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Larson, Becerra: Time For A Real Jobs Agenda

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Congressman John B. Larson (CT-01), Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA-37) and guest speaker Daniel Weiss, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, held a press avail before the Democratic Caucus meeting today on the need for Congress to act to address jobs and gas prices. You can watch the avail here. Below is the transcript:

Rep. Larson: Good morning. It's always good to see everybody and let me say, since this is the last presser that we'll have before the high holiday of St. Patrick's Day, let me wish you all a very glorious St. Patrick's Day and Erin Go Bragh.

Rep. Becerra: Celebrating with the tie already, huh? [Noting Chairman Larson's green tie]

Rep. Larson: Oh yeah, it'll get a shade greener and greener as we march towards the day and hopefully my hair doesn't turn green this year.

I'm pleased to be joined by our Vice Chair, Xavier Becerra and Dan Weiss, both of whom you're going to hear from. And Mr. Weiss is an expert and has very good insight into gasoline prices and their most recent rise.

We also are very saddened to learn of the passing of a dear friend and one of our colleagues, Don Payne. So I'd ask just for a brief moment of silence out of respect to Don Payne.

[Moment of Silence]

Thank you very much. Don was a -- I had the great honor of having him up to my district on several occasions, most memorable when he was one of the Members of the Congressional Black delegation who tolled the bell for the victims of the Amistad slave trade, that you may recall from your history, that it was the Amistad that threw off their captors and sailed into New London harbor in Connecticut. And Cinqué led this revolt that ultimately went all the way to the Supreme Court with one of the most distinguished Members of the House, former President-then-House Member John Quincy Adams defending and winning the case for Sengbe and all of the people from Sierra Leone who were part of that incredible trek through history. Of course that further spurred on the abolitionist movement which we all know led to the Civil War. So a little piece of history, and Don loved history and was just a terrific, terrific Member and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

Well we're here again today, still awaiting -- I say 'awaiting' but as all of you are aware, the Republicans are processing four -- well, four of the six bills they are processing have been previously passed unanimously in the House of Representatives. We applaud them for at least taking minor steps forward, and -- feels like Groundhog Day, going over and passing the same four of the six bills again. But it's been 427 days and we still need to make sure that the jobs bill that the President has action and that the infrastructure bill that will put the country work gets taken up in the House of Representatives.

Today, not only are we hearing from Mr. Weiss, but we'll also be hearing from Leo Hindery in our Caucus on jobs bills as well.

For us, the equation remains very specific: job creation equals deficit reduction. That will remain our myopic focus. We further hope that the transportation bill that's been pulled and doesn't seem as though it will addressed, contains within it important infrastructure jobs bill. We know the roads and bridges and condition that the engineers all across the country have found the deplorable state that bridges are in. We don't want to have another incident like we saw in Minnesota or, frankly, one that I saw in my state several years ago with the Mianus River Bridge. These have been certified as structurally insufficient to go forward. It's long overdue that Congress take action on this.

And with that, let me turn it over to my colleague, Xavier Becerra, the Vice Chair.

Rep. Becerra: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

I'll just add a couple of quick points. Just because you regurgitate a few bills and package them together, even though we've already passed them out doesn't mean you have a jobs agenda. And I think most Americans have been waiting quite some time, over 450 days now, for the Republicans in the Congress, using their leadership capacity, to give us a jobs agenda--a true jobs agenda.

If they can't do that, then at least what they should do is pass something that we do every few years because the American people have paid for it, and that's a transportation authorization bill, which essentially returns to Americans the gas tax money that they've been paying for years back to them so they can invest it in their communities to improve their roads, rebuild their bridges, improve their mass transit systems.

Yet what we have is Republican roadblock that is caused only by Republicans because it's an internal hassle, an internal fight between Republicans on doing the transportation bill which used to be completely bipartisan in its nature, and would always pass. Because every single Member in the House and Senate would be returning revenues to their communities that taxpayers have been paying for years.

Unfortunately the House Republican bill, as we saw, was filled with extraneous and controversial measures, which would have led to about 500,000 Americans' jobs being lost, not gained, and it would have jeopardized the trust fund for all of our highway investment and, certainly for mass transit, it probably would have eliminated.

And so if you can't come up with a jobs agenda, at least get the transportation bill through the Senate and the House and to the President so we can put a lot of those construction workers back on job. And we can also let Americans not suffer through the potholes and the long lines that occur when we don't invest in our infrastructure.

Final point: about a year ago today, the price of gasoline in Los Angeles was about $3.90. About a month ago today, the price of gasoline in Los Angeles was about $3.82 a gallon. Today the price of gasoline is about $4.42 a gallon, on average, in Los Angeles. In one month, we've had about a 60 cent rise in the price of gasoline. What in the last month has occurred with the supply or the demand to cause prices to go up so much? It's speculation. We know it, and we have to get to that if we're going to resolve this issue for a lot of Americans who are having to spend a lot of extra money to put gas in their car or their vehicle. And I hope that what we can do is, on a bipartisan basis, start tackling the real devil when it comes to energy prices and that's the speculators who are making lots of profits at the expense of the American public.

This is another Exxon energy crisis in the making. If we don't get our foot on it right now, a lot of Americans will lose a lot of good money and we will once again watch as the Republicans put their foot on the brake of an economy that's trying to recover.

And so with that, let me yield back to the Chairman.

Rep. Larson: Thank you Xavier and as you noted last week, and several people have, in the midst of this gasoline spike we don't see any long lines at the gas station. We don't see people rationing their gas supply because there is an abundance of supply. The hard truth is that all of our refineries are full--they are full to capacity. As the President pointed out, we've doubled the capacity of oil that we are producing here in this country. And so there remains a problem out there that people who want to repeal Dodd-Frank or people don't want regulation overseeing speculators and what they do--well, frankly, we think that this needs a hard look.

And with that, let me introduce our guest, as well, who will be speaking before the Caucus today on gas prices, Dan Weiss.

Daniel Weiss, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you Mr. Vice Chairman. My name is Daniel J. Weiss. I'm a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I'll be talking with the Caucus today about high gasoline prices. As the Chairman and Vice Chairman were just talking about, they exact real economic toll on the middle class. They pay more for gasoline at the pump and they pay more for goods and services.

Fortunately, under this Administration we are producing more of our own oil. For the first time since the Clinton Administration, we are producing majority of the oil that we use here. We are also saving more oil. We are using the least amount of oil since February of 2001 and people remember right before that event, which was the swearing in of President Bush.

So, we're saving more oil than we have in over ten years. But, nonetheless, we are unable to have an impact on prices. Why? Because the oil price is set on global market by a cartel: the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, commonly referred to as OPEC.

When the United States increases its oil production--as it has--it's very easy for other countries to reduce their oil production in order to keep the price up. In fact, a Saudi Arabian oil minister in January said that they thought the ideal price for oil was about $100 per barrel, a little bit less than the $107 per barrel oil is selling for today.

So, because the oil is set on a worldwide basis, producing more our own oil is good for our economy--don't get me wrong--using less oil is good for consumers, they'll save money and reduce pollution, but ultimately the solution to this oil price roller coaster is to dramatically reduce our dependence on oil.

The President has already taken some steps to do so by doubling our fuel economy standards over the next fifteen years so that we will save over 2 million barrels of oil per day, as well as consumers saving $8,000 over the lifetime of their car in lower gasoline purchases.

We need to take other steps to get alternative fuels invested in. That includes electric cars, there's a bipartisan bill to do that. Investing in natural gas trucks. Mr. Chairman is a co-sponsor of that bill, along with John Sullivan, a conservative Republican of Oklahoma--that would also help. We need to invest in transit, as Vice Chairman Becerra was saying that transit saves billions of gallons of gasoline every year, as well as creating jobs.

Unfortunately, the highway bill that is pending before the House right now would eliminate certain funding for transit.

So, those are things we have to do to get off of oil. We need double fuel economy. We need to invest in alternatives like electricity and natural gas. And we need to invest in transit. Those are the ultimate solution to high gas prices.

In the short run, there are some people in the Caucus and others on the outside--I'm one of them--that believe, along with our allies, we should sell a small amount of our reserve oil, put it in the marketplace, that will burst the speculative bubble--that burst the idea that Wall Street speculators that price will always go up at times like this. And every time it's been done, under Republican and Democratic presidents, it has cut the price of oil and gasoline by anywhere from 5% to 17%. In fact, the Gingrich Congress did it in 1996 not because of high oil prices, but to sell some of our reserve oil to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Seems to me that now would be a good time to sell some of that oil, along with our allies selling some of their reserve oil to burst that speculative bubble.

Again, thank you very much for having me here and I'll be honored to take any questions that aren't directed towards the gentlemen.

Rep. Larson: Thank you very much and our Caucus begins ... two minutes ago. If you forgive us, we will just take a couple of questions, quick.

Q: Do you agree with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu that the time for diplomacy and sanctions in Iran is running out? And do you think the United States should consider military action to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon?

Rep. Larson: Well, I agree with the President and I thought the President was very firm in his remarks and said very clearly that Iran having a nuclear capability was not acceptable. But the President was also firm in terms of making sure that we ratchet up sanctions and ratchet up the diplomacy. That, I think, is the preferable route, but we stand committed and firm behind the great state of Israel--our greatest ally and a great democracy in the Middle East.

Q: Do you think the unusual amount of focus by the Republicans on the Iran-Israeli issue is because of election year politics?

Rep. Larson: Jeez, do you think they might do that? I think the President has, in terms of foreign policy, done an incredible job. When we look out at what the President inherited -- when we see that we've wound down the war in Iraq and are doing so in Afghanistan, as we speak; that Osama bin Laden has been captured and killed; that Kaddafi is no longer an effective dictator in Libya; that an Arab Spring was ushered in; that a change in foreign policy from preemptive strike and unilateral action has changed to a matter of using United States diplomacy -- making sure that we gather everybody, as the President did in the case of Libya, especially our Arab allies to the forefront -- that there is a team effort, recognizing what needs to be done in the region.

To the extent that this is an election year, yes, I think the Republicans have turned it up on several fronts, but most notably their focus seems to be on women's issues more so than on foreign policy.

Thank you very much.

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