Jul 24, 2020
House Democrats Press Conference Transcript July 24: Unemployment Benefits
House Democrats held a press conference on July 24 to discuss an extension of unemployment benefits. Chairman Davis said: “A Republican failure to continue the $600 a week federal unemployment supplement would represent a racially discriminatory action period”. Read the transcript here.
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Chairman Richard Neal: (00:00)
Social distancing, that will be good.
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Chairman Richard Neal: (00:06)
So good afternoon. It’s been two months, I believe, and about 10 days since we passed the Heroes Act on the Democratic side, that was our position. It had been carefully vetted in the Democratic caucus and move through the Ways and Means Committee. And we took the position that it was a challenge that we needed to get out immediately. The CARES Act helped to mitigate circumstances for people in terms of wage replacement across the country. It is clear that the $600 that were added to the weekly unemployment benefit has offered, I note, some conflict, but here’s the reality of it. The reality is you can’t quit your job to get an extra $600 a week.
Chairman Richard Neal: (00:57)
But secondly, knowing that the pandemic with 30 million Americans having filed for unemployment insurance, that the contagion of the healthcare system would make its way into the contagion of the economic system, and people would have trouble paying their rents and paying their mortgages. That’s what this was about. And the wage replacement issue, along with the extra $600 has gone a long way toward ameliorating some of that pressure.
Chairman Richard Neal: (01:28)
The other side knew this was coming. They knew that eventually, despite the procrastination, the argument that they were waiting to see how this would play out now brings us to the eve of an economic catastrophe, if unemployment insurance is not extended. You can see that right now, that there’s great uncertainty that confronts the American system. Again, a record number of COVID cases, the resurgence of the virus is again crossing great economic uncertainty. It’s linked to childcare. It’s linked to a chaotic system of how states deliver unemployment compensation. But what is important to remember is to this moment, the United States Senate has refused to act.
Chairman Richard Neal: (02:21)
Complacency would be the worst strategy to adopt right now. I think of all the issues that we were able to put together in the CARES Act, including the Retention Tax Credit, unemployment insurance aid for our hospital. What was really the most successful endeavor was unemployment insurance, largely because it addressed the issue of liquidity in the system, and because people need the sustenance of day to day life, it also helped to create consumer demand. Those were the important considerations. We can’t lose the momentum that we developed in the CARES Act by not getting immediately to the Heroes Act. They can’t say that they haven’t had time to vet this. Two months and 10 days, they’ve had to go through this. The evidence was overwhelming about the pandemic. It wasn’t getting better. It reached a ceiling for a while, began to slow down. But I would remind all that the Governor of Connecticut has taken a different position today. The Governor of Massachusetts has taken a different position now on out of state visitors.
Chairman Richard Neal: (03:35)
And this is part of where we find ourselves, whether it’s in California, Texas, or Florida. The truth is that the recovery is going to be slow, largely because we’re still in the stages of stability and relief. So I think the unemployment insurance issue is not only compelling, it’s overwhelming. And Chairman Davis has had a great deal to do with this. He has said time and again, during our get togethers, our Zoom calls, he believes that this is one of the most important things that we did. And he’s really made a big contribution through the subcommittee that helped to write this. Chairman Danny Davis.
Chairman Danny Davis: (04:15)
Thank you, Chairman Neal. These past months have demonstrated with unblinking charity, the impact of systemic racism on every aspect of our society. I’m not going to mince words, a Republican failure to continue the $600 a week federal unemployment supplement would represent a racially discriminatory action period. Any way you cut it, any way you look at it. African Americans and Latinos make up a disproportionate share of essential workers. Of those hospitalized by the virus, of those dying from the virus, and of those facing evictions to just simply stay in their homes.
Chairman Danny Davis: (05:10)
We can not allow Republicans to take a color blind position on who is harmed by cutting off the $600 supplement for unemployed workers. Unemployed individuals don’t work because they can’t work. They can’t work because it’s dangerous for them to work. They can’t work because there is no work, and they can’t work because there’s no childcare for them, no place to take the children.
Chairman Danny Davis: (05:45)
The house passed an extension of the $600 back in May, and the Senate Republicans and President have yet to act while millions of Americans teeter on the edge, wondering what’s going to happen to them next. Will they be able to make it through the next week? Through the next month? I reject the idea that we could let the $600 supplement expire and just give workers some help after the fact. One thing I know is that retroactive benefits are not the same. You can’t eat retroactively. You can’t afford medicine retroactively. Businesses can’t survive retroactively.
Chairman Danny Davis: (06:37)
Now the Republicans have decided to push an approach that the administration’s own Labor Department rejected as unworkable. So if the Republican plan can’t work, then the stark reality is that the Republican plan remains, cutting off the $600. What kind of leader punish unemployed workers in the midst of a crisis? The harm to families and businesses is not theoretical. In the last recession, we let emergency unemployment benefits lapse, and the harm to individuals and retailers was immediate and substantial. In Illinois, if Republicans let the $600 expire, the average benefit will be cut by 63%.
Chairman Danny Davis: (07:32)
Hard working Americans deserve relief. We must protect workers and families. We must do it now. There’s no time to wait. There’s no time left. Now is the time, and we must act immediately. Now I’d like to present Representative Kildee from Michigan.
Representative Dan Kildee: (07:59)
Thank you, Chairman Davis, and to Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Neal. I’m joined by Mr. Evans, Ms. Chu, both of the Ways and Means Committee, appreciate all your efforts. We’re here today with one message for the President and for the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, do your job. Millions of Americans are at risk of losing everything that they’ve worked for. And the only thing holding them together has been this unemployment benefit. And the only thing that prevents them from keeping it, is the inaction of this President and of the United States Senate.
Representative Dan Kildee: (08:34)
COVID-19 is simultaneously an economic crisis and a health crisis. 140,000 Americans have lost their lives. 40 million American workers have lost their jobs. These simultaneous crises are far from over. Yesterday, for the 18th week in a row, over a million people filed for unemployment benefits. Our unemployment rate nationally is over 11%, worse than the Great Recession.
Representative Dan Kildee: (09:02)
Percent, worse than the Great Recession. In my home state, it’s one of the hardest hit states, two million Michiganders have lost their jobs. We have passed legislation. We’re not just having a conversation, we’re legislating. Someone once told me a long time ago, “You can’t fund a conversation.” We passed a bill that protects these important benefits, and in addition to that provides other critical support for testing, for frontline workers, for state and local governments, for schools, and extends that $600.00 a week benefit.
Representative Dan Kildee: (09:37)
For months, Republicans have failed to act. They know everything they need to know to make a decision on this question, but the HEROES Act sits on Mitch McConnell’s desk gathering dust. Why isn’t there any empathy from these Republicans? Millions of Americans are about to lose everything that they’ve worked for and not be able to put food on the table, not be able to take care of their families. The Senate Republicans are literally dining on alligator sausage and crab bisque while Americans are trying to figure out how they’re going to put food on their own tables. Because of their inaction, we now find ourselves staring down tomorrow’s deadline where Americans will stop getting that essential lifeline.
Representative Dan Kildee: (10:26)
This pandemic is not over. This is no time to tell the American people you’re on your own. So even as we begin to reopen parts of the economy, in some cases obviously too quickly but even when the economy does begin to re-establish itself, the jobs won’t come back as fast as they were lost. Unemployment will still be a significant problem. The highest levels we’ve seen since, and now eclipsing, the levels of the Great Recession. Without this action, 25 million Americans again could lose everything that they’ve worked their lives to create.
Representative Dan Kildee: (11:05)
Every one of these dollars matters to these families and as Chairman [Neal 00:11:09] said, this is not just about supporting those families, but this supports the American economy. Imagine taking away this lifeline, it not only puts those families in jeopardy, but it takes significant spending power out of the economy. Without this unemployment benefit, unemployment goes up in this country and the problem gets worse. I’ve heard from thousands of my constituents. We were chatting before coming out here.
Representative Dan Kildee: (11:37)
All of us, for the most part the majority of the calls we get have to do with unemployment benefits and I just want to mention a couple of these folks. Rick from Bay City, Michigan wrote to me to say, “Please vote to extend the $600.00 unemployment. It’s been a much-needed lifeline. It helps with basic needs like housing and medicine. We nearly lost our home and everything. We do not know what we are going to do without that extra $600.00. Stopping these payments seems cruel. We’re barely hanging on.” Jeffrey from Saginaw wrote to me basically the same story, he said, “I’m still making far less than I did but I’m at least able to get by.” Crystal from Burton said, “I fear my children and I are going to be left homeless and without food. I just don’t know what else we’d do.”
Representative Dan Kildee: (12:24)
These are the stakes. These are the stakes. This is about real American lives that are going to be affected permanently. Do we want to create the first generation of another round of multiple generation poverty? No, we don’t. We have acted. The leader in this effort and all of our efforts has been our leader the Speaker, and she has just been dogged in her determination to get this done so it’s my pleasure to bring forward our leader, the Speaker, Speaker Pelosi.
Speaker Pelosi: (12:53)
Thank you very much. Thank you Mr. Kildee. Thank you Chairman Neal. Thank you Chairman Davis. Thank you all for focusing on this very central issue, an issue that goes to the heart of the kitchen table concerns of America’s working families. We can talk about a number of things, time. Everything is about time. The time that it’s taken for the administration to recognize that you should wear a mask, the time it took, 98 days, just about 100 days, to reach one million people infected in the United States. Half that time to reach two million, 43 days. 27 days to reach three million people, 16 days to reach four million. Terrible. Terrible, and Congresswoman Chu [inaudible 00:13:44] Mr. Chairman Davis, thank you Congressman [Evans 00:13:48], Mr. Kildee and Mr. Chairman Neal for bringing us here.
Speaker Pelosi: (13:53)
We keep saying we want to open the schools, you want to open the economy, defeat this virus and yet, and yet, and yet, delay, distortion, denial has taken us to a place where we have four million people. There are many other concerns that we have of state and local government having to fire people and the list is a long one of concerns that we’re trying to address and Mr. Davis rightly calls really injustices in how they disproportionately impact communities of color and the rest.
Speaker Pelosi: (14:28)
But right now, we are focusing on this one subject, the extension of the unemployment insurance benefit. This is central to the well-being of America’s families. What do the Republicans and the White House have against working families in our country that they would begrudge them $600.00 of absolutely necessary sustenance? There are other things in here too. It’s about paying the rent and it’s about buying food. So with this package, we have people on the verge of eviction. We have millions of children starved, food insecure in America. We need the food stamps and the rest and they resent that. We had legislation in the HEROES Act independently to help with rent so that people are not evicted and we have this money in the unemployment benefit.
Speaker Pelosi: (15:31)
So I thank the members of the Ways and Means Committee for always recognizing, always recognizing the connection between our policy and the health and livelihood, the lives and livelihood of America’s working families. Again, as Mr. Kildee said, we hear calls all the time. People crying on the phone, crying on TV, crying, they’re in pain, it’s about their dignity and how they meet the needs of their children, and why? And why? Because the Republicans are derelict in their duty, taking off for the weekend instead of being ready. All these months without preparing something to begin with. When we had our offer, they make their offer. Now two months and eight, ten days have gone by, and where are they and where is their offer which earlier this week they said we would see in 24, 48 hours? They’re in disarray and their disarray is causing great, great damage to America’s working families.
Speaker Pelosi: (16:37)
This is an alarm that needs to be sounded as loudly as possible about what are we doing here if we are not addressing the needs of people that have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and as Mr. Davis said, they tell them to go to work, go to work, you’re an essential worker, you must go to work. And when you go to work and there are no protections, you have no recourse. And if you don’t go to work because you’re afraid that you’re going to bring the infection home to your children, you don’t get unemployment insurance.
Speaker Pelosi: (17:15)
Mr. Neal, the distinguished chairman, he has always been there for the people who need it the most. As countered by the Republicans who are there for people who have the most. So when they talk about $ 600.00, I want the review of the fact that they put $2 trillion onto the national debt to give us a tax break to the wealthy, 83% of the benefits to the top 1%.
Speaker Pelosi: (17:40)
I’ll close prayerfully, quoting Saint Augustine. Some of you have heard me say this almost every day. Saint Augustine, 1700 years ago. He said, “Any government that is not formed to promote justice is just a bunch of thieves.”
Speaker Pelosi: (18:02)
It’s just a bunch of thieves. Let’s use our time to remove all doubt that we’re going to do the right thing by the American people so they can meet the needs of their families. Everybody wants to talk about being family friendly, let’s not squawk about $600. Would that a yield back to the distinguished chair of the committee or whoever’s leading the way here?
Chairman Richard Neal: (18:31)
Questions, questions, please.
Speaker 2: (18:34)
Will you pass a bill to invoke a short term renewal of these benefits.
Chairman Richard Neal: (18:42)
That’s the speakers call but I will tell you this, the committee meets next week to hold a hearing on unemployment insurance.
Speaker Pelosi: (18:48)
Yeah, let me just say this. We had food stamps in there and they’re like, “What do you want more money for food stamps?” We have housing in there, what you want money for housing? We have this benefit in there. I would be very much averse to separating this out and lose all leverage for meeting all of the other needs. It’s a fraudulent tactic and with all due respect to you an unworthy question when it comes to meeting the needs of America’s working families. I’m glad you’re having the hearing to keep the spotlight on it.
Speaker Pelosi: (19:24)
They could have done their job as you said. Do your job. I mean, this is dereliction of duty and our responsibility to the American people. And now you’re saying, “Why don’t you just bail them out?” So they can ignore all the needs that we have for testing. All the needs we have are state and local government. All the needs we have for food security. All the needs we have for OSHA benefit that is in the bill. All the needs that we have for vote by mail and other priorities that we have that are about justice. Mr. Chairman.
Speaker 3: (19:57)
I’m with Channel 10. Are you considering extending this for a month or two while you continue to negotiate?
Speaker Pelosi: (20:04)
Representative Dan Kildee: (20:08)
The point being the Republicans have every bit of information they need to make a decision.
Speaker Pelosi: (20:22)
You understand now. No.
Speaker 3: (20:22)
I was just wondering-
Speaker Pelosi: (20:22)
Speaker 3: (20:22)
… for people who were unemployed-
Speaker Pelosi: (20:22)
Speaker 3: (20:22)
… but a bunch of people are at home what are they going to do?
Speaker Pelosi: (20:22)
We passed the bill. Passed the bill.
Representative Dan Kildee: (20:24)
We passed the bill. That’s it.
Chairman Richard Neal: (20:25)
It’s a good bill. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s a really good piece of legislation if you go through it with the retention tax credit and all it’s really a good piece of legislative work.
Speaker Pelosi: (20:35)
It’s a tactic in order not to honor our other responsibilities. We will not a party to their tactic. If it’s on this subject, let’s stay on this subject and I’ll be glad to answer any other questions.
Speaker 4: (20:51)
[inaudible 00:20:51] but republicans, the republicans want to keep their money within a trillion dollars. Given money for education, more money for PPP, et cetera when you bring in the Unemployment Insurance Benefit of another $600 do you think it is possible to extend that benefit at that level and keep the bill within a trillion dollars?
Speaker Pelosi: (21:13)
No. What we said to the Republican. I’m going to tell you something. This is deadly serious. A house is burning down in terms of the economic security of America’s families and these people are settling wherever they may be this weekend. So when you talk about, well, they wanted to do a trillion dollar so how can we do $600 for those in the most need when they got other things they want to do. That’s why distinguished leader said to them put your bill on paper, put your bill on paper and then we’ll see what you have included and what you have left out. And then the American people will see what you have included and what you have left out. But I’m telling you, you can’t have any more patients. It’s a wonderful thing I read, it’s amazing how much patience people can have with other people suffering. Well, we don’t have that patience on our side of the aisle and so for them to say a trillion dollars, when they spent $2 trillion to give a tax cut to the richest people in America, 83% of the benefits to the top 1%.
Chairman Richard Neal: (22:31)
Which is borrowed?
Representative Dan Kildee: (22:31)
It is borrowed.
Speaker Pelosi: (22:31)
And they borrowed it. They blamed it on the backs of our children for future generations. So let us see what their trillion dollars gets them and what are they excluding. They have nothing for state and local where people are working healthcare professionals, food suppliers, transit workers, teachers, teachers, teachers, sanitation workers, people who make a system run over a million and a half of them have been fired already because of the needs of a Coronavirus. The expenses of the Coronavirus and the revenue lost because of Coronavirus. Take that out, let those people go. Okay, so now they don’t have jobs. They probably have to go on unemployment, right? So what money have they saved? And then we have testing, testing, testing, they shut down their cafeteria the minute somebody got infected in the White House Complex they shut it down there testing and tracing. Why can’t they put that money there for the States in a substantial way with a strategic plan to do that?
Speaker Pelosi: (23:38)
So what money do they have there for that? Then we have the money for rental assistance and mortgage forbearance and food stamps as I keep saying. One thing I just can’t understand is how they could even show their faces by saying food stamps. You want money for food stamps? Why would we do that? Well, because people are hungry in America. Doesn’t that motivate you? So a trillion dollars that our bill 3.4 mean and lean it’s everything we need. It’s nothing extra. So let’s see where their trillion dollars takes them and not have them use that as a reason why they can’t give America’s working families $600. Don’t get me started on that $600.
Representative Dan Kildee: (24:28)
I think it’s important. It’s important to note though even if somehow the Republicans can conjure some empathy for these families which is hard to comprehend, they ought to at least be able to comprehend the fact that to the extent that this economy has been barely held together it’s because these families have had this unemployment benefit and the spending power to go down to the corner grocery store and to pay their rent and to take care of their families. That money goes directly into the US economy. So even if they can’t figure out a way to have sympathy and empathy for the families that would be hurt and harm so much by this they ought to at least enroll in an entry level economics class and understand if you take that money out of the economy this whole house of cards is going to collapse and that’s why they need to act now.
Speaker Pelosi: (25:27)
No you had one already, I know.
Speaker 5: (25:31)
On the issue of price tag, the Heroes Act passed two months ago plus and conditions have changed on the ground, obviously-
Speaker Pelosi: (25:38)
Yeah, we need more money.
Speaker 5: (25:40)
… that’s where I was… My question is 3.4 enough given that a lot of parts of the country are suffering more than you’re working with. Where would that be? I know you mentioned it.
Speaker Pelosi: (25:51)
If I may use your question but to pivot from what Mr. Kildee was saying. We are a consumer economy. Our economy grows and succeeds and is strengthened by the consumer confidence that is there. They should know that. At the same time as they’re spending trillions of dollars to bolster the stock market. So it has a floor and that’s not a bad thing. We should be spending trillions of dollars to have a floor for America’s working families because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s also the most pragmatic thing to do in order where you put money into businesses if aren’t got no customers, it’s no use having money to pay the rent and the staff if there’s no business. So this money is spent it’s needed. It’s spent it injects demand into the economy and it creates jobs. So I just want it to go back to your point. Okay, on education for example, we need much more money. We had a $100 billion in for education. We also knew that that wasn’t really quite enough but we were trying to be lean and mean with the budget and…
Speaker Pelosi: (27:03)
… be lean and mean with the budget. They came in with 105 this week and they say, “Well, you have 500.” But, of course, you have to see where they want to spend that money. But we probably need double that much, at least double that much for education, for one thing. But by and large, we’re in pretty good shape with what we have in the budget, if we could spend it now.
Speaker Pelosi: (27:27)
Now they want to do zero for state and local. Really? Tell it to the governors and mayors, county executives across the country. We have to have that money. They’re not going to be at a trillion dollars. If you see their trillion dollar list, it’s really going to be a big embarrassment to the Republican Party to see who they cut out and who they include and how they were willing to spend double that for a tax cut for their rich friends. Anybody else want to …
Speaker Pelosi: (28:04)
I’m making that [inaudible 00:28:04]
Speaker 6: (28:04)
Madame Speaker, I heard you say-
Speaker Pelosi: (28:04)
No, excuse me [inaudible 00:28:04] Any other women? I always like to give preference to women. Yes, sir.
Speaker 6: (28:14)
Directed to you, but anybody can answer. I’m following up on Nancy’s question. I heard you say now multiple times, but isn’t this issue on a different level in the sense that it is immediate, it is going to expire, and that some of the other things, while also important, funding for elections and funding for education, isn’t going to have the effect that Mr. [Atilby 00:28:36] has described? His constituents are worried.
Speaker Pelosi: (28:37)
Well, if you were going to be evicted at the end of this month, you might not think the same way. If you were crying because you couldn’t put food on the table for your children, you might be thinking a different way. That’s why we have to have these, actually a safety net for the capitalist system. Everybody says a safety net for … It’s a capitalist system safety net, so that they can wheel and deal and free [inaudible 00:29:01]. Then in the cycle of things, when people need help, there’s a safety net for the capitalist system.
Speaker Pelosi: (29:08)
So if we were going to have a capitalist system, which I fully support and want to strengthen, we strengthen it by removing all doubt that when things go one way or another, people are not going to have to explain to their children why they don’t have food on the table. This is very important. You want to see how many people will be on the street being evicted because they cannot pay the rent? And then they can’t pay the rent exponentially because they’re not getting the $600.
Speaker Pelosi: (29:45)
I’m just got to lighten up the mood here. I’m going to tell you this all right. Carl Reiner, great, you’re all too young to know, but he was a great comedian. His son, Rob Reiner, Meathead, maybe you’re too young for that as well. I don’t know. Anyway, he died, a great comedian in his 90s, 98 years old.
Speaker Pelosi: (30:10)
I called his son Rob, who is a comedian too. I called Rob, “Rob darling, this is Nancy Pelosi. I’m calling to wish you and Michelle my condolences. I’m so sad. Your father was so funny and so wonderful. I had the occasion to hear him.” This man says, “I think you have the wrong number.” I said, “Really? I’m so sorry. I thought this was Rob Reiner’s.” He said, “Well, I know who Carl Reiner is, but I think you have the wrong number.” I said, “Well, I’m so sorry.” Wait till I talk to my staff about this. He says, “But I’m so glad you called me. I have one question for you.” I said, “What is that?” He said, “Am I going to get my $600?”
Speaker 7: (31:07)
What did you think of Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s speech yesterday.
Speaker Pelosi: (31:12)
I’m very proud of her. I thought it was great. I have four daughters, two granddaughters, and I thought she was just great. What she said is what we all know. A President of the United States who gives license to people to speak that way, who are at ease with that kind of disrespect, condescension, and the rest, and in keeping what President was saying about his fear-mongering for women who live in suburbia and how he treated that. Fear-mongering, discrimination, disrespect, condescension. I was very proud of her. Thank you all very much. I have to go to my day job.