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Press Conference With Freshman House Democrats - Federal Bailout Legislation

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Briefers: Rep. Mazie Hirono; Rep. Bruce Braley; Rep. John Yarmuth; Rep. Donna Edwards; Rep. Betty Sutton

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REP. HIRONO: (In progress) -- the 2nd District of Hawaii. Thank you all for being here.

I am joined by other members of the freshman class of this Congress who voted no on the House bill in the hopes of improving the bill in ways that would more directly benefit middle-class families and small businesses. We will be voting yes on the Senate version of this bill because their additions to the bill is much more balanced in doing just that.

I would like to introduce the other members who are joining me - all of us are working on this together, obviously: Representative Bruce Braley of Iowa, Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland and Representative Betty Sutton of Ohio. They will each but, of course, adding their remarks.

But I want to make it plain for all of us that our no votes in no way reflected a position of doing nothing in the face of this crisis. And we are prepared to vote yes on this bill because, as I said, it balances the needs of middle class families and small businesses in ways that the House bill did not.

This is definitely not a perfect bill. But, for example, in Hawaii - for Hawaii, the impact of the additions by the Senate are - especially on the alternative minimum tax, it would have impacted 40,000 families in my district who would have been hit with this tax without this kind of a change.

There are many energy tax credits which - for Hawaii, the most oil dependent state in the country, makes a difference to us in promoting the use and development of alternative energy. The mental health parity provisions, of course, are also very, very important.

So, I know that the others will also talk about the conversation that we had with Senator Barack Obama on his perspective of this bill. Basically, he said that while this bill is a start, we obviously need to do a lot more to strengthen our economy by passing an economic recovery package bill; by really focusing on the foreclosure issue; to make sure that we are supporting our infrastructure in this country.

Now, I'd like to turn to Bruce because he's the one with the nice chart here.

REP. BRALEY: Thank you, Mazie.

I'm Congressman Bruce Braley. I represent Iowa's 1st District. And I spent Memorial Day surveying damage from the most powerful tornado to hit the United States this year that ripped through my district. One week later, we had the worst flooding that our state has ever seen. So, my perspective on this measure has been focused upon what impact it has on the people I care about back in my district.

The Senate version that we're going to be voting on today in this Economic Emergency Disaster Stabilization bill is a victory for Iowa and it's a victory for Main Street. To give you some sense of the enormous impact these improvements are going to make in my state, the Disaster Tax Relief provision alone - which I was happy to be a co- sponsor of, will have the impact of $4.6 billion on Iowa taxpayers who've been devastated by tornados and flooding.

The AMT relief that we are going to be voting on will impact 208,000 Iowans at a savings of $541 million. The Child Income Tax Credit will benefit Iowans to the tune of $22.8 million. And the state and local sales tax deduction will impact 50,000 Iowa families, at a savings of $42 million.

This bill is a victory for Iowa small businesses. The R&D tax credits alone will have an economic benefit to Iowa small businesses of approximately $3 million. It's also a victory for Iowa seniors. The FDIC increase limits to $250,000 will benefit many Iowa seniors who keep their money in savings institutions, and will benefit from having that alternative.

It's also a victory for renewable energy and green jobs in Iowa. The Investment Production Tax Credits that I introduced - especially on wind energy, and biodiesel, and other forms of renewables, will have a $2.4 billion economic impact in my state, including the Renewable Energy Bonds. It's also a victory for Iowa car buyers and auto dealers, because the Hybrid Vehicle Tax Credit should have an impact of almost $7.4 million in my state.

It's a victory for Iowa teachers. Nearly 37,000 Iowa teachers will have an ability to deduct on their tax returns $9.2 million in tax savings because of money they invest in classrooms all over the State of Iowa. And it's a victory for Iowa college students, with a Qualified Tuition Deduction - 45,000 families getting a benefit of almost $113 million.

And finally, it's also a victory for Iowans suffering from mental illness. The Mental Health Parity bill, which I co-sponsored in the House, has been a priority of mine since I got here. So, this impact is not just a bail-out of Wall Street, it's having a direct economic impact on the Main Street in my district, and that's why I'm voting yes.

REP. SUTTON: Thank you for being here. And thank you to my colleagues for joining me.

Today, after improvements aimed at the middle class, which were included in this bill, and based on commitments made from Senator Barack Obama and Congressional leadership that an economic stimulus package will be a top priority, I am announcing that I'm going to vote yes for this bill. Last Monday I voted against the legislation that was presented because it did little to help the working families of America that have been struggling because of the failed economic policies pursued by this administration and the excesses on Wall Street. I think it's critical, though, that we enact policies that will provide assistance directly to help working families who are struggling as we deal with this crisis created by the excesses and failures to regulate Wall Street.

It's also critical that the taxpayers do not have to foot the bill for the securities that will be purchased under the economic recovery package. And today I have commitments from Senator Barack Obama that enacting, as I said, a stimulus plan to rebuild our nation's infrastructure, spur economic growth and create jobs to directly benefit the American people and our communities, will be a top priority for him. Senator Obama has also made it clear that he is committed to fully recouping the taxpayer money that will be used under the economic recovery legislation. And Congressional leadership has also made these commitments.

Today's legislation is a better bill than the one that was presented on Monday. It is clearly not perfect, but it now does contain some real relief - as my colleague, Congressman Braley, has pointed out, for American families. I can tell you, though, that as we move forward, we have to continue to keep the pressure on to move for that job stimulus package, to make sure that the economic recovery strategy that we pursue - not just in this moment, but in the days ahead, are aimed squarely at restoring our middle class and strengthening our communities.

So, with that, I will turn it over to John Yarmuth.

REP. YARMUTH: Thank you, Betty. I'm John Yarmuth, representing Kentucky's 3rd District, which is the Louisville, Kentucky area.

I want to say a couple things. First of all, I hate this bill and I hated the bill we had Monday.

I hate this bill a little less. And, unfortunately, I hate the fact that not only have we been putting - put in the position of a severe time crunch in which we were not able to do the type of reflective thinking and legislating that is situation calls for, but I also hate the fact that the American people have been put in the position of having to accept or reject what we're doing here based on so little information and so little public discussion.

I hate the fact that the administration ramped up the fear factor to the point at which the markets are so psychologically fragile that we are compelled to act, because I believe that this bill - while probably necessary at this point, will not solve our problem, will not result in an immediate infusion of credit and liquidity into the market. There are better ways to do it, and I wish we had taken the time to get it right. I wish we had had an alternative proposal to deal with. But, that's not the situation we're confronted with.

So, as I talk to the people and the businesses in my district, I've come to the conclusion that the risk of doing nothing at this point is far too great to take. And while, again, I think this is not just an imperfect bill but a bad bill, it does have a lot of nice add- ons that all of us supported and are enthusiastic about. But, the major portion of the rescue program is something that I really don't like, and am holding my nose to vote for it.

One of the things that has given me confidence that this is the right vote - even though it's not a good vote, is that in our conversations with Senator Obama we were assured not only that he's going to pursue, as president, the types of middle class targeted legislation and programs that are important to getting this country to the point where it works for everyone, but also that he intends and requires that Congress be a full partner in whatever we do, going forward.

This has been one of my main concerns. We've had an administration which basically considers Congress as an inconvenient truth. But we are convinced that we have an important role to play, and so does Senator Obama. And that is an important part of the transition in thinking that I've had. So, I am going to vote yes today - again, holding my nose and hoping that the American people will respond to this with at least a sense of confidence that we intend to keep at it, and keep making the improvements in our system, adding the regulations necessary to protect them, and that we will do that in the 111th Congress. Thank you.

REP. EDWARDS: I've already spoken with you all. As you know, I do plan to vote for this legislation today - I voted no the other day, and it is precisely because we're at a point now that we need to be, need to move forward. We're hearing from our small businesses, and from workers and retirees that the tremendous strain they're working under now. And so it's important for us to do that.

Many of us have been involved in conversations all week long that - challenging some of the assumptions made in the bill that was introduced and then failed on Monday, offering up alternatives, and then laying out a vision for the future. I did have the benefit yesterday of speaking with Senator Obama, not once but twice - once when he called to talk about my concerns, and his, around bankruptcy and around mitigation on foreclosure; and then with my freshman colleague, where, as you heard, he made some other assurances related to economic stimulus - paying for this legislation, not at the expense of taxpayers but those who created the mess, and recouping those costs.

And I think that these are important considerations moving forward. And I am absolutely convinced - based on those conversations with the senator and conversations with our leadership, that we will be able to have a Treasury Department that really understands the needs of people in communities who are losing their homes; that we will have a leadership and a president who understand the importance of reforming the regulatory structure so that this never happens again; and the importance of creating jobs and opportunity for people in our communities.

And so I'm pleased to be able to join my freshman colleagues here today, and to be able to work with them - even as we reconvene in mid- November, toward solutions that get us from an imperfect bill, that gets us out of the immediate weeds to another place for the American people. Thank you very much.

REP. SUTTON: Questions?

Q (Off mike.) Did Obama speak to you individually, or as a group? And -- (inaudible) --

REP. SUTTON: Sure. I think that the answer is both. Yesterday I was happy to pull together a call for Senator Obama to talk to freshman who were interested in hearing from him and discussing with him how we move forward, not only, as I said, with this bill, but with an economic stabilization strategy and a revitalization strategy for the future.

So, some of us have spoken directly with him on a personal level, as well as a group conference call yesterday.

Q How many were in the room - in the conference room?

REP. YARMUTH: All of us were --

REP. SUTTON: I honestly --

REP. YARMUTH: There were several others -

(Cross talk.)

REP. SUTTON: Yeah, there were several others. We were - from different places, so --

REP. BRALEY: Could I just make a comment about your question, because I think it's a good insight into the type of president that Senator Obama will make.

He called me at my home on Tuesday night, and he didn't try to convince me that I had to change my vote. He wanted to know what circumstances led me to vote against the bill. He wanted to talk about his vision for moving forward with Congress in a proactive way to address a lot of the unanswered questions, including the things that we've talked about here today; and was working to assure me that, under his presidency, he would work as a partner with the Congress, rather than in strict opposition to the Congress, in trying to put in place a regulatory framework that all of us are concerned about and that's a top priority for us moving forward.

So, I think it was a very fascinating insight to me, personally, into the type of president and the decisionmaking process he'll be, and I'm very, very proud to be supporting him for president.

Q (Off mike.) Mr. Braley, you have this jobs report today, another 150,000 or so people lost their jobs. We're in a year where the federal government is going to be getting less revenue because fewer people will be working, and yet you're taking on potentially $800 billion in costs, adding that on to the cost of the federal government. Does that in any way inhibit your ability, in the new Congress, to spend on infrastructure, to spend on public education? How do you see that?

REP. BRALEY: Well, let me be perfectly clear, I am not taking on $800 billion in costs --

Q Potentially.

REP. BRALEY: -- I'm taking on $250 billion in immediate costs that we're going to use, and give the Treasury authority to use. Then when the president comes back with a certification, we'll have to deal with that. But, I am telling you, loudly and clearly, that I will not support a request from this president for $350 billion in additional authority to purchase distressed assets unless all the concerns we've been talking about are on the table, and a regulatory framework is in place to make sure that those assets are being purchased wisely.

Q But then in this era of reduced federal revenue and increased federal costs from the bailout and on the tax extenders, how do you pay for infrastructure, for example?

REP. BRALEY: Well, one of the things that - and I don't want to speak for everyone up here, but one of the things we know is when you're talking about the investments - that we have up here, those are the types of investments that roll over into community, create jobs, put money back into the Treasury and help deal with this unemployment crisis we're facing.

And that's why I think that, in the whole, this bill is worth my support. But, many of the things that are included are already things that we voted on in the House, with pay-fors attached to them. Those bills got nowhere in the Senate. So a lot of us are having to hold our breath, make the decision that this will have a direct positive impact over the long term and vote for the bill anyway.

(Off mike exchange.)

REP. HIRONO: I just wanted to add that one of the major reasons and concerns I had about this House version of the bill was just that, the recruitment - the recoupment provisions, because I wanted to make sure that the taxpayer would, ultimately, be made whole.

And the conversation that we had with Senator Obama yesterday reassured me that he has every intention of not only providing that kind of information, but to give it a real push. He made a commitment that the taxpayers will not be left holding the bag - a very important element to me, because if you look at the provisions of this bill, it's all in the implementation. And so it's who implements all of these provisions that makes -- (audio break) -- with Barack Obama. It reassured me that he and his Treasury secretary would be very focused on directly helping distressed homeowners who are about to lose their homes. So it's that kind of focus in implementing these provisions that means a lot.

Q Yeah. I'm interested in the conversation with Senator Obama. Did you have the opportunity to ask him questions or was it a one-way conversation? What did you ask him?

And secondly, is this going to work -- the bailout -- will it work?

REP. YARMUTH: Well, I actually spoke to him day before yesterday in my office over the phone. But it was a one-on-one conversation. It was very much a two-way conversation.

He -- as much as Bruce mentioned -- he expressed to me, he said, I want you to know where I am on this thing. He said to me, for instance, that this is -- I would much rather take a month or two and come up with a plan. I know, he said, in a month or two I know we could come up with a better plan, but I don't think we have that much time.

He told me that he had spoken to all of the -- to economists across the range of the political spectrum, the philosophical spectrum. They all had said that they thought that without this package, there was a substantial chance of a meltdown which would result in massive unemployment and long-term recession. They wouldn't put a number on it or a percentage chance, but they said a substantial chance. And that's why he had come to the conclusion he had come to.

My concern, as I said to -- and I raised this question with him -- was, you know, how are you going to proceed going forward? And I wear this button -- Article 1 button -- because I'm concerned about the constitutional prerogatives of Congress, which have been lost under this administration. And I wanted to get a reassurance from him that we were going to be full partners in what we did going forward. And he assured me -- as he did the group yesterday -- that that would be case.

He also used the analogy -- and he may have done this publicly, but I haven't heard him before -- he said, really, this is just patching up a hole in the boat to get it to port. And you know, once we do that, we've got a lot of work to do to restore and rebuild this boat. So he doesn't consider this the end of the road at all.

Again, I've spoken to many business people who've told me that even though they support doing something, they think this is the worst way to get -- not the worst way, but it is not as nearly as an effective way of getting liquidity into the system as other steps might be.

So -- and I think, again, Senator Obama said the same thing to me, that that's the way he feels --

Q (Off mike.)

REP. YARMUTH: No, not at all. Not at all! I actually have a fairly low-level of confidence that this is going to work.

But again, right now we're faced not -- we're faced with an economic crisis that will continue regardless of what happens today. Right now, we are faced with a psychological crisis that the markets are counting on us to do something. And if we don't do something, I think they're going to react very adversely. And that's going to be a spiraling downturn for this economy.

That's what my main concern is today.

REP. SUTTON: Let me just say, also, just to clarify, that for none of us -- those of us who voted "no" -- we were not pressured by our leadership and we were not pressured by Senator Obama either to cast our votes on Monday or to change our votes today. And I think that that's really important.

I think that our leadership, and certainly Senator Obama, has had an opportunity to hear from us our concerns about the legislation and the way to move forward.

And I appreciate that and I know that that means that we have an important marker here today that, as my colleagues have said, is indeed a beginning and not an end of a conversation about how we stabilize our economy.

REP. HIRONO: It's very clear that this isn't the only step that we need to take to revitalize the economy.

And to answer your question a little bit further, these investments are important in that effort -- putting money back into incentives that will spur job growth in our communities is a piece of revitalizing this economy and was an important piece of putting it into this bill to make it a bit more balanced.

It still isn't, as anyone up here will tell you, a great bill and it's not a silver bullet solution. That's why it was important that we have the continuing commitment to do additional things that are aimed squarely at the middleclass and restoring the middle class.

One of the things that we're going to be taking up on the floor today also will be the unemployment insurance bill that, of course, has passed through the House before as part of the greater job stimulus package. And it is our hope that when the Senate returns in November that they will pass that, because it will help those who are facing the loss of much needed benefits in the coming days and will again be returned immediately into our local economies, which is all going to be a part of the solution as we move forward.

Q Have any of you noticed a shift over the week in calls from your constituents and has that been a factor -- (off mike)?

REP. YARMUTH: In my office there's --

(Cross talk.)

REP. YARMUTH: In my district there's been a slight shift. But when I say "slight", it's gone from 95 percent opposing the plan to probably 65 percent opposing the plan.

I think the stock market drop on Monday served as a wake-up call to a lot of people that this was a critical, psychological factor. So we started getting more calls supporting it and "you've got to do something" -- not necessarily supporting this plan, but saying, you've got to do something. You have to act.

But still, even as of today, there's a slight majority of calls against the plan.

Q So do you think you're taking a political risk, then, in -- (off mike)?

REP. YARMUTH: Probably. You know, I said to somebody the other day -- anybody who thinks he or she knows what the right political vote is for this I think is just guessing, because I don't think any of us knows at this point ultimately what -- we'll look back and say it was a good political move or not.

And that's why I don't really sense in either party on either side of the aisle that people are making this a political calculation. I've heard more people say, you know, I may lose my job over this, but I have to do the right thing. The stakes are too high. And I've heard that on both sides of the aisle.

REP. SUTTON: And I think that the bottom line is we have taken this bill as far as we can go to improve it. And we are, you know, these adjustments that have been made in the Senate, with the exception -- and we should go on record as saying -- none of us here support the four earmarks that have received great attention that really are ridiculous and we wish were, obviously, not in the bill. So we want to go on record. Those are not the things we're talking about by way of improvement. These are the things we're talking about by way of improvement.

But the bottom line is, at this moment, because we have to act to increase and free up the credit -- the credit markets so that people back at home and in our communities and small businesses can access that credit to go about living their daily lives, we realize that we have to do this bill now. But it was critical for us to get commitments about moving forward on these other measures that are aimed directly at the middle class.

Q Thank you very much.

Q Which tax provisions do you not support?

REP. SUTTON: I don't support the earmarks related to rum in Puerto Rico and the earmarks -- I don't have them in front of me -- the wooden arrows and the others that much ado has been made about -- NASCAR racing.

Q What did you object to in the rum provisions?

REP. SUTTON: Well, I object to the fact that those are provisions that we should be dealing with and putting into a bill that is aimed at, you know, revitalizing our economy and loosening up our credit markets. I think it was unfortunate that they thought this was the opportune time to include those.

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