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John Kerry remarks at Press Conference: Securing Our Economic Future

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I think it's important in light of the criticality of the issues that we're facing right now, the choices before the country. I want to make sure that I spend the time meeting with you, the media, and through you the people of Massachusetts, in order to put in perspective and I hope, a factual, context, what has been going on and what is going on.

This is as serious a challenge for our country as I have known in all the time that I've been in public life. And this moment is a deadly serious one for us, for our nation, for our jobs, for our future, for our standing in the world, but mostly for the lives of our citizens, folks who are struggling, who play by the rules, who are getting buffeted by the lack of decision in Washington.

I have great respect and admiration for the will of the voters. And right now those voters are looking at Washington and they're scratching their heads. Everyone in Massachusetts and I think people across the country are thrown off by the spectacle and the national embarrassment that has occurred when a small group of House Republican ideologues, a faction within a faction, brought our country to the brink of a default that would've guaranteed a financial crisis that would've been more severe than anything since the Great Depression.

Now, we're not out of the woods yet, and that's why the stock market is reflecting the trend that it is, because it doesn't have confidence that people in Washington are prepared to compromise. And the reason there's an absence of compromise is because there is a small group that had the ability in the last days to hold the entire country and our economy hostage, and were willing to literally shoot the hostage. I think it's important that we confront this, because we have big decisions to make. And it's a time for adults to stand up and provide this country with adult leadership that recognizes what the choices really are and what the stakes are. It is not theory to talk about what a default would've meant.

I said the other day that I didn't vote for the deal, it's not the deal I would've cut, but we don't have the luxury of a symbolic protest vote when your country may default and you may precipitate even more serious implications for every family at home.

When people are struggling to pay a mortgage, keep their kids in school, maybe been out of work for a period of time, don't know where the next paycheck is coming from, it is not a time for ideological extremism in Washington, DC. And the impact of a default on our state would've been hard to describe.

A default would've jeopardized the payments immediately for one million one hundred and forty thousand Massachusetts social security beneficiaries. I guarantee you if there had been a default or we had not paid, those checks would not have gone out. Payments to one million thirty thousand Massachusetts Medicare enrollees would've been jeopardized. Three hundred and ninety three thousand seven hundred plus veterans would not have received their veterans' pensions and payments. And hundreds of our fellow citizens currently deployed in the military, as we saw with Admiral Mullen, who was in Afghanistan at the time, and the question on the minds of soldiers was: "are we going to get paid? Are the families that have been left behind at home to carry the burden while I'm over here defending my nation, are they going to get paid?"

Disgraceful situation, as far as I'm concerned. And a default would've amounted to an immediate tax hike on every single person with a credit card, or with a car loan, or with a home mortgage. That's what would've happened. And credit card interest payments would've probably seen an extra cost of 250 dollars or more per family, immediately, as a consequence of a default. So I voted not to default. But now what we have won for ourselves is a period of time during which we have to really confront the choices for our country.

A default would've all meant people with 401k's would've lost all the gains that they made in 2010. And most of the gains in their retirement accounts experienced in 2009 would've been about 9,000 dollars for the typical investor who was in their fifties. That would've been wiped out if we had defaulted. So the stakes were high. And that's why that small group of ideologues took the economy of our country hostage.

I have to tell you, the Federal Reserve predicted that if we had defaulted, 600,000 jobs would've been lost immediately, and that would've driven America's economy right back where it was in 2008 when Barack Obama became president. America's economy was on the brink, and to some degree, my friends, America's economy is still on the brink, because we have major decisions to make. I think it underscores what a dangerous, dangerous game House Republicans, that small minority within the House, was willing to play with the well-being of our citizens.

I will tell you this. Can't tell who it is, but I met with one of the highest leadership Senators in the Republican Party. And I talked to him about what was happening, and he told me that he had called his delegation of congressmen in the House, tried to persuade them, and he couldn't persuade them. And this high-ranking member of the Republican leadership team said to me: "they either don't understand the consequences of what they're doing, or they don't care about the consequences of what they're doing, or both." That's a Republican Senator speaking. These people were determined to try to slip through the back door the draconian budget, the "Ryan budget" as it's known, that would've attacked Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, without ever asking anything from the defense, or from the wealthiest people, in any balanced way, the way we've traditionally approached these things. They were prepared to simply slide that in and hold everyone hostage, and end Medicare as we know it.

In the 26 years that I've been privileged to represent MA, and in all those years when I was there, able to stand with Ted Kennedy fighting to protect common sense and real choices that affect working people, I have never seen a time where the most extreme and the least responsible component, faction, of a political party was willing to the hold the very concept of compromise hostage, and when the stakes were so high.

Now I respect the United States Senate, still. I've heard people say: "oh Congress is broken" and "the institution is broken." Ladies and gentlemen, no. It's the people who are broken. The people make up the institution. It's the same institution it was a few years ago when Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole found an ability to compromise. It's the same institution it was when John McCain and I joined together to compromise on various issues and make things happen. Or Russ Feingold and John McCain, and others. But people were willing to come together. Now we're operating in a climate where people are prevented from doing that as a matter of ideological orthodoxy. And so the dividing line is drawn.

Literally, the framers of our constitution intended this institution to be a place of compromise. And historically, whether it was the Social Security Act, or the Civil Rights Act, or the Medicare Act, or the great Missouri Compromise of 1850, those came about because people came together and understood how the put the interests of the country ahead of the interests of party. So we have to get back to that. We have to get away from this moment where these ideologues have made the idea of compromise a form of treason. We have to fix this attitude of the people. The institution can work, if the people in it are willing to make it work. With our deal on the debt ceiling, which I think is manageable, I'm not one of those running around and saying: "this can't be managed." Folks, if you think this is tough, wait until you see some of the choices we have to make in the next months and year. We have huge decisions to make about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense, our overall budget. The new joint select committee on deficit reduction may give us a second change, it may not.

It remains to be seen if this so-called supercommittee is going to be a serious committee, or whether everybody is going to be appointed in a pre-cooked fashion that doesn't allow it to do the work. No matter what happens, the Congress as a whole is going to have to come together around this issue in the future, and we are in my judgment going to have to press the case, as I have and as I will continue to, that we should do this in a fair and balanced and thoughtful way. Surely, in a 73,000 page tax code, we can find some things like a mohair subsidy or some of the oil company subsidies. They just made $35 billion of profit, the greatest profit in their history. Do they still need to be subsidized to the same degree? Surely, in 73,000 pages of various loopholes and tax benefits, we can find some that are no longer as important or as beneficial as they once were.

So I believe that the great choice for us now is very simple. There's one objective in the United States Congress, fundamentally. It is jobs and growth, jobs and jobs. We have to create jobs and grow our economy. We have to do what America does best; innovation and creativity and new discoveries are in the DNA of Americans. We have to get back to doing that and putting people to work right here in America.

I have a proposal. People keep screaming, well what about bipartisanship, Senator? Can't you guys find a bipartisan way to do this? The answer is yes. I have a proposal for an infrastructure bank which I put in after several years of work. We have support from my cosponsor, Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Dakota and Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. It is bipartisan support. We also have the support of the AFL-CIO and the support of the Chamber of Commerce. I believe this is something we could make happen tomorrow, and I believe we should make it happen tomorrow because there are countries, sovereign funds, waiting to invest in the United States of America. We could actually have other people fund some of the building in our country if we were to put this infrastructure bank together. And we could put tens of thousands, literally, hundreds of thousands, of people back to work. For every billion dollars of investment in infrastructure, we will create 18,000 new jobs in America. This bank envisions in its first years leveraging some 600 to 650 billion dollars of investment. Multiply that out, that's hundreds of thousands of jobs. It will start to grow the tax base and grow America. So the bottom line is we need to focus on how to get our fiscal house in order, but we need to be smart about it. Let me just say one last word about that.

I respect where the Tea Party comes from, I really do, because it comes from the grass roots. It comes from people who are angry and have a reason to be angry, and I share that anger. But they don't have the only way of getting the job done. They haven't cornered the market on common sense or experience.

The fact is we balanced the budget in the 1990s; I was there, we did it. We did it without a Constitutional amendment to tell us to do our jobs. We don't need a piece of paper to tell us to be responsible. We need to just be responsible, and we were in the 1990s. We balanced the budget. We put ourselves on a course to pay down the debt of the United States of America by next year, and we would have done that if we had stayed on that course, for the first time since Andrew Jackson was President of the United States. We didn't do it, did we? Why? Because we had two wars that no one wanted to pay for. They were all put on the credit card. And we had two enormous tax cuts which I voted against because they were going to bankrupt the country, and that's exactly what they are doing because we couldn't afford them, particularly at the higher level.

I'm for the tax cut for 98% of all Americans. That's the middle class tax cut. I like that. We should keep that. But there is no excuse today, none whatsoever, when the gap grows as wide as it grows, for not asking someone who earns a million dollars a year to put a hundred dollars, a thousand dollars, into America's future. That's really the test of where we're going. In the 1990s, folks, we balanced the budget, we created 21 million new jobs, every single quintile of Americans went up in their income, everybody got wealthier, the country was stronger and we did it with cuts and with revenue. There was a mix.

So I respectfully suggest that we need to find this capacity for common sense and to put the country ahead of party. We need to put the country ahead of ideology. We need to do what's good. And right now the stock market, and our businesses, and the world is telling us we don't have confidence in you until you begin to make the right kinds of choices that not only cut your deficit but also grow your economy.

Grow your country. You have to invest somewhat in order to do that. Our parents and grandparents did that. You ride on the Tobin Bridge, you ride on the MBTA , you cross tunnels and countless facilities, airports and other things, built by our parents and grandparents. The question legitimately needs to be asked - what are we building for the next generation?

You know Ronald Reagan was a conservative. I worked with Ronald Reagan when he was President. He closed corporate tax loopholes and he raised revenues to address the deficit. George Herbert Walker Bush was a conservative, but he too put revenues on the table and he laid the groundwork for the great growth of what happened in the 1990s. I am convinced we can do that again, but we have to get real. We have to get serious. And the people in Massachusetts need to be involved with us, as I know they will be, to make it clear that they expect people in both parties to start putting what's best for the country ahead of what's best for any political party or any political candidate. That's the challenge, and that's what has to happen over these next months.

I'm happy to answer any questions.


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