Congressmen John B. Larson (CT-01) and Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA-31) held a press avail after the Democratic Caucus meeting today on the need for Congress to act on the long delayed transportation bill to help improve the economy both today and for generations to come as well as cracking down on oil speculators to fight high gas prices.
Rep. Larson: I am pleased to be joined by the Vice Chair of our Caucus. We just concluded our Caucus, where we listened to our members. We conducted more than four hundred and twenty programs out in the district: town halls, "Congress on the Corners," forums, in which we were seeking feedback from our constituents and there is one thing that remains clear: the main issue still remains jobs, jobs, jobs.
What's appalling is that we have an opportunity here, again this week, to have the Transportation Bill--one that works--one that affords us the opportunity to put the country back to work and yet no decision and no bill coming forward on the Floor of the Congress.
In fact, it's been more than some four hundred and twenty days now since we've seen any kind of action with respect to that and the simple fact that everybody understands --we've been saying this mantra now for months--job creation equals deficit reduction. For every billion dollars expended in transportation creates 35,000 jobs. In this Republican controlled House of Representatives we've yet to see any semblance of a bill to put America back to work and they continue not to take up the President's jobs bill as well.
The American people are fed up. Every time we go out and hold a public forum and a public hearing on this basis they say "why can't Congress come together and create the kind of jobs--why won't they take up the President's bill and put the country back to work?"
It's our hope, because we know that there are many rational minded Republicans on the other side of the aisle that understand the importance and the historic significance of a bipartisan transportation bill aimed not at Democrats or Republicans, but at our respective states and its infrastructure system that is in desperate need of repair.
The American Society of Engineers has indicated that one in nine bridges is in need of structural repair. I come from a state where, in the early eighties, we saw the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge. We have a huge problem in the state of Connecticut, as been identified by the Department of Transportation and civil engineers, but this is true all across the country: the structural need to make these investments now. We cannot delay any further. I urge our Republican colleagues to get their act together and come to the floor with a bill that will put this country back to work.
Rep. Becerra: Mr. Chairman, I would just add that you need to repeat - four hundred and twenty days. That's probably the biggest message from this Congress that we've seen: that day after day we continue to see no progress coming from our Republican colleagues who run the House in job creation. And I don't believe any of us - when we started keeping count of the days, tracking the calendar on no jobs creation by Republicans - none of us expected to be talking now about four hundred and twenty days into this Republican majority and, yet, no job creation in the face of a President who had given this Congress several proposals to move this country forward. And the only lucky thing is that, despite Republicans with their foot on the break, the President has been able to make quite a bit of progress. 3.8 million jobs in the last, essentially, two years. We have continued to see job growth for nineteen consecutive months and we are fortunate that the American people have found a way through all of the difficult times to start to pick up in its confidence on the economy.
But I will tell you this: between now and the end of the year we could continue to see Republicans trying to foist all of these controversial and extraneous measures on top of essential legislation, whether it's the budget or whether it's job creation - we're in real trouble. We almost saw that play out with this conference committee on the payroll tax cut for 160 million working Americans where the Republicans were trying to insert into that legislation - crucial legislation - things that were totally extraneous to the issue and certainly extremely controversial, but at the end Republicans backed down; the President was able to move forward a good portion of his jobs creation agenda.
And so we will see. Can we move forward? Do we have to wait for brinkmanship to occur again? Or will we try to really get American back to work? And sooner or later folks in Congress are going to have to get off the couch and get to work. If job one of this Congress truly is to getting America back to work, then folks have to get off that couch and stop playing games with controversial, extraneous measures and let's focus on what we can agree on, bipartisanly, to move this country forward.
Rep. Larson: Time for a few questions
Q: Do you favor tapping the strategic petroleum reserve to get lower gas prices? I know that some in your party have said that
Rep. Larson: I think it is--what we want to focus on is the unbelievable speculation. Back in my district, again, we met with the distributors--primarily small business Republicans I will point out--who are thoroughly upset with the fact that with all of our refineries full, with us producing and the President doubling the amount of oil that the country has produced--what they're saying is, "if Ahmadinejad sneezes, what gives the right of speculators to continue to jack up the price of oil?"
So it gets back to a Republican-controlled body that says "we need no regulations. We don't need to see them. We ought to let the marketplace work." Show me an example where the marketplace works with respect to oil distribution. And, yet, we continue to provide subsidies to the oil companies? We ought to be taking the subsidies that they get and provide a dividend for every single American so they can afford their home heating oil and so they can pay for their gas prices. I think that's what's the most troubling thing.
Rep. Becerra: Can I just add: I think the President has it right. He has said that our strategy on energy is an all-of-the-above strategy, which should include considering the opportunity of using the Strategic Oil Reserves, if necessary. How many of you are stuck behind long lines at gas stations? Not a one. There isn't a problem with supply. It's more the issue, as the Chairman just said, of speculation.
Now, the difficulty is this: the oil companies are jacking up the prices, but they're not giving the consumers back the money if no crisis occurs. And so, the speculation is driving up profits dramatically and I guarantee you when Big Oil reports its quarterly profits you will see hefty profits at the expense of average consumers who are having to pay more for their gas.
So the reality is this: you got to go after the gougers. You have to make it so that they can't win. One of the tools you might use is a Strategic Oil Reserve, because there isn't a shortage of gas and as soon as it's clear that the speculators are just driving up prices, guess what? They'll come down, but you have to have the all-of-the-above strategy to be able to go after those who care nothing about the American consumer, and care only about making as much as they can in profits.
Q: Republicans are offering a jobs package this afternoon. Any thoughts on that?
Rep. Larson: We haven't seen it, but anything that the Republicans offer with respect to jobs I think will be a welcome change. We'd like to see the details and perhaps join with them and I hope as part of that package they offer the President's plan. I think out of mere courtesy they should bring the President's plan to the Floor. They have the votes. If they don't agree with that plan, modify it or vote against it. But certainly it's long overdue to have the jobs bill come to the Floor and let's hope that they bring one.
Q: Going back to strategic petroleum reserves, combined with the Republicans' push for the Keystone Pipeline: Is there a concern that they will be able to paint you as not wanting to lower gas prices?...(inaudible).
Rep. Larson: I think that might be the attempt, but I think as the Vice Chair pointed out, the President has said: "all of the above." My understanding has been the same as T. Boone Pickens, because that's what he's said for so long, going back for years. Look, when you look at what we have in terms of the abundance of natural gas, when you look at a hundred years of reserves, there's an opportunity here. So what'll we see happen is an artificial manipulation of the market. I want to also point out that it's an interesting phenomenon that's occurring around here with respect to protection of the oil interests. The interest of the Koch brothers with regard to oil subsidies, but not wanting to see the Natural Gas Act, which has broad bi-partisan support, go forward.
Rep. Becerra: I hope the media, the press, will not buy into this myth that we don't have enough oil. And if so, I hope the next question is "Congressman, did you know we are drilling less?" or, "Congressman, did you know we're extracting less?" or, "Congressman did you know that we actually produced less oil than we did a month ago, a year ago?"
We're producing more oil today than we did five years ago, ten years ago. As I said before, the proof is in the pudding. None of you is spending long hours in a gasoline line at your local gas stations. This is all driven by speculation" the "manipulators," as the Chairman just said. And I think it's shameful if anyone moves forward a message that misleads the American consumer. This is not a time for us to try to spook the American public into thinking there's a shortage of gasoline. This is a time to get the American consumer to recognize that there are folks who are gaming the system when it comes to our gasoline and our energy, and they're making tons of money. We saw it with Enron. We've seen it before. Guess what, as I said, once you see the corporate profits, the quarterly corporate profits of some of the Big Oil companies, you will understand that it isn't a shortage of gasoline; it's the manipulation of gas prices, which all fall on the backs of the American consumer.
Rep. Larson: Last week AT&T announced in Hartford, Connecticut that it was converting 15,000 trucks to natural gas. And they noted that the reason they were doing this is because the price of natural gas in order to power those vehicles - that end up being made in America, engineered here in America, and then powered by American fuel, natural gas - was going to be both a short and long term cost-savings for them. The country is going to come to this place, and they're going to come here largely because of efforts like AT&T, but we could provide these savings, and we could provide them to the American public with enactment of the Natural Gas Act and moving the country forward.
Q: On transportation, you mentioned that you want a bi-partisan bill. It seems like Boehner doesn't have the votes to get it across the finish line
Rep. Larson: You mean Boehner doesn't have the votes in the Republican Caucus?
Q: What would bring your Caucus on board, what do Democrats want to see on the bill?
Rep. Larson: Well obviously for Democrats--the estimate is $1.2 trillion that's going to be needed over time to properly fund and invest. We want to see the issue be addressed, with the structural problems that have been identified by engineers all across this country, and to make sure that there's enough funding into the program so that we get the kind of jobs that we want. As I said before, for every billion dollars of investment in transportation, that's a creation of 35,000 jobs. That's nothing to sneeze at, and that's certainly what we'd like to do and we would welcome the Republicans coming together. If they can't, we would hope that like-minded people on that side of the aisle and certainly there are many of them--Bill Shuster, and Steve LaTourette and others who are working hard to try to come up with a rational program. Listen, everybody has highways and road systems and bridges and waterways and levy systems, all of which are in need of help and construction. This has traditionally been a bi-partisan effort, and something we would hope the colleagues will be able to come together, and put America back to work.
Rep. Becerra: If could just really re-emphasize what the Chairman just said. This has always been a bi-partisan effort when it's come to getting the Transportation Bill passed. It used to be a bipartisan effort, but, once again, extraneous, controversial measures are being added on to this very important bill which essentially sabotage it. As just pointed out by the question itself, it's not the Democrats who are getting in the way, it's Republicans themselves aren't supporting these Republican bills, and on something very important like Transportation.
The worst part about this is not that the Republicans are playing political games with the legislation that's crucial. It's the fact that every community in America has contributed to the Federal Treasury for that Transportation money. We all pay the gas tax. We all provide the resources for the Federal Government then to return those dollars so that communities can improve their roads, rebuild their bridges, do everything we need to get to work. And to stall that crucial legislation that used to always be handled on a bi-partisan basis is once again a sign of the failure of this Congress, and why we've now gone 420 days without a real jobs agenda in this Congress.
Again, the folks that are paying the price are the folks back home. They are so far ahead of the politicians when it comes to getting stuff done, but this Congress is so wrapped up on the Republican side with controversy and extraneous measures, that it's keeping even what used to be bi-partisan bill from moving forward.
Rep. Larson: Thank you very much.