Press Conference on the Economic Stimulus Package
REP. MARKEY: All right, thank you all for being here and joining us on such an important day for America.
There's no doubt that our economy is in crisis. Today, the House will vote on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Last year, this country lost a staggering 2.6 million jobs. This bill will create and save 3 (million) to 4 million jobs across America. It will give 95 percent of Americans an immediate tax cut and will help thousands of small businesses to stay afloat. And it will invest quickly in the economy -- much of that in transportation and infrastructure, which has been sorely neglected for many, many years. And our infrastructure, our transportation infrastructure, has always been the backbone of our economic prosperity.
In my home state of Colorado, there is 6.1 (percent) unemployment rate and it is expected to rise. Bridges and highways are falling in disrepair; schools are unable to modernize and many of them are laying off teachers.
The last couple of days, I've been reaching out to county commissioners, to mayors, to school superintendents to explain to them what's in this reinvestment act. And last night, at about midnight, I received an e-mail from one of my superintendents and I'll read just a piece of it to you.
He said, "Do you have any idea what a godsend this money is to my school district? I am superintendent of one of the poorest school districts in Colorado. Until your phone call, I was looking at slicing programs to the bone just so we could get through next year. I was worried sick. Betsy, you are throwing us a lifeline."
I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to put America first and to take this step to put us back into economic prosperity. Thank you very much.
And at this time, I would like to introduce my colleague, Congressman Jim Himes from Connecticut.
REP. HIMES: Thank you, Betsy.
And thank you to all of you for being with us today. This is an important day and an important step in reversing the economic decline in which we're in.
I am Jim Himes of Connecticut's 4th District and I will be proudly -- pending the amendment process -- proudly voting for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act this afternoon.
I'm not voting for it because it's a perfect bill. In my three weeks here -- in addition to learning how to get to the House floor quickly -- I've learned that we don't do a lot of perfect bills, but it is very, very urgent and it is a very good bill.
I was back in the district -- I was in Bridgeport two days ago. I met two people who were on the brink of losing their homes and met about a dozen people who had lost their jobs. And we know the figures -- 8,000 more-or-less Americans losing their homes every single day; 500,000 jobs being lost every single month. That is not acceptable. This Congress has to act quickly to reverse the economic slide that we are in right now.
The bill is a good bill. Of the 825 billion (dollars), as you know, 275 billion (dollars) are tax cuts -- a good chunk of that going to something that I had advocated for during the campaign, which is tax cuts for middle class families.
There are also tax cuts in there for businesses that will encourage them to make capital investment and invest in the future of their companies. And then, of course, there is substantial spending to allow our states and municipalities to close their budget gaps so that they're not reducing programs at the very moment that those programs are most necessary, and so that they're not firing people as we work so hard to create the 3 (million) to 4 million jobs that we expect to be generated by this bill.
The bill has been criticized, perhaps for not -- for not creating as many jobs as rapidly as possible. I think that that's inaccurate. I think that this will do about as well as we can in the near term. Those areas in which there is spending that is likely to take a little bit more time to translate into jobs are also areas that happen to be areas that have been severely neglected and will result in investment in areas that are absolutely essential.
I am talking about the electrical grid, I am talking about the investment in broadband, health care, infrastructure. These were things that we were going to do at some point if we were to -- if we are to maintain a strong economy. And so I'm delighted to see that we've made a commitment in this bill to those investments as well.
So I will be proudly voting for this bill this afternoon and I'm here to urge my colleagues to do the same. Thank you.
REP. DRIEHAUS: Good morning.
My name is Steve Driehaus, I'm the newly elected congressman from Ohio's 1st District -- the southwest corner of Ohio in Cincinnati.
And I'd like to speak to you for just a moment about infrastructure. And when I was campaigning, it was crystal clear to me that the infrastructure in Cincinnati, the infrastructure in the state of Ohio is failing. And we as a Congress need to step up and understand the critical importance of helping the taxpayers back home not just through tax cuts -- as Jim Himes has mentioned -- but also through critical investments in infrastructure.
There's $6 billion in this bill for clean water. In Hamilton County, we face a tremendous challenge with our combined sewer system, as do older cities across the country. This is critical, critical capital investment for those cities.
In addition, there's $4 billion for the Housing Stabilization Fund. Again, we talk a lot about foreclosures and foreclosure mitigation and what got us into this economic crisis. But the simple fact is that older cities around the country have to deal with cleaning up the mess. That means abandoned properties, vacant properties all across this country. And in Cincinnati, we have thousands of those properties.
This bill helps those cities. It helps those cities recover by being able to purchase those homes, by being able to rehab those homes, by being able to take down those homes where appropriate, but to rebuild neighborhoods.
This bill is about renewing America and rebuilding our neighborhoods, rebuilding our older cities while putting thousands and thousands of people to work. It's critically important that we make this investment in our economy and critically important that we make this investment in our states and local governments.
REP. CONNOLLY (D-VA): Thank you.
My name is Gerry Connolly. I'm the new congressman from the 11th Congressional District of Virginia -- right across the river from where we are today.
I want to just say that it is very important that we take action. Some of the debate that we've heard on the floor really is -- makes you wonder about "Alice in Wonderland". It's as if we weren't at the economic precipice.
The United States economy is probably in the worst shape it's been since 1933. And this Congress and our class got elected on a mandate of change to get something done, to produce results for the citizens we represent; for the people whose homes are about to be foreclosed; for the kids who can no longer access Pell Grants or credit to be able to go to college; for people who are losing their jobs and no longer have access to health care.
This bill that we're being asked to act on today, and which I'm going to support, addresses all of those issues and a lot more.
Let me focus on one that's dear to my heart. Before coming here, I was the chairman of a very large county across the river -- one of the largest in the United States. And I have seen the fiscal meltdown in local and state governments all across the United States. It is estimated that the cumulative fiscal contraction, if nothing is done for state and local governments, which are required to balance their budgets, will be a quarter of a trillion dollars. This bill pumps $120 billion in many different ways into state and local governments to stabilize the situation and to rejuvenate them as engines of growth and job generation. That is a critical as we move forward for the future.
All of us come from states and localities and they are hemorrhaging. And so this bill, among many other things, helps stabilize that situation. And as Betsy indicated, certainly on the education front -- but it's going to be true for our mayors and our county chairmen. They're going to welcome the assistance this bill provides in helping them stabilize an unprecedented fiscal meltdown -- something we have not seen since the Great Depression.
Let me introduce my colleague from Ohio, Mary Jo Kilroy.
REP. KILROY: Thank you, Gerry.
Thank you, all of you, for being here.
In voting today for the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, I will be listening to our president who has asked us for swift and bold action. I'll be listening to the panel of economists that we heard from, from all of the various presidential administrations going back -- including Mark Zandi from the Reagan administration -- warning us of dire consequences if we fail to act and letting us know that this bill will help put Americans back to work.
And I'll be listening to the people in my district who are hurt and hurt hard by the downturn in the economy -- 500,000 job losses a month in the United States; nearly 120,000 more people without a job in Ohio this year than just two years ago. These are our mothers and fathers, our neighbors, our friends. These are people who worked hard and played by the rules and are really worried about what's happening to them.
I met with some of them in the district last weekend. I met with Duchess, a woman who has worked in the IT field as a project manager. She's been out of work now for almost a year. She's worried her unemployment benefits are going to run out. This bill will offer an extension of those benefits. This bill will offer IT jobs for people like her.
I listened to Elizabeth, a young mother with two children doing all right until her divorce, moved in with her parents. Now her husband has lost his job. He stopped paying child support. She's working temporary. She wants to go to law school. She wants to have a better future for her and her children. She needs our help.
And I talked to Susan whose husband suffered a devastating bout of cancer and cannot work again due to complications of that, but can't get his disability application through the Social Security Disability Program because of the clog-up in the system. This bill will help them.
But it will help more people -- people who are unemployed, people who need food stamps who are marginally employed and people who are out of work who need COBRA insurance to help bridge that gap, I hope, until they get their next job. For them and for all Americans -- and for our state governments who need this help for their social safety networks, this bill is for them as well. It is taking care of those hurting most by extending these benefits.
It's also about accountability. And Barack Obama, our president, has promised accountability reports and oversight that this bill lives up to its promises. It's about creating jobs, jobs today; as we heard from my colleagues, jobs for our crumbling infrastructure that will put people to work right away; jobs also that will pave our way to the future with a new green economy with greater emphasis on energy efficiency and extending broadband and wireless services; it's paving the way to the future by keeping our teachers employed and by making sure that our schools do well because our children need that education. So we have a bill that provides for long term sustainability -- keeping teachers working, getting our kids ready to work.
It is predicted that this plan will have a $172 billion impact in Ohio and it is hoped it will drop our unemployment rate, not overnight but as we get Ohioans back to work, and jobs is the key to this -- getting people working; making sure that the recovery process is extending not just on Wall Street, not just in the credit markets but out here on Main Street in our local communities. Thank you.
REP. GRAYSON: I'm Alan Grayson from Florida's District 8 in Orlando. During the campaign we heard a lot about the word change and people asked what is that change? Well I said that the change was a change in priorities and that's what this bill reflects. This bill is a reflection of new priorities. This is a bill that spend 75 times as much on money for education and health as it does for the military. It's a bill that spends 12 times as much on transportation and housing as it does for the military.
In short, what this bill does is it meets human needs. It does what a just society does; it feeds the hungry, it shelters the homeless, and it heals the sick. It helps us to look forward to a day when we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks; and when nation does not lift up sword against nation anymore. That's the change we need and that's the change we've got. Thank you.
REP. MASSA: Thank you very much to the colleagues assembled from my class. My name is Eric Massa and I'm from New York's 29th congressional district in western New York state. I apologize for arriving late but I was just with a group of constituents representing school board superintendents in my office and I thought it important to personally listen to their message.
I am a fiscal hawk. I don't like deficit spending. I don't think that anyone that I've met in our freshman class or, in fact, throughout the Congress, enjoy the prospect of what is basically $1 trillion in debt that we're going to look at our children in the eyes and ask for them to assume that responsibility. But, ladies and gentlemen, the situation in our economy today is so incredibly desperate that a failure to act is the fulfillment of absolute irresponsibility.
And for those who oppose this bill with whom I can have an argument and a philosophical discussion in open forum -- and I welcome that -- to characterize this as a pork-laden bill, a bill that you've heard so much on the air waves today of throwing millions to Acorn or whatever boogeyman they want to put in the corner is simply irresponsible. There is not a single earmark in this bill. The president, the leadership, the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader have taken the high ground by putting this money programmatically through states so that it reaches communities in the most rapid way possible and in the least pork-laden way possible -- the largest portion from my district of which will be direct and emergency response to school districts.
My constituents elected me and elected us to come here and make a difference, and we are not about to get into a procedural argument that denies them the economic help that they need in a time of national crisis. No one is going to agree with everything in this bill, but the message to the American people coming from myself personally -- and I think collectively from Congress and certainly from our freshmen class -- is that we bear the responsibility to implement the change that this nation voted for.
In all of its forms and all of its embodiments, that's what this bill is about -- action, action today, action now. We have to stop this silly, petty argument about procedural issues and get real response to our constituents who are hurting unlike any other generation has had.
I yield the mike back to my colleagues and I thank you for the opportunity to express my opinion which, as you can tell, is rather forceful. But if you had heard my superintendents of schools you would know why I am so energized to see this bill voted on and implemented. Thank you very much.
REP. MARKEY: Thank you very much, Eric. As you can see, we are freshmen who are across this country elected on a promise of change. We've had tough decisions to make. This is a thoughtful bill but we must act and we must act quickly before our economy continues to spiral out of control.
So, with that, I would like to answer a couple of questions until we have to go to the floor to vote.
Two questions and then we need to get -- yes?
Q The Republicans are going to vote against this bill in that maybe with a handful or so voting for it. Do you think they're taking a big political risk lobbying these voters -- a lot of these defeated Republicans took over Republican districts -- do you think that Republicans are taking a big political risk standing in the way of this package and saying that it should just be largely a large tax cut package?
REP. MARKEY: I appreciate the discussion that we've had on both sides of the aisle with regard to how much should be tax cuts or significant tax cuts -- it's 275 billion (dollars) and how much needs to be spending? I'll tell you what, I talk to Republicans every day in my district, whether it's mayors, superintendents of schools, city council members, and they know that this is the way we need to go and they're supportive of this bill. And they're the Republicans that I'm listening to.
REP. CONNOLLY: Could I just comment on that? I would agree with what --
Q Could you speak into the mike please?
REP. CONNOLLY: Oh, I'm sorry. I would agree with what Betsy just said. Really listening to the rhetoric from the floor, it's, as I said earlier, it's almost Alice in Wonderland. You'd never know there was a major election with a huge shift and a clear mandate for a different direction. You'd never know in the rhetoric that, frankly, an awful lot of those folks who have decided to en masse oppose this legislation no matter what's in it or what's out of it had a lot of responsibility in creating the fiscal mess and the economic mess we're in today.
Remember, this president inherits a $1 trillion deficit from the previous administration which, the last time I checked, was of the other party. And so a little bit of treading softly and showing a little bit of humility might be in order -- unfortunately we're not seeing that -- and it's most unfortunate that the hand that's been put across the aisle by the president in an unprecedented way in coming up here to meet with both house and senate Republicans has been spurned.
REP. DRIEHAUS: May I just -- I feel compelled to address this issue of bipartisanship that has arisen repeatedly. I come from the Ohio legislature and I served in the minority -- ruthlessly partisan -- where minorities were not listened to. We got very little in the way of amendments. We got very little in the way of legislation. I have been very impressed with the leadership in the House here being willing to listen to Republican views; to reach out to the other side; to accept Republican amendments.
The president was on the Hill yesterday listening to Republican viewpoints. But bipartisanship is a two-way street, and it seems to me that the Democrats have listened, we have made concessions to the Republicans where we have felt it appropriate. But there comes a time when the Republicans have to understand that it's time to join with their Democratic colleagues in doing what's right for the country.
And if you listen to the rhetoric on the floor, if you listen to the phone calls going into our districts, you would think that the campaign in the fall of last year never ended. They're still talking about Acorn. They are still talking about all of the various bogeymen that they used in the campaign of 2008. We need to get beyond that.
The people want bipartisanship. They want cooperation for the betterment of this country -- that's what this bill brings us.
Q So none of you believe that there are programs in this bill that (inaudible) regulatory process?
REP. MASSA: Can I answer that?
REP. MARKEY: Yeah. Yes, we'll answer that one question and then we're going to have to get on the floor to vote so we'll have one person answer that. Eric?
REP. MASSA: Ma'am, we don't have time for the regulation appropriations process. Four thousand nine hundred of my friends in my hometown lost their jobs yesterday and I'm not about to go back there and say: Give us 18 months to figure out how to run this legislation. We are in an economic emergency. There is a tremendous sense of urgency in this country and this nation demands action. But that's why we are standing up as freshmen members to take that action. It's not without political risk, it's not without debate but I think it's far more important to get it right than to get it wrong.
REP. CONNOLLY: Now, let's go vote.
REP. MASSA: Thank you.
REP. MARKEY: Thank you very much.