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Congressional Progressive Caucus Unveils the Back to Work Budget

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ELLISON. Let me thank you, Congressman Pocan.

One of the great things about this 113th Congress is that you and a number of other awesome new Members have joined us to really lend your creativity or expertise to advocating for the American people, the American working man and woman. You hail from the great State of Wisconsin, which is where I think collective bargaining began.

Am I right about that?

Mr. POCAN. Absolutely, Representative Ellison. We are very proud to be not only the creator of collective bargaining, but I believe also unemployment compensation and other great provisions for workers across America.

Mr. ELLISON. Congressman, you come from a State, ``Fighting Bob'' La Follette. We all know about his wonderful legacy.

And we all love Tammy Baldwin. When she told us she was running for the Senate, we didn't know how anybody could fulfill her tremendous legacy, but you've walked into this building, and you have stepped up right away. So I just want to the say thank you for the work that you're doing.

Just if I may take a few moments to talk about the Back to Work Budget.

There will be all kinds of budgets being discussed. The Republican budget authored by Congressman Ryan has already been the subject of a lot of conversation.

I would submit, Mr. Speaker, that the real criteria that we should use to evaluate a budget is how well it puts people back to work, and that's why we have the Back to Work Budget. The Back to Work Budget is about--guess what--putting people back to work.

Our budget is not an austerity budget. In our budget, we don't try to compete with how many people we can lay off and how many programs we can shut down. We say to the American people, We don't have a debt crisis. We have a debt problem in the out-years, but we don't have a debt crisis. Do you know what kind of crisis we've got? A job crisis. You know what? We've got to fix it.

In 1976 when we passed the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, Americans regarded it as a national outrage that we had 6.3 percent unemployment. We have 7.7 percent now. That's way better than at the height of the recession. I remember in January of 2009, we were losing 700,000 jobs a month, and we're now adding them. But we are not adding them nearly fast enough.

I think that a lot of credit goes around due to the fact that we've had 36 months of positive job growth, but we don't have enough yet. So I think we need a budget that reflects the national priority of putting people back to work.

Mr. Speaker, as the people will stand back and say, well, is this budget good or is this budget bad? I'm hearing so much from the talking heads on television. I think, Mr. Speaker, the people need to ask themselves a very simple question: Does this budget put people back to work or not?

Congressman Ryan's budget, the Republican budget, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is going to lay off a lot of people. According to the Economic Policy Institute, it would be 2 million people in 2014. That's a lot of people. We don't need to be laying people off. We need to be hiring them.

So I want to turn back to you, Mr. Pocan, because I don't want to just talk the whole time. But I do want to say, the Back to Work Budget is a budget that puts Americans back to work, and I think that's a good thing.

In a moment, we can talk about one of my constituents.

Mr. POCAN. Thank you, Representative Ellison.

When you talked about the 2 million jobs that we'll lose in 2014 alone and the loss of the gross domestic product, there is no question that these are the challenges we're facing with the budget before us.

What we didn't mention is that the only folks who are really going to benefit are the most wealthy. Under the plan that's been released by the Republicans, they're changing the tax rates and lowering it for those who make the most money; and the trillions that it's going to cost to make up for that is going to have to come from somewhere, but it's not outlined in the budget.

What does that mean they're going to have to go after? They're going to have to go after the very tax breaks that the middle class rely on. That means your mortgage interest tax deduction could be on the chopping line under the Republican version of the budget. The largest investment that the middle class ever make in their lifetime is their home, and the fact that we help incentivize that investment so that people live in strong neighborhoods and safe communities could be on the chopping line. The very fact that you could take away the employer's ability to deduct some of their health care costs could be on the chopping line. The child tax credit, for people who have children who have an opportunity to get back to work but need to have their children cared for, helps 25 million people across the country, including military families, that could be on the chopping line.

What they're silent about in the Republican budget is that they keep the deduction for corporate jets and they keep the subsidy to oil companies and they keep a number of deductions that do not benefit the middle class.

It's not just the jobs, Mr. Speaker, that are costs in the version of the budget, the 2 million jobs next year alone on top of the jobs we are losing through the sequester that we are facing right now, but it's this inequity in the tax system that is once again going to benefit the most wealthy at the expense of the many.

Another thing that I think is worthwhile mentioning as we are talking about middle class families is what is going to happen to Medicare.

My mother is 84 years old. In fact, she lives in the district in Wisconsin of the chairman of the committee. She is one of those countless seniors that cut pills in half because they couldn't afford to be able to afford medication at the time when she was trying to get by at 84 with a limited income.

It's those sorts of things, if we change that into a voucher program and we don't keep up that Medicare promise that people will have money to keep up with health care costs, that go away. Seniors will pay thousands more in the future because of the change by breaking that Medicare promise. That's not even talking about the Medicaid changes, Mr. Speaker.

There are so many changes that will cost middle class families that we need to make sure we have a more sound version, and that more sound version that the Progressive Caucus puts forward is the Back to Work Budget.

The Back to Work Budget will invest right now on getting people back into the marketplace and able to have a living and able to work and be able to pay taxes. When you have more people paying taxes, as we have already shown, three-quarters of the deficit in the next year will be due to unemployment and underemployment. By getting people back to work, that is the single best way to address the deficit.

With that, I'd like to yield a little time back to my colleague from Minneapolis, Mr. Ellison.

Mr. ELLISON. Again, Congressman Pocan, thank you for your truly spoken words.

I just want to tell a few folks a couple of things. One is there is an alternative to Congressman Ryan's budget and that of the Republicans, and it's called the Back to Work Budget. There's going to be a Democratic Caucus budget, which I'm sure will put Americans back to work, too. But so far, in terms of the ones that have been released, the Back to Work Budget is the right budget. Ezra Klein says so. If folks want to look at Ezra Klein's recent zcolumn today, he says this is the right budget. Look at Jared Bernstein. He's thumbs-up on the Back to Work Budget. If you want to see economists and noted journalists who really scrutinize this stuff, evaluate the budgets, they'll tell you about the Back to Work Budget.

What I'd like to do for a moment, though, is to tell you about a constituent, Mr. Mark Krey. Mark Krey asked me to share his story. It goes like this:

I'm a special education paraprofessional at Heritage Middle School. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota.

That's Mark right there.

Last year, we had an average of 28 kids per class in middle school. This year, it's up to 35 kids.

That is like a big jump.

If a class has special education students, the teacher gets a special education paraprofessional like me to help, so then you have 35 students with two adults in the classroom. That's just not the way to educate our future Americans. Our class sizes keep going up, and the services are going down. More budget cuts would be devastating to my school district and to schools across the country. My coworkers and I would face furloughs and layoffs, and the kids we serve would lose out on the quality education they need to be future leaders.

I want to thank Mark Craig for caring about kids with special education needs and also for caring, not just about the individual kid, but about the system in which the kid's going to school. We can't just keep on dis-investing in kids like this, Mr. Speaker. We've got to throw the shoulder behind these kids, not abandon them.

One of the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats and the Back to Work Budget versus the Ryan budget is that, look, the Republicans, I don't doubt their compassion. They care about people, and they donate to charities; but it seems like they don't believe that government can help anyone. They think, oh, government can't do any good. Just cut it and cut it because it can't do any good.

That's absolutely wrong. All you've got to do is ask a teacher like Mark Craig, who every day teaches kids who have learning disabilities and who could be awesome, but if their budgets are cut and if there are tons of kids in the classroom, they really can't.

The Back to Work Budget recognizes a central truth, which is that, yes, it's the private sector that is a very important part of our American culture and part of our American way of life, but it's also the public sector and the mixed economy working together that helps Americans succeed.

The Back to Work Budget says we're going to rebuild infrastructure, get rid of those crumbling bridges and roads, put in some energy grids, fix our wastewater treatment, put in some transit, put in some high-speed rail. We're going to do that. Then we're also going to engage the private sector with the Make Work Pay credit. Then we're going to do things like help support local heroes like Mark Craig, who is a paraprofessional in the education sector, but also cops. In my home State of Minnesota, we're going to have a cut, because of the sequester, of $200,000. This is money that we use to train police officers to be better and more effective and to serve the public better, and we're not going to have that.

I'm not here to put my friends on the other side of the aisle down. I'm here to say they've got another vision of America, and that vision of America is that government can't help people and that government can't do anything right. They're wrong. The interstate highway system, hey, that's government. The interstate highway is government. There are police who walk the beat and make sure that the shopkeeper's stuff is not ripped off. That's government. So this whole thing about, oh, government is always wrong is wrong, and it's time for the American people to say responsive government does great things for the American people, along with the private sector, and we need to stop this free market extremism.

With that, I'm going to yield back to the gentleman from Wisconsin. I'm going to be around a little more. I know we've been joined by the gentleman from Florida. I am very happy to have him back in Congress after a 2-year hiatus. He was awesome then and he is awesome now, so I'll be listening carefully.

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