House Dem Leaders to the GOP: Do the Responsible Thing
Washington – Rep. John Larson (CT-01) was joined by incoming Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA-31), and incoming Caucus Vice Chairman Joe Crowley (NY-07) for a press avail after the weekly Democratic Caucus meeting today. Below is the transcript:
Rep. Larson: Well, good morning and we have just concluded our regular Democratic Caucus Meeting. I’m honored to be joined by Xavier Becerra, the future Chair of the Democratic Caucus and Joe Crowley its Vice Chair.
Let me say, as we have said repeatedly since we have come back with the compression of time that exits and so much on the table, that it’s it a vitally important that we act. While we remain encouraged by some of the things that are going on, especially the number of Republican colleagues who have come forward and indicated that a common sense path forward, is to recognize that a $250,000 tax cut for everyone, including billionaires, is something that does not violate any pledge and will allow the Congress to move forward.
Also, as we have reiterated here week in and week out, job creation equals deficit reduction. And the most important thing that we can do is put the country back to work. That is underscored by the problems that we face in the northeast, specifically, in the aftermath of Sandy. But if Chris Christie and President Obama can demonstrate the ability to come together work towards issues, streamline a process, to put the country back to work and help New Jersey, New York and Connecticut out, we ought to be able to do that. And we ought to be able to that in this Congress and in a timely basis.
We’re disheartened to see that we’ve already given up Friday. We don’t know what the schedule is for next week and when we go home, most people at Augie and Ray’s in East Hartford say, sequestration? What about jobs? What are you guys doing down there? And the hard truth is, Speaker Boehner has a difficult task. I believe that he will succeed in bringing his Conference around and making sure they don’t take the nation over this fiscal cliff. We in our caucus remain prepared and stand behind our President and his proposals. Who has consistently put out there what is needed to help us move forward.
I believe it was the Australian Prime Minister who said, America is one vote away from claiming dominance for the next century and the place where everybody will want to invest their money and watch this economy grow. It’s up to the United States Congress and frankly, it’s up to the House of Representatives to step up and to do the right thing. We’re encouraged by the number of people in the business community who are joining voices as well in saying, listen, let’s do the rational thing here. Let’s pass this tax cut, let’s put America back to work, let’s understand in the new year in a broader context, in a more comprehensive way, the whole issue of tax reform. And as we move towards the opening of the exchange, a Republican idea, that we can work towards further driving down the cost of healthcare and at the same addressing our national debt with the same concerns. These are all logical, practical things that the American people expect of their Congress and what Democrats remain focused on doing.
With that, let me turn it over to the future Chair of the Democratic Caucus, Xavier Becerra.
Rep. Becerra: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
I guess I’m going to repeat what I’ve said before. Let’s take, let’s take the Tom Cole deal. Republican member, our colleague, Tom Cole, from Oklahoma, has said to his colleagues take the 98% deal. Protect 98% of Americans from receiving a tax increase and allow the tax rates to return to what they were in Clinton years for the wealthiest 2%. That’s what the President has proposed. Our Republican colleague Tom Cole has said, take that deal. And we know that there are several other Republicans who are beginning to say the same thing. The difficulty is the Republican leadership in the House, once again, refuses to allow that legislation, which would provide that protection from a tax increase for 98% of Americans to come to the floor for a vote.
And so I guess what we would do is repeat to Speaker Boehner. Mr. Boehner, take the 98% deal let the House of Representatives work its will with the vote. I’m certain, that that bill, providing tax relief for 98% of Americans would pass. In fact, I’m so sure that it would and I bet you, John Boehner can’t refute that statement and would not be willing to say, no, that that bill would not pass if it were put on the floor of the House for a vote.
Two thirds of the American public, we’re learning now, object to way Speaker Boehner is handling these negations. Two thirds. We also know that three fourths of Republicans object to having politicians sign pledges to special interests not to raise taxes whatsoever, rather than follow a Congressional pledge of allegiance to the United States of America. And we know that by an overwhelming number, eighty five percent of the American people, Republicans, Democrats and Independents, people object to politicians who sign these special interest pledges. And so it seems like it’s time for us to move forward.
What’s at stake? Well, we’re learning, beginning to learn, the American people are beginning to hear what’s at stake in this debate about Republicans protecting the wealthiest 2%. A gentleman, who is going to benefit dramatically by these Bush tax breaks, Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of LVS, it is being reported, is probably going to receive about a $1.2 billion advance from his company on dividends that he is likely to declare. $1.2 billion. He is likely to save about $340 million in taxes, as a result of the Bush tax breaks. $340 million, for one individual by claiming early dividends, through the Bush tax breaks. You can’t find 340 million Americans in this country, but one man is going to receive a tax break of over $340 million, as a result of the Bush tax breaks. That’s what’s at stake, that’s why Republicans are holding up this middle class legislation because there are people, like Mr. Adelson, who will profit handsomely through the Bush tax breaks which, the President has said should be allowed to expire for those top two percent of Americans.
And so, the reality is we have a solution, we’ve had a solution all along it’s just a matter of letting the people who are elected to represent the American public, vote on a bill that has already bipartisanly passed the Senate and is now before the House of Representatives.
Mr. Speaker, put the bill on the floor. Let’s take the 98% deal as your own colleague, our colleague, Republican member Tom Cole has said, it’s time for us to move forward, give the American people some predictability about what we are going to do and American businesses some predictability about what we are going to do and let’s continue to work to resolve the other issues where we don’t agree, but where we do agree, on protecting the middle class, let’s move forward.
And with that, let me yield to the future Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, our colleague from New York, Joe Crowley.
Rep. Crowley: Thank you Xavier, thank you John. Surprised to see so many members of the press corps here today because there is such an enormous calendar before the Congress today legislatively. I know we have a vote on the previous question coming up, I’m sure you’re all very interested in that, as well as a journal vote. I’m sure at some point and time today – there may be an adjournment vote at some point as well you all will probably want to cover as well. So we’re just overly taxed here, it’s only 10:15 and I’m already very, very tired. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through right now.
But I say that, in somewhat jest. Because there are an enormous number of things that we have to accomplish before the end of the year and we have a list of them right here in front of me. Not the least of it, which, the Violence Against Womens Act, for instance. You know, I think the Americans hear about that bill, they know about the bill and the importance thereof, they don’t necessarily see the relevance between that legislation and the fiscal cliff. And they ask a question, why can’t we at least do that? Why can’t we do the farm bill? They don’t necessarily see the relevance again to the fiscal cliff, but there are plenty farmers and ranchers asking the question why can’t we get that done? The AMT Patch may be a part, a part and parcel with issues relating to tax down the road that may get fixed in a broader bill, but why can’t we give Americans peace of mind today? By the end of next year this tax cycle they will be – the AMT will be diverted from their table, it will have an enormous impact once again, on the middle class.
You know, we all come here to do the job - if we’re elected to do and it is very frustrating for us when we come here and the see the lack of progress, not only last week, but this week again. Moving forward there seems to be very, very little happening here legislatively and time is wasting away. We’re losing, every day we hear, another opportunity to actually get things accomplished for the American people.
That was one of the biggest things I heard about when I was running for re-election this year; I’m sure my colleagues did as well, that the American people want us to get down to doing the work of this country. Negotiations though, cannot be one way streets and we’re not all – none of us are privy to necessarily, the conversations that have been going on between the White House and Speaker Boehner’s office, but we’re all getting trickling of information coming out. And it appears to me that President is willing to negotiate and continues to, to move that cannot be sustained, the Republicans need to come to the table now and get a deal with our President and with Senate leaders to, to avert going over the fiscal cliff.
Economists not only from around the country, but from around the world are saying that a failure to get a deal done – allow for us to go over the cliff, will have enormous impacts, not only on the economy of the United States, which we have all head, but around the world as well. And so it’s time for our, our colleagues on the Republicans side of the aisle to really get to work. Do the things we can accomplish today; you know, walk and chew gum at the same time. Continue those negotiations, but get something done and stop the charade of having to be here just for the sake of being here and not getting anything done.
Rep. Larson: Thank you. We’ll take some questions.
Q: Can you share with us any of the trickle out that you just talked about?
Rep. Larson: The trickle out.. (Laughter)
Q: The Congressman mentioned details were trickling out, could you please share?
Rep. Larson: Well I think what the Congressman was referring to is we hear the same kind of news that all of you are privy to, that - which is subject to rumor, but of course, the President did make yet another adjustment in going from $1.6 trillion to $1.4 trillion in terms of the revenue that’s anticipated and the Republicans have remained the same.
Let me, let me say this. You know, we recognize and I think for the public, that the difficulty that Speaker Boehner finds himself in. And both Xavier and Joe have addressed that. I mean, there are some here in this building who have taken a pledge to Grover Norquist as opposed to upholding their pledge to the Constitution. And that pledge apparently prevents them from compromise and so compromise has become a very negative term in the Republican Conference. That's unfortunate. Now that is not true of all Republicans and I think increasingly, both from the outside interests—and again, let me point out so many in the business community who are coming forward and recognizing that this makes sense.
I do not believe that the Republican leader, Speaker Boehner, or their leadership will take this country over a fiscal cliff. And the American people, as pointed out by both Xavier and Joe, have seen too much of this. We saw it with the debt ceiling debacle and seeing out bonds downgraded. We don't want to sit here and watch as the market starts to fall off because of Congressional inaction.
We do have an opportunity to move forward. As Xavier has pointed out, we have bills on the floor, ready to go, bipartisanly adopted in the Senate already that the President could put his signature on immediately. Let's act on that and then come back in January with a new Congress and take on the larger issues that we know still face the country. But demonstrate to the world that we can come together as a governmental body and agree and resolve not everything, but resolve a very important issue of fairness and equity as we move forward and deal with both revitalizing our economy and dealing long-term with out national debt.
Q: Mr. Larson, I understand in the President's budget there are cuts to Medicaid that are about $100 billion over 10 years. Do you support those cuts?
Rep. Larson: Well, until we see what those cuts are, it'd be hard for us to do that. But listen: you know, we recognize, and as we've already demonstrated, that—we've made cuts in Medicare already. We understand that as long as cuts do not impact beneficiaries—for example, I think as Mark Bertonlini from the Aetna pointed out, we see so much in waste and inefficiency that goes on in terms of the cost of healthcare delivery systems, that those are the areas that impact both the costs of Medicaid and Medicare that we think ought to be adjusted.
Where Democrats are rock solid is we don't think we should be impacting beneficiaries. On CSPAN this morning, a lady called in. She said she's earning $22,000 a year. That is the average of what a Medicare recipient receives. And she talked about the other costs that are rising around her. They simply cannot afford that. We understand that.
We, like the President, also understand, though, that within the totality of the system and the impact on outside sources, yes, there can continue to be savings and efficiencies and cuts that can be made. But we're not going to—you know, we won't do it blindly; we'll do it with—going in full-well of what we're focusing on.
Q: Well, just a follow-up on that: does that mean eligibility age? That's one of the things being discussed a lot. That seems like something, though, would affect beneficiaries. Is that one of the—
Rep. Larson: That's a simple matter of math. And the math just simply doesn't work. And so when you look at this objectively, the math doesn't work. I mean, you can talk about it, but that's the hard fact and our Leader has been very clear about that and her message. And so have the economists and, frankly, actuarials that have taken a look at that as well. So—
Rep. Becerra: Mr. Chairman.
Rep. Larson: Yeah, go ahead, Xavier.
Rep. Becerra: If I could just add one thing. Where's the balance? Why is it that a senior on an income of $22,000 has to forgo two years of Medicare that he or she has been paying for for decades because Republicans want to raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 when Republicans continue to protect folks like Mr. Adelson who's going to $340 million in tax breaks? That's not the profit, that just what he's going to save on the taxes he would otherwise pay. And so for us, it's a question of balance.
We're willing to make sure that everyone in America sacrifices a little, even those who've been struggling. I think most Americans would say, "Hey, I'm struggling but I'll put in my fair share." But we haven't heard Republicans yet get off the dime of saying they have to protect Mr. Adelson's $340 million tax break that that $22,000-a-year-income senior will never get. And so for us it's an issue of balance. We're willing to talk about everything, but we need it to have balance.
Rep. Larson: Joe.
Rep. Crowley: I'll just add another point as well, and I—just to piggyback on what Xavier has just said. When we look at what happens to those individuals who will be 65, 66, up to 67 who would then be disenrolled or not eligible to be enrolled until they're 67, what happens to those individuals? They need to continue to work. What happens to the company or the small business they work for? They would continue to have to contribute towards their healthcare benefits as well. So it actually can put individuals who right now are borderline in poverty into poverty, become reliant upon the states again for Medicaid, another burden to the federal government through the Medicaid system. So this easy math for the short-term, in the long-term can have incredible consequences to the federal government as well that we ought to be thinking about.
Rep. Larson: One more question.
Well thank you all very much—
Q: Sorry. Just to kind of continue on this conversation, what about something, you know, like CPI that could mathematically have a difference in shrinking the rate of growth rather than cutting? You wouldn't be cutting benefits to beneficiaries, you would be shrinking it.
Rep. Larson: But again—well, there's a whole series of math with respect to that as well. But let me go back to what the—what Xavier said. It's a question of balance.
Look: an election took place. There was a campaign in that election where it was very clear what was at stake. Both in terms for beneficiaries of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Healthcare Act as well as a specific plan to raise taxes, going back to the Clinton-era, where we had 16 consecutive quarters of growth, on 2 percent of the public who have done extraordinarily well. And so we've already made $1.6 trillion in cuts. There has been not one cent—not one cent—raised from revenue. And so the beneficiaries who call in are saying, "Wait a minute. Are you serious? We just had an election. You're saying that you want to see more from me as a beneficiary while a minority protects two percent of the people from having to pay their fair share? It's just simply not fair." And that's why so many Republicans are coming forward, so many people in the business community. And understand: beyond the fairness and the balance of this all—and listen, we get it, this isn't in and of itself a panacea, but it's a question of balance, it's a question of fairness, and the question of being able to move forward as a body.
Rep. Becerra: You struck a chord with question, and so—Republicans have proposed that to try to reduce deficits, that we cut the COLA that seniors get in Social Security. The cost-of-living adjustment, the COLA, that they get. In 2013, over 50 million Americans will receive a COLA increase of about $21 a month on average, right? Some seniors will get less, because they don't make the average amount of Social Security benefits, others will receive a little bit more. But if you take all those 50 million-plus Americans who are receiving Social Security benefits—which they paid for during decades of work—they will on average get about a $21 COLA increase. Republicans are proposing that we cut that COLA increase of $21 a month on average in order to be able to preserve the tax rates that millionaires and billionaires are paying. On average in 2013, a millionaire will get about a $75,000 tax break that that senior and 98 percent of—the rest of America will never get. And as I mentioned, Mr. Adelson, if he files for those dividends will get a tax break of $340 million. One guy, one time, for one company. No one with a straight face could ask why Democrats would agree to cut the COLA for seniors, the $21 COLA for seniors, while we have multi-millionaires and billionaires who are getting millions of dollars in tax breaks.
It's a matter of fairness. The President calls it balance, I'll call it fairness. A lot of folks have given a lot to this country, including those folks who are on Social Security, and we owe it to them because they believed in our country enough to contribute their tax money to Social Security to do this the right way.
And so my final point is this: whenever Republicans try to inject Social Security—to cut Social Security to balance, to take care of these deficits, I hope you all will ask them: why should Social Security and the millions of Americans who have contributed to Social Security be asked to take cuts in their benefits in Social Security, when in fact, in the lifetime of Social Security, some 77 years, Americans through their taxpayer money—through their own taxes, through the payroll tax—have contributed over $14 trillion to the Social Security system? In those same 77 years, Americans have only taken out through benefits $13 trillion in Social Security benefit payments. That's a trillion dollars that has never been used by Americans of hard cash that was paid through workers' taxes. Why, then, is Social Security being targeted for deficit reduction if it never once has contributed a single penny to these deficits and the debt that our country faces? That we think is not only unbalanced and unfair, it's cruel.
Rep. Crowley: If I could just add a point to that. You know, Social Security is one of the legs of retirement. And for people who've made proper investments and have pensions and have other means by which to live, the issue of an adjustment to the cost-of-living for Social Security isn't as meaningful as it is to the 33 percent who rely upon Social Security to survive. If any of you have had the opportunity when you were on the campaign trail following one of us or maybe even the presidential campaign trail, and you're in a senior center as we all are, inevitably, one of the first questions after we talked about something else is, "Are we going to get a COLA increase for Social Security?" Because it's that meaningful to these people. Without it, they have to adjust their lives. The lease amongst us, who have the least, who have to worry about an increase in their rent every year, or have to worry about their ability to afford their medications. We'll see, inevitable, and increase in Medicare Part B. So to simply talk about chained CPI as a way to fix the problem when, quite frankly, Social Security's off the table—it's already been said by the President—and when Social Security's not a contributing factor to the problems we're having today I think is just wrong-headed and moving us once again off the focus and direction of what needs to be done, and that is to get this tax cut for the 98 percent of Americans passed and move forward.
Rep. Larson: Thank you everybody.
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