U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn said Thursday that any plan to address the debt and the deficits won’t succeed unless it also puts Americans back to work.
“No matter how much we may cut, how much revenue we may raise, I don’t think we can have a sustainable effort to close the deficits and start paying down the debt unless we get people back to work so that they can earn incomes and pay taxes and become much less of a burden on the entire economic situation,” Clyburn said in a Town Hall discussion moderated by Politic365.
Clyburn, the assistant Democratic leader in Congress, is one of six House members appointed to the bipartisan debt-reduction Super Committee. He said he believes the debt-reduction Super Committee can find a workable plan that Congress can adopt to address excessive deficits and avoid automatic triggers for across-the-board reductions.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “As a South Carolinian, I live by our state’s motto, which is: ‘As I breathe, I hope.’ So I am hopeful we will get something done.”
Clyburn also said the nation’s debt grew so large because the Bush administration used “the credit card” to pay for wars and tax cuts.
Much of his comments Thursday centered on those credit-card decisions and how they created the problems the Super Committee must now address.
Clyburn said Americans are worried and are looking to Congress and the Super Committee to take action on the big challenges.
“People are expressing to me — total strangers — how much they are looking forward to this group doing what is necessary to get a much-needed job done,” he said.
Clyburn took pains to clear up what he considers misconceptions of “where we are, and how we got to this place” with a stagnant economy, millions of Americans out of work and rising national debt and deficits.
First, Clyburn noted that in the three months between Barack Obama’s election and his taking the oath of office as president, the economic situation grew much worse. “In November 2008, in December 2008 and in January 2009, we lost over 2 million jobs,” he said.
Yet some, he said, want to blame Obama for those job losses and for the Troubled Asset Relief Program — the bailout.
“The TARP bill was to bail out Wall Street, if you please. That we know,” Clyburn said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people say President Obama bailed out the banks. He didn’t. This was done before he ever took office.”
Clyburn expressed frustration with the budget policies of President George W. Bush and his repeated reliance on debt, rather than new revenue, to cover expensive new wars and enormous tax cuts.
“In 2001, we were protecting surpluses,” Clyburn said. “But not long after President Bush took office, we were attacked on 9-11, 2001. And President Bush, rightfully so, set out to retaliate for that attack. We then launched a war in Afghanistan in search of Al Qaida. We knew that’s where the attackers were. I voted for that. If my memory serves, all but one member of United States Congress voted to go into Afghanistan. I think that was the right thing to do.
“What was not the right thing to do was to launch that effort on the credit card,” Clyburn said. “Rather than paying for it, rather than at that moment saying ‘We’ve got to go to war, we’ve got to retaliate for the attack against us on 9/11, and everybody must pitch in. Those people will be going off to fight, so those people staying back home must make some sacrifice.’ We didn’t do that. We went to war, and we put the entire expense of that war on the credit card.
“Not long after that,” Clyburn said, “for some strange reason, President Bush decided that we should go into Iraq.”
Clyburn said he did not vote for the war in Iraq. “I did not believe that we should go without clear evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction, weapons we never found. And of course, we launched that war, and once, again, we put it on the credit card.”
The two wars were followed, Clyburn recalled, with a new Bush initiative, the prescription drug plan — Medicare Part B. “Trillions of dollars, that plan cost,” he said. “What did we do? We didn’t pay for it. We put that on the credit card.”
And that wasn’t the last of the credit-card budgeting, Clyburn said. “Now we’ve got three big items on the credit card, but we didn’t stop there. We then did some tax cuts — and the big beneficiaries of the tax cuts were the wealthy in the country. A fourth big item. We didn’t pay for that, either — that was put on the credit card.”
All of those heavy credit-card charges added up to our current situation, he said.
“So in the course of eight years of the Bush administration we went from protected surpluses in the neighborhood of $260 billion to deficits in the neighborhood of $270-80 billion,” Clyburn said.
Then the bottom fell out of the housing market, he explained, and emergency action — the TARP bill — was required.
Clyburn said the 12-member debt Super Committee is charged with drawing up a plan to tackle the problem of debt and deficits that were out of control over the last decade.
“We have been told that we must come up by Thanksgiving — to be exact, November 23 — with a plan to cut 1.5 trillion out of the debt and deficits,” he said.
Clyburn said that could be done in three ways:
- Cut the budget.
- Raise revenue.
- Create more jobs.
“All three of these things, I believe, must be done.”
Clyburn said he was particularly concerned about defense spending. He did not want the automatic triggers to kick in, which would force drastic, across-the-board cuts on the U.S. military if the Super Committee failed to reach a plan and Congress failed to adopt it.
“I am particularly interested in us getting something done, so that we won’t have any drastic cuts done to defense, or to entitlements, because I think it could lead to some real uncomfortable situations going forward,” he said.
The congressman offered comments on a number of issues raised by citizens via e-mail or the phone:
- On the need to expand adoption of broadband Internet access: “I’m convinced that our young people competing for jobs in the future will be competing in a global basis.”
- On high-tech jobs: “I think that training, training and training must be done…. I don’t think we put enough focus on training people for jobs of the future.”
- On the Bush tax breaks and correcting tax loopholes: “I really believe in shared sacrifice. I believe we’ve allowed too much to get out of kilter…. The fact of the matter is those tax breaks were unfairly tilted toward the wealthy. Everybody knows that. There is no denying it. … I think tax breaks need to be fair.… I don’t believe that closing a loophole is a tax increase.”
- On Medicare: “We extended the life of Medicare by 14 years. We did so by cutting $500 billion out of Medicare on the provider side, so that we could pile that money back into Medicare on the benefits side. So nobody got their benefits cut, but it got misrepresented in the media. It was used against us in the campaign last year — ‘$500 billion Medicare cuts’ — and a lot of people went crazy.… The Ryan budget passed by the Republicans will continue big tax cuts for wealthy people while at the same time will turn Medicare program into some kind of a voucher that will cost Medicare recipients an additional $6,000 over a year.… That’s the kind of stuff we’ve got to guard against.”
- On disrespect in politics: “We’ve allowed the discourse in our society to become too course. We’ve allowed our treatment of each other to become too harsh. I just think that this treatment, that so many people are vicious toward President Obama, is beyond the pale…. I don’t know anything in politics that will allow you to disrespect somebody. I can have differences with people in politics, but you don’t have to disrespect.”
- On spending on infrastructure to help the economy: “I hope that this time around the president will make that a big part of his jobs program, to do these big infrastructure projects that will not only provide jobs in the short term but will have long-term benefits to communities.”
To hear excerpts from the congressman’s Town Hall, click on these links:
Clyburn’s Opening Statement Part I:
Clyburn’s Opening Statement Part II:
Town Hall Q&A: