went home, they hear the same thing we do.
I have to believe that they have town hall meetings and that they hear from their constituents – that they understand the need to put America back to work. And so I would hope that they would minimally – minimally put the President – he’s laid out an agenda. Put his – give the opportunity to have his jobs bill have a vote. That’s not a big request. That’s not a big ask. If you’ve got the votes and you disagree with it, vote against it. But for God’s sake, at least give the American people and give the President the courtesy of a vote.
Q: Question for both of you…
Larson: Let me – go ahead, ask the question and I’ll allow the Vice Chairman an opportunity to…
Becerra: I agree. I agree. (Laughter)
Q: Do you think that the payroll tax package should be paid for in its entirety? And I ask because Leader Pelosi yesterday said in no uncertain terms that the UI portion of that and the payroll tax extension should not be paid for because they would harm the stimulative affect of…
Larson: Well I’ll let one of the conferees, who understands this issue better than most, respond.
Becerra: Mr. Chairman thank you very much. We’ve always treated emergency unemployment benefits just as it applies: as an emergency. Just as we wouldn’t expect a state suffering from a natural disaster requesting emergency funds to have to pay us in order to get the support of Americans throughout the country, I don’t believe that most Americans think that Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and are therefore seeking a handout through unemployment benefits should have to find that other Americans will suffer the consequence by having to pay that.
The reality is that Republicans have taken both sides of this issue. They pay for some things. They don’t want to pay for others. They never paid for the Bush tax cuts yet they say that we must pay for the tax cuts that go to middle income Americans. So there’s a great discord in terms of what they say they want unless they’re saying only tax cuts for the wealthy don’t have to be paid for and tax cuts for the middle income do.
So we’re trying to figure out why it is that they’re pressing so hard for something that’s so important to Americans, especially those who have lost their job through no fault of their own. We’d have to suffer the consequences as a result. So we will see what happens. I think the leader has spoken well for Democrats.
Larson: And it continues to gnaw away, certainly at our Caucus and certainly with my constituents: why it is that those who pay fifteen percent that that is so sacrosanct that the wealthy cannot pay more? But we will ask secretaries, we will ask senior citizens to pay more for Medicare or to give up benefits? C’mon.
We’ve got to start getting real about the choices that are out here for people. And the people that are suffering the most during this difficult recession have been the middle class. The squeeze that they’re feeling the most and the relief is very obvious. For fellow Americans, who are living quite comfortably, not to partake in sharing the burden of two wars, an expansive tax cut is flat out immoral. And what we need to do is make sure that remains on the table and let the American people see the clear choice that exists.
We continue to try and compromise, but compromising in light of these facts. – and when you hear this, I have to be honest, when you hear this yesterday: Mitt Romney saying, yeah, I paid 15 percent in terms of taxes and I only earned a little bit of money last year. I earned just a paltry amount of money from book sales – $385,000.
You know, the disconnect between what’s happening to average American citizens and the race that’s going on for the Presidency of the United States. And why, constituents will always ask me, why are they so dug in on this issue? Why are they dug in on protecting those who only pay fifteen percent in terms of their taxes? It is extraordinarily troubling and disheartening, especially when we know we have a jobs bill that could be taken up, payroll taxes that should be extended, doctors that need to be paid so that they’ll be able to see their patients and, as the Vice Chair pointed out, an unemployment extension for people that are out seeking jobs already, as well.
Q: Does that mean that you want to pay for the extension for the middle class tax cuts by hiking taxes on the wealthy or does that mean you just want to not pay for either, as the Republicans haven’t paid for the…
Larson: I would prefer, and speaking for myself, I would prefer, and I think the Democrats have long stated that we would prefer to see the taxes paid for, but paid for by making sure we go back to the Clinton rate when people were doing extraordinarily well and have people pay their fair share. But I know, and the Vice Chair has articulated this, we look at unemployment as an emergency. When in our history have we had to pay for unemployment before? This is a crisis. This is an emergency. The worst recession since the Great Depression. Albeit, our people have been at the table willing to work together to make sure that we extend the payroll tax cut, that they get the benefits.
Becerra: If I could just add – this is an issue of being responsible in governing. Now, you also have to be consistent in how you govern. If it’s an emergency and you recognize that the urgent nature of the funding means that you do it now for Americans who are hurting, then it’s an emergency and you do whatever you can as Americans pull together to help out your fellow Americans. That’s the case of the unemployment benefits for those who have lost their job through no fault of their own.
When it comes to the middle class tax cut, there are ways to do this responsibly. You can treat this, if you want to be consistent, the way Republicans have treated other tax cuts, where they have never paid for tax cuts; or, you could decide that they are ways to responsibly pay for anything, including a middle class tax cut. There are ways to do this without harming the middle of America and we have proposed – Democrats have proposed ways to pay for the middle class tax cut in ways that are responsible, that are supported by the vast majority of the American public, and which would not undermine the recovery of our economy.
If Republicans choose not to join with us, then it’s simply a signal that 2012 is picking up exactly where 2011 left off. We hope that’s not the case, because the American people sent a very strong signal at the end of 2011 when Republicans were trying to block the middle class tax cut that the American public get it. They are watching and we should try and do some pragmatic, practical things that the public all agrees we should do. Once again, the people way ahead of the politicians when it comes to moving the country forward.
Larson: Thank you.
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