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Public Statements

Progressive Caucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. I'd first like to address, Congressman, the issue of taxes and fair taxes. Yesterday, or, actually, the day before yesterday, I stood with a group of ``Fair Taxers,'' people who are recommending the fair tax as an alternative to our current system. And I stood with them and I spoke to them, told them that I was not there to endorse the fair tax; I was there to tell them that I believed that it was something that Congress should definitely study. We shouldn't just put it aside.

There's no doubt that we need fundamental tax reform in this country, and the fair tax is a vehicle to open the door for Congress to start reviewing other possibilities, including the fair tax, as a way of fixing our inherently unequal Tax Code. And our policies--if we can't pass the Buffett rule, which simply says that a millionaire would not pay a less effective rate than working people, and so, in other words, the maids and the butlers and everyone else who--the secretary----


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Cops who patrol the area, the security guards----


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia.--that control the estate of these rich folks, the firefighters, ambulances that will come pick them up, they don't pay the same tax rates as those people.

And 70,000 of the millionaires in the country didn't pay a dime in income tax, and enjoying all of those benefits--police, fire. It's truly amazing to me that we are still not at the point in this country where we are willing to consider redoing our complicated Tax Code.

It's just ridiculous that it's not working. And we can't even pass a bill in this Congress which mandates that common people pay at a rate that is not in excess of those that the millionaires enjoy. That's just an issue of fairness. It's not fair. It's not right.

I would suggest to you, Congressman and Congresswoman, that perhaps the reason why we're seeing this kind of favorable treatment afforded to millionaires by this Congress is because almost half of the incoming freshmen, I understand, are millionaires. I think the figure is about 43 percent. And if someone can correct me on that, I'd stand corrected. But my information is 43 percent of the Tea Party freshmen are millionaires, and so they benefit from these laws, these trickle-down economics laws, and they've been enjoying them since 1980. That's when voodoo economics, as George Herbert Walker Bush called it, trickle-down economics, voodoo economics, or whatever you want to call it, it has not worked. But we still have proposals today to make it work.

And it's evident by what we did today, with a $46 billion tax cut for what's called ``small businesses,'' but, actually, a small business with 500 employees, when we only have about 1,000 businesses in the country with 1,000 or more employees. So we're actually talking about big business when we talk about 500 employees.

It's a one-time, 1-year, $46 billion tax cut that they get, according to this legislation that we passed today, and it's totally unpaid for.


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. It's disturbing to me, with all that the Congressional Progressive Caucus has done to try to level the playing field in this country for working men and women, that we would all be lumped together and called names.

I want you to comment about one of our colleagues who, in response to a question asked of him--how many Communists are there in the United States Congress?--this Congressman stepped up to the mike in a calm and polite manner--thoughtful-looking, with a pensive look on his face--and he said, I believe that there are between 78 and 81 members of the Communist Party who are Members of Congress.

Now, can you respond to that, Congressman?


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Sir, the next day, a statement was released by the gentleman. The statement was to the effect that the entire membership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are card-carrying members of the Communist Party. I just think that it's important that we say, first of all, that that's not true and, secondly, that it has no place in the rational dialogue and in the honest dialogue that we seek to have here amongst us on both sides of the aisle. It has no place.


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Congresswoman, I agree.

I also want to point out that to label folks as Communists and Socialists just because they believe in fairness for the working people of this country is not true, and I think that it should be called out because, if it's left unaddressed, then some folks will think it's true.

With that, I certainly would love for us to get into a discussion about Citizens United, Congresswoman.


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Congresswoman, I believe that you have hit the nail on the head. This Citizens United ruling by the United States Supreme Court definitely puts corporations in a position of superiority over just the regular working people of this country. The reason why is because corporations have now been afforded the same rights that individuals have, to speak freely and with no regulation. Congress refuses to even consider any regulations on that speech for purposes of campaigning and affecting the outcome of campaigns.

This is a decision that is devastating to the working people of this country, the people who don't have a voice like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or like some unknown super PAC that is formed on the eve of an election, funded anonymously, and used to affect an election and used in such a way that you can't even mount a response to it because the cascade of money is in that PAC and you have the slightest ability to raise the requisite amount of money to match it. They control the outcome of these elections with the money, and that is a devastating blow to our democracy.


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Congresswoman, that was something that has happened this year that perhaps not a lot of people know about is that, under this Republican-controlled 112th Congress, the House has voted to do away with or abolish the $1 checkoff on a tax form that you send in. You can check the box and it will automatically deduct a dollar from the amount that you owe or the amount of whatever refund you're entitled to. That $1 then goes into a pot to be distributed among the candidates who applied for this funding.

So everything that had been put in place to try to make everything equal, along with giving people their rights to invest to a certain amount in campaign-related donations, everything is being dismantled systematically. It certainly does not help the people on our side of the aisle, the Democratic side of the aisle, who traditionally have depended on workers unions and labor organizations to be the deep pockets for our campaign contributions.

I had a visit from one of my good friends in labor the other day back in my district, and this gentleman has grown to be a good friend of mine. He's a good man. He is a full-time union worker, works for the union, the administrative part of the union, not just represented by the union. He told me that with all of the people in the union who are out of work today--and we've got a few jobs in the Atlanta area that are near completion. After completion, even those workers who are able to work won't have any more work, and then there's nothing else on the agenda that these people can go and get jobs at.

He said it's gotten so bad with the attacks on labor and the unemployment to where the workers represented by the union can't pay the dues, and then the moneys having been drawn down by the unions to take care of the workers to assist them during this extended period of unemployment are on the decline and almost exhausted. After telling me that, he said, Today is my last day employed at the union because they had to let me go. We both sat there and we cried.

It was really touching, because that gentleman is in the same boat that many other workers are in, and the union which represents those workers is suffering greatly. They won't be able to do what they have done in the past for campaigns. But these super PACs and wealthy individuals who fund them--anonymously, much of the time--can afford to actually put millions in and billions in. This is a very serious situation that we face in this country.

Who's going to win, is it money or is it the people?


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Yes. I would echo those comments, Congresswoman. You know, Members around here, some folks spend 60, 70 percent of their time, instead of being in committee meetings, they are out making phone calls trying to raise money for their next election. It's not, it doesn't augur well for the country's future for us to have, you know, this kind of leadership, in other words, leadership that depends on others to make the decision. They come in, vote on it, and then go back to the phones making calls.


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Well, I am going to tell you, Congresswoman Woolsey, that's why I am going to hate to see you leave, and I know you have been here for 20 years. That's a long time to be anywhere. You have certainly been an unrelenting spokesperson for equity and fairness for all, and you have been a voice for peace, and you have been a voice for telling the truth. You are, indeed, a rare breed in Congress, and I'm personally going to miss you, and I know many others will too.

But I'll tell you, Congresswoman, there are people on the other side of the aisle and some, I know, feel the same way that we do. They don't like the way or the route that our country is going. We've even had some good people over there who have already been defeated for reelection based on that special interest money coming in at the last minute, shaking things up and telling a bunch of lies, and then the public votes a good Representative out.

I think people on both sides of the aisle are being hurt by what's happening in America right now, and I'm hopeful that this next election will see the kind of change that needs to come here. We need to take care of the people's business. This is their Congress, this is not the corporations' Congress. We should be of, by and for the people, not of, by and for the corporate special interests.

You know, I'm afraid that's where we are now. I, myself, have been fortunate so far to be in sync with the people of my district and so, consequently, I've not been forced to go out there and raise a billion dollars, but I still have to raise money.

I would prefer a system where I could just be a legislator and we could have a fairness in our elections, everyone starting with the same amount of money to spend; and that way it's not the money, it's your message that counts.


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Well, I believe you are right about that. But I will say, though, those moderates on the other side of the aisle who I am referring to are the prime targets of the interests that want to get rid of them and go to an extreme. So folks over here on the Republican side of the aisle are forced to comply with the party line or else they'll suffer the consequences.

Even when they follow the party line here, they think, okay, well, we don't trust this person over here because there's some new blood over here that talks much more extremely, and so we want to get rid of that person here and put this new person in.


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Well, you know, Congresswoman, you lead into the Declaration for Democracy, which I had the pleasure to sign yesterday, along with many of my other colleagues; and I am sure that the longer that this is around, the more that people will sign up. Have you had an opportunity to sign?


Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. I'm going to read it. It's the Declaration for Democracy, and it reads as follows:

I declare my support for amending the Constitution of the United States to restore the rights of the American people undermined by Citizens United and related cases, to protect the integrity of our elections, and limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process.

Anytime we start talking about putting limits on any activity and creating more fairness, then we get labeled as socialists and communists and we're just people that care. I don't care what you call it, we're in support of this Declaration for Democracy, which would put the reins of government back into the hands of working people, poor people, everyone. Even the corporations would have a seat at the table, but they would not speak any louder than you or I; and I think it's very important. So I was proud to sign the Declaration for Democracy.

We are in a climate where we have an organization that is set up to connect the corporate influence, the corporate money, the special interests. We have an organization that is set up to pair those special interest corporations with legislators from the various State legislatures of the Nation.

About 60 percent of the legislators in the United States--the State legislators--have joined this organization. It's called ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council. And what ALEC does is it's funded, of course, by business interests, billionaires and millionaires, and companies. What it does is it invites the legislators to join. It really entices them to join by offering them for a mere $50 a year--and the taxpayers, of course, pay that--as a professional fee or professional cost. And so the legislators join. Then he or she gets to go off on these 2- and 3-day weekends at some location like Hilton Head or Jekyll Island or Martha's Vineyard, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, wherever they can be alone and with some anonymity and in a luxurious setting.

So these legislators who join go to these locations for the retreats. The business interests are there because they're underwriting it. And then they get together in committees, and the committees work out various model laws that are produced before the folks even get there. They're told about these model laws in the committees that they work on--the committees being the legislators and the business interests. And the public's interest is not there. It's all done in secret.

And so the result is that the legislators come home, and they have legislation which they can claim as, This is my legislation and I'm introducing it. And, By the way, this is my 80th piece of legislation that I have introduced and it has passed and I'm a busy substantive legislator.

So it makes them look good out there on the campaign trail. Nobody knows what the substance of that legislation is and what it actually does and how much it costs. And then, for introducing that legislation, the legislator is rewarded with a campaign contribution also from the same corporations and individuals associated with those corporations.

So based on that formula right there you've got business being done behind closed doors to benefit folks other than the people who elect these legislators, and then you never know who those legislators are because that's private information. They keep it private. But if you're a member, you can log into the Web site and then go to a page and find out who all of the corporate and who all the legislative members are. You can only get access to that if you're a member. And to become a member you have to be prescreened in advance to make sure that you are like-minded. And if you can pass that muster, they will let you in.
So this is the same organization that announced yesterday that they would not be involving themselves--they're disbanding their committee that had to do with social issues, as they call them, including voter rights. And so the Trayvon Martin killing, the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin and then the claim of self-defense, stand your ground, but, really, shoot to kill legislation, that legislation was produced by an ALEC committee.

I'm glad to know that committee will no longer be in action, but the damage has already been done. As a result of that, you have had some corporations that have decided that this is not--we didn't buy into this. We didn't buy into this social thing. We just joined ALEC because we wanted to deal on the committees that deal with our issues--taxes, FDA, whatever. We wanted to deal on those things, but instead ALEC has gone to an extreme.

Now we have corporations that are threatened with boycotts of their goods and services jumping off the ALEC bandwagon, and that caused ALEC to announce yesterday that, We're not going to deal in any more social issues.

So I think that is instructive of the power of the people. If the people only know what is happening, the people will come together, despite the differences that we have. We can look at each other and say, Okay, you are older than I am. Plus, you are a white woman. And so, therefore, we don't have anything in common. Or I could say that this person over here doesn't have the same sexual orientation as I think they should and so therefore I'm going to condemn them to purgatory just on that basis alone. Or we can look at somebody and say Well, they've got a hoodie on. He's wearing a hoodie, and it's a black guy in a neighborhood. He can be 9 years old, he can be 15, or he can be 17; but he's still threatening me just by his mere presence. We size people up like that.

But when we really get down to it, our interests are the same. And if we can get past the fear that we have of each other and the misunderstanding that we have about each other, we can come together and we can reclaim this country so that it will be a government run by, of, and for the people. And so that is my goal, to continue to work towards that, if my citizens think that I'm worthy of continuing to do that.

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.

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