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Make it in America: The Economy

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. NORTON. I want to thank my good colleague from California for keeping before the Congress the notion of making jobs in America. You were just talking about infrastructure. Infrastructure is all made in America, if we make sure that we don't build bridges, for example, from materials from China. But when it comes to the roads, when it comes to the cement, we don't get those from abroad. We make those here. And that's why infrastructure has always been the foremost way to stimulate an economy. It's interesting that it stimulates not only the construction trades, but it's best because it stimulates other parts of the economy below it. It's the way to get everything going.

I couldn't agree with you more in pointing out--and you and I are on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee--the importance of infrastructure. That used to be the great bipartisan issue of the Congress of the United States. And I think there is some chance it will be again. We note that the bill that we just passed in the last Congress, the Surface Transportation bill, will have to be renewed next year; and I certainly hope that becomes an opportunity to do a Surface Transportation bill for more than 2 years. That's where we have to get to work right now.

But I wanted to come to the floor today, in particular because the Ryan budget has come forward. And I note the very good news of the 246,000 jobs that the private sector, on its own, with no help from the public sector and no help from the Congress, has produced, cheering all of us up.

Mr. Speaker, I want to note that we are about to countermand all that the private sector is doing alone. The reason is that the Federal and the State sectors are doing just the opposite. They are reducing spending, the States and the cities are causing layoffs, and the result is that for every job that the private sector makes, we are moving in exactly the opposite direction because all oars are not in the water. Thank goodness we have a private sector that is beginning to say, we won't wait for the other oars--the Federal and the State oars. We're going in now. The rest of you should join us.

The very least we should do, however, is to cease making it worse for the private sector to keep doing what it's doing. The sequester, of course, will do that. The markets have not reacted yet, but there is no way in which people in the private sector, particularly small business, is going to continue to add jobs if they see that the Federal and State governments are doing just the opposite. The reason the State governments are doing that is because when we make cuts, they pass through directly to them. So they're trying to protect themselves because they must produce annual balanced budgets. Since they must have a balanced budget, they are making cuts every single day, or at least reducing spending.

The Ryan budget comes forward and in a real sense it looks a lot like it's always looked. But look what it does: it makes half of its so-called savings from health care--Medicare, Medicaid, and, of all things, the Affordable Health Care Act. I guess we ought to say a budget is what, indeed, it always has been: it's a hope-for document. I hope that we don't get the Ryan budget. But I cannot believe that Mr. Ryan believes that at this late date, with an election having already taken place, with the benefits of the Affordable Health Care Act, flowing every day, that we're about to repeal that. Half of his savings are from Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Health Care Act, and he caps food stamps.

I want to say to my good friend from California, I think we ought to stop slapping the private sector in the face every time it makes jobs, making sure that we do cuts that take away the effects of those jobs. That's what we're doing.

I note that you have one of the posters that show how we hurt people. We ought to also understand we are hurting people and we are hurting the economy at the same time, and that's why CBO said 750,000 jobs are at risk because of the sequester alone, leave aside what the Ryan budget would do.
Mr. GARAMENDI. Well, thank you very much, Representative Norton, and for your years of service here.

You were just moving to the Ryan budget, which I suspect he'll introduce maybe in the next day or two. This is the same old, same old, but this time it's worse than the old. He's talking about an austerity budget, a very stringent austerity budget on steroids that will clearly decimate the economy as those cuts are made.

You just said if the Federal Government makes a reduction, it comes right down to cities and States laying people off. We've had this growth just last month, 247,000 jobs, and here we go.

Let's understand what is being discussed by Mr. Ryan. Who are these people on Medicaid? He proposes to cut Medicaid by a third and block-grant it to the States, which means just give the States some money. But who are those people on Medicaid? Now, we call it Medi-Cal in California, but you can see that two-thirds of the Medicaid money goes to seniors and disabled. So, Mr. Ryan, what are you doing? Who exactly are you pointing out for the reductions? You're going after seniors and the disabled.

Ms. NORTON. I think that point you just made about Medicaid needs to be said again. People think of Medicaid as somehow poor people, we'll let them fend for themselves. It turns out that almost all of the funds--two-thirds--go to seniors and disabled people. We're targeting the wrong people.

Mr. GARAMENDI. They think it's welfare. Well, these are seniors and disabled people that can't work, or people that are retired.

So, what does it mean? It slashes that budget for seniors that provides them with nursing homes. Principally, these folks are in nursing homes. So you're going to take a third of the money out of nursing homes. Now, just what are those seniors going to do? What are they going to do? You're taking a third of the money out by 2022.

You mentioned Medicare. Oh, yeah, Medicare. Mr. Ryan, proposes to end Medicare as we know it. He's going to give seniors a voucher. They can stay on Medicare, but they have a voucher to buy Medicare. The guarantee of affordable health care, quality health care for seniors terminates with the Ryan Republican budget.

Who are those people on Medicare? Well, let's see. About 3 percent earn over $100,000 a year; 1 percent, somewhere around $90,000 to $100,000; but down here, here's where the Medicare beneficiaries are. They're earning somewhere, $10,000 to $20,000, or $30,000--right here, 28, 20, 16. You're getting up to 50 percent right there of people below $40,000. These are not wealthy people.

Medicare is there to provide people with the ability to have quality health care in their retirement years. But Mr. Ryan would end that and give them a voucher, and shift the cost to the individuals who would then have to go out and buy private health insurance.

I was the insurance commissioner in California for 8 years and I understand what the private insurance companies are all about. The private health insurance companies are all about their bottom-line profit. It's not people, it's profit. If that's what Mr. Ryan wants to do, we're going to fight vigorously and successfully to say no, no; the promise of Medicare is here to stay.

Ms. NORTON. Isn't that, by the way, exactly why we got Medicare--that seniors were left to the private market, and finally the Congress understood that the private market cannot accommodate people with $22,000 annual income.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Exactly right. When I was young, before Medicare, we lived in a rural community, there was a county hospital. My dad took me to the county hospital to visit a rancher. We were ranchers. On the other side of the hill was another rancher that was elderly and was at the county hospital. I will remember forever in my life going to that ward with maybe 15, 20 elderly people side by side in beds, the stench. The care was almost nonexistent. Poverty was everywhere. It was worse than horrible.

But in 1964 this Nation did something very, very important. Together with Social Security, they brought seniors out of poverty because it was the medical expenses that forced them into poverty. So Medicare brought seniors out of poverty. It went from, I don't know, I think it was almost 80 percent of seniors were in poverty to a situation today where maybe 8 to 10 percent are in poverty. Social Security, Medicare; absolutely critical. But any attempt to change that goes right to the heart of our values as Americans.

We will take care of our seniors. That's not to say changes are not possible. Of course changes ought to be public. For example, we ought to be negotiating with the drug companies over the price of prescription drugs. But, oh no. When the prescription drug benefit was passed, added into it and signed by George W. Bush was a paragraph that said the Federal Government is a price taker; it cannot negotiate the price of drugs. So we spend billions and billions where it's not necessary.

Ms. NORTON. And of course there are some agencies that do negotiate the price of drugs.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Exactly.

Ms. NORTON. I do want to point out, when you talk about the transfer of the expense, the cost of Medicare to seniors themselves--the costs we know they can't possibly bear--notice that hopes went up when Mitt Romney said, during the campaign, that we should reduce the loopholes. Well, note what Mr. Ryan does: he reduces the loopholes in order to give rich folks a further tax reduction.

So, where does the money go? The top rate now is 39.6 percent. Well, he wants to bring that top rate down to 25 percent. So he wants to close the loopholes all right--I'm not sure which ones he has in mind--but that savings would go back into the same 1 percent sector that already has gotten all the benefit from tax cuts until what we finally did in January, when others got some relief as well.

Mr. GARAMENDI. I'm going to pick up another chart. The issue you raised is one that we really ought to chart. Let me go get another chart. Just keep going there.

Ms. NORTON. I'm very glad my good friend from California does have a way to illustrate all of these points.

Not only does RYAN reduce the top rate from 39.6--that's how much the very richest would pay--to 25 percent, but you may say, well, but he's got a 10 percent rate essentially for everybody else. Well, if everybody else paid 10 percent and the very richest paid 25 percent, there would be little revenue for the Federal Government. So what we're saying about Medicare and Medicaid is this would mean that there would not be the revenue to fund them. And that seems to be his point: get so little revenue coming into the Federal Government that in and of itself that will mean you do not have to worry about cuts. You'll get rid of these programs that we have been building for 50 years.

Mr. GARAMENDI. I ran over and got this chart. I wasn't going to talk about this this evening, but you brought the issue up about where the money has gone and the issue of tax breaks.

This chart begins in 1979, and it shows the basic growth in income. So it starts down here in 1979, and the bottom 20 percent have really seen very, very little growth in their income. The next 20 percent, a little better, and this is the next quartile. These are the 1-percenters. We talked about the 99 percent. This is the 99 percent down here. These are the 1-percenters. These are the people that have seen extraordinary income growth. And it just happens to coincide right here, this income growth has coincided with the Bush tax cuts in the early 2000's. So we've seen this enormous percentage income, almost a 300 percent growth, 277 percent growth in their income, so that you're beginning to see the skewing of wealth in America.

This is the annual income. But if you take a look at wealth and you put another chart of wealth here, you'll see something the very same. So the rich get richer and the poor stay where they are, that old song.

Here we are. This is a result of multiple effects, but one of the principal ones is tax policy. And if Mr. Ryan's budget passes, as you have suggested, and the top tax rate goes from 39 to 25 percent, then that means that those who already have a lot will get a whole lot more. And I'm reminded of a quote by Mr. Roosevelt, President Roosevelt, and he said--this is a paraphrase. I wish I had it with me to be exact. He said: We're not measured by how much those who have get more, but rather by what we do for those who have little.

This is our great challenge. This is where the great buying power for America should be, in the bottom 99 percent, really in the bottom 50 or 60 percent.

I thank you for raising that point about the tax policy in the Ryan budget, but it will make this line just continue to go like that; and the rest, because of the elimination of the deductions, are going to see a stalling of their income.

Ms. NORTON. So he does get balance within 10 years, and look at how he gets it. You still do not have anything like a contribution, a real contribution from those who have benefited the most from the tax cuts. You're saying it continues to come from the lowest part of the income stream, income groups in the United States. I don't know when people will let the Congress know they're not going to take it anymore, but it seems to me the time has come.

Frankly, I was encouraged by the fact--I hope this works out--that the President reached out to at least some Senators to see whether or not there's somebody somewhere, and since Democrats controlled the House, perhaps we could get to a greater balance by bringing more people into the equation.

The Republicans are fond of saying that you can't spend yourself into prosperity. Well, you can't cut yourself into prosperity, either. That's why the notion of balance makes the most sense. That's why the President was elected because that apparently made the most sense to the American people.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Exactly. The President has proposed a balanced approach to sequestration, as well as to the long-term deficit plan, a combination of additional revenues, many of them from closing loopholes, and also some very wise cuts. There are things that can be done in Medicare. I talked earlier about the prescription drug benefit. But there's also the way in which Medicare is organized. The fee-for-service system encourages additional and often unnecessary procedures. There's a lot of fraud in the system. We need to deal with that. And the Affordable Care Act, interestingly enough, went right after every one of those, yet they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

What are they thinking? We know the Affordable Care Act works. We know that the inflation rate in Medicare, since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, has dropped precipitously. It's still growing, but it's growing slower than the general health care inflation rate in the Nation.

Ms. NORTON. That's the first time we've seen that in decades.

Mr. GARAMENDI. In decades. But we're seeing the changes.

The Affordable Care Act, a major part of that is an annual well person visit to the doctor, so critically important. Why? What's your blood pressure? How's your sugar? What's happening in your life? Can we prevent you from getting diabetes? Can we give you some really--some cheap pills to keep your blood pressure down, or are we going to have the blood pressure go up so you get a stroke and pay big-time for years and years with disabilities and medical care?

So the Affordable Care Act has the right incentives in it to bend the cost curve. And it is. It is actually working.

Ms. NORTON. It's working. And because it's working, we know good and well the last thing the American people would approve is snatching it back, particularly since, by 2014, it's going to reach everybody.

I agree with you. There are ways to cut. And unlike my friends on the other side, this side has never said no cuts. Their view is only spending cuts, but we have never had that view, only this or that. We really are open to the kinds of negotiation, tough negotiation it's going to take to come out with something.

Now, I'll say for the Ryan budget, he says he was questioned, ``Well, do you really think any of this is going to happen?'' and he said words to the effect, ``Well, you have to put down what you really want,'' I don't have any problem with that if they come to the table this time so that there can be a real negotiation and we can get to the kind of budget that I think really is doable.

Mr. GARAMENDI. I notice that our time is nearly over. If you'd like a few closing comments, I'm going to end in just a few moments, too.

Ms. NORTON. First, I want to thank my friend for keeping jobs before us. That's the bottom line. That's really what we've been talking about even as we talk about the Ryan budget.

I simply wanted to come forward because, when I heard you on the floor, it seemed to me almost everything you were saying fed into the news today from the Ryan budget. I ask people to try to follow the explanation of what that budget does when you hear that he can close the budget in 10 years rather than 25 years, understand that that is impossible if you want to grow this economy.

I thank you, once again, my good friend from California, for making all the important points this evening.

Mr. GARAMENDI. From Washington, D.C., your leadership in this community has been known for some time. I thank you very much for joining us tonight.

I want to do two things before I end. First of all, Medicare is back on the table. The Ryan budget takes up Medicare once again and provides a voucher which will basically destroy it.

I used this last time around. I'm going to change this. It says, Medicare 1965--that was President Johnson--until 2013; created by LBJ, destroyed by the GOP. I don't think so. Seniors don't want it. Americans don't want it. In the last campaign for the Presidency, this was one of the major issues, and yet Mr. Ryan is coming back with it. Bad idea, bad timing.

I want to end with this. This is a great country. There is no other place in the world like the United States. It is one terrific country. There's enormous energy in this country, the energy where people want to get a job, they want to go to work, businesses want to grow, and they want to hire people. All of that is waiting for Congress to get its act together, to get the sequestration out of the way, which is an austerity budget that has 750,000 jobs to be lost in it, get that out of the way. Look at the balanced proposal, as the President has suggested. End some tax loopholes. Make some cuts. Make wise, thoughtful cuts. And it's possible. It can be done, and it should be done.

Along the way, we can grow the economy. We can, once again, ``Make it in America.'' Because when we make things in America, when we use our tax money to buy American-made equipment, supplies, and products, we're creating jobs here. We're putting people back to work.

George Washington said we ought to do it. Alexander Hamilton as Treasury Secretary said we ought to do it. And we, the Democrats, say we ought to do this. We ought to have a buy American.

Mr. Rahall, the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has made it clear that, as a major part of the new transportation bill, there's going to be a major ``Make it in America'' component so that we're buying American-made goods once again. He's supported by every one of the ranking members of every subcommittee, and I add myself to that list.

For the last 3 years, I've carried specific bills that say our tax money, transportation tax money, would be used to buy American trucks, buses, bridges, and steel made here in America. If you're going to put up a solar panel on your house or a wind turbine and you expect a subsidy--and you should have one--then it should be an American-made solar panel or wind turbine.

We can make it in America when Americans, once again, make it. So, that's our message. Our message is to be wise about the cuts. Yes, we're going to make cuts. Balance it with appropriate revenue increases, which should be basically the elimination of many of the unnecessary subsidies that go out even to American corporations still receiving subsidies for offshoring jobs. No more. The President was right. Give a break to American companies that bring jobs back to the United States.

All of this is possible. This is what we are here for, 435 of us in the House of Representatives, to set policy. Mr. Delaney talked about education, technology, energy policy, and we were joined this evening by our other friends, Mr. Higgins from New York, Mr. Ryan from Ohio, and Ms. Norton from Washington, D.C. It's been a good evening.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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