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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews" - Transcript


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MSNBC "Hardball with Chris Matthews"

MR. MATTHEWS: We begin tonight with the big stuff, with South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, the number three Democrat in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Clyburn, Congressman --

REP. CLYBURN: Hey, how are you?

MR. MATTHEWS: -- Mr. Leader, let me ask you this question about the -- what did you feel watching that incredible spectacle today of the Bushes welcoming the Obamas to their new house?

REP. CLYBURN: Well, that was something to behold. I think President Bush a few days ago put it very well when he talked about welcoming them there and the whole sight of those two little children, their daughters, moving in there, becoming the first family of this great nation of ours. It gives you goose bumps. I can't see them well, but I think I got some.

MR. MATTHEWS: (Laughs.) Well, we're watching it right now, Congressman. Michelle's in this bright red dress. Laura Bush is in kind of a brown dress, I guess. I thought it was interesting that both Barack and the president wore blue ties today. They were matching up today.

Let me ask you about the substance, not just the theatrics. You know, this election, as you know, because you ramrodded a big part of it, is about change. This guy, your guy, came in and said, "I'm going to make big changes." Are you with the school that says, "Do big stuff" or are you with the school that says, "Careful, now, just do the usual Democrat stuff here"?

REP. CLYBURN: I think you can be bold and careful. I don't know that you have to sacrifice one for the other. I think that the country is crying out for change. There must be significant change done rather quickly. You know what the numbers are. We have just witnessed a loss of 524,000 jobs in the last two months.

We have no way of knowing what this month is going to be like. But if all the headlines I'm seeing coming out of Ohio, with DHL, the number of jobs that they're getting ready to jettison, it means that we're in for some tough times. And so we're going to have to do some bold things, and we have to do it rather quickly. But you can still do that and maintain some semblance of centrality to governance. And I think that's what this president is going to do -- the president- elect will be doing.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, one thing that Franklin Roosevelt did back in the '30s -- and times were, of course, much tougher then -- was put people to work --

REP. CLYBURN: That's right.

MR. MATTHEWS: -- the CCC, the WPA. He put people to work. He built bridges. A lot of the city you're in right now, Washington, D.C., including all the beautiful buildings of Washington that we see when we come as tourists, were all built during that period of time.

REP. CLYBURN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MR. MATTHEWS: Should this president do something like that, start spending money, not writing hot checks to Wall Street but spending money to build things, rebuilding train lines, building subways, building bridges, building highways, getting people to work, the smell of construction out there, the cranes in the sky, stuff being done?

REP. CLYBURN: Yes, absolutely.

MR. MATTHEWS: Is he that kind of president, or is he just going to cut taxes and hope everything works out?

REP. CLYBURN: No, I think he is that kind of a president. He made it very clear that he wants us to do an economic recovery package, and wants us to do it now. And so I'm hopeful that next week we will come back to Washington, we'll have a lame duck, and we will give the president, this president, a package that hopefully he will sign.

And President-elect Obama has told us if we don't do it now, he will certainly make that his first order of business come January. I think we ought to do it now. People have got to begin to feel much better about themselves. We've got to start restoring dignity in people's lives. And we cannot do that waiting for another 70 days to see whether or not we can do this under the next president.

We need to do it right now -- roads and bridges and water and sewage. These things are much needed. We have a lot of programs that have been put on the back burner over the last few months waiting for money to get them done. So we ought to have this infusion of -- I don't know the size of it, but it ought to be a significant recovery package that will do a number of things. Certainly we've got to take care of unemployment insurance. We ought to do something with food stamps. But we ought to start building things so that our infrastructure can get stood back up.

MR. MATTHEWS: I don't understand why you don't do something like go to all the approved public works business that's out there in every state in the Union. Every city's got approved projects. The project's approved. They know the job needs to be done. The bridges are below code. The highways are falling apart. Everything's ready. It's been approved. You've got the authorization. All you need is the money and turn on the spigot. I don't know why you just don't do that. I guess that's old school. Is that old school?

REP. CLYBURN: That is old school, but it's for -- sometimes old is good. It's trusted. It's true. We know it works. So why not do it? I think we ought to. We tried to do it in the first bailout package. We tried -- not the bailout package, but, you know, the package we did, the stimulus package we did before. We've got a $6 billion shortfall in our highway trust fund.

At that time we tried to get the White House to agree to let us put that in that original package. All they wanted to do were these rebates, $300 per-person rebate, $500 or $600 per couple. That to me will not get people back to work.

If people can go to work earning an income, paying their bills, restoring dignity in their households, and at the same time providing some common good with schools and roads and bridges, all of these things that need to be built -- I represent the so-called corridor of shame that got talked about quite a bit during this campaign, and President-elect Obama visited that area. He talked about it all over this country. That's the kind of stuff that we ought to be doing, and we'll get a lot of common good out of it and we'll have people doing work and feel dignified for having done it.

MR. MATTHEWS: Toughest question: Should the president let those big tax cuts that the upper-income people got during the Bush administration, should he let them lapse or should he let them continue as part of this effort to stimulate the economy? Should he let the rich get a tax break in addition or keep what they've been getting, or should he let it lapse?

REP. CLYBURN: I think that ought to be the first thing he does come January. He ought to let those things lapse. He ought to use the money that comes from that and give middle-income people a tax break. That tax break needs to be given to middle-income people. We need to start once again stabilizing those families. And the money will then bubble up. This old trickle-down stuff -- give the wealthy the tax breaks and maybe something will fall down on the not so wealthy -- let's let some of that reverse that psychology a little bit and see if we can get the economy moving again.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, thank you very much, Congressman Jim Clyburn, one of the House leaders.

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