The nation is waiting to hear what President Obama is going to say tomorrow night, when he gives an address to a joint session of Congress on the subject of jobs. Plenty of people have already been offering advice to the White House, but instead we thought it'd be interesting to ask some of the people who are going to be sitting in the audience tomorrow what they'd advise the president to include in his speech.
So we called up Washington and asked around. Below are the responses we got. We specifically did not contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, because we were more interested in the responses from individual Democrats rather than statements about the goals of the party as a whole. We contacted a number of Congress members who were unable to provide quotes; due to being out of the country, or due to various disasters happening across the United States in the past few weeks (the day we started calling, a hurricane was on its way towards Washington, for instance). And we did not contact every Democrat, so you shouldn't read too much into who responded and who could not. The responses are arranged in no particular order.
Here are the questions we asked to each of them:
What advice would you give to President Obama as he prepares his post-Labor Day speech on job creation? What specific programs or policies would you suggest the president include in his speech? Do you think Obama should lay out big and ambitious ideas, or focus more on what he might be able to get through a divided Congress?
Representative Raúl Grijalva
The co-chair of the Progressive Caucus strongly called the speech a "make or break" opportunity for Obama. Grijalva also called for help for the unemployed "99-week" people who have lost (or are about to lose) their unemployment benefits if Congress does not act. The Progressive Caucus published its own letter to the president on the subject, as well.
It has to be a bold initiative, a bold vision -- I don't think the American people want to hear about a "bold bargain." It's got to involve public works, it has to involve job creation where the federal government is a direct intervener, to make sure that it happens. It should also require businesses that benefit from any part of the package prove that they have actually created jobs.
We have to do something for the 99ers. The free trade bits I don't agree with.
It has to be bold, it has to be challenging. I think President Obama should ignore the House and speak directly to the American people -- they want to hear it and they expect it.
He can't play along the edges. This has to be make or break.
After we spoke with him, Grijalva was further quoted today on MSNBC (after hearing some details from the speech which have leaked to the press):
The Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus and Progressive Caucus sent a letter to the president saying let's meet before this speech. We feel this package is being outlined in the press. $300 billion is not big enough. The severity of unemployment and the downturn requires a lot more government intervention. It requires a bigger package to revive this economy and bring unemployment down, especially in areas hardest hit by poverty. We just feel this is a time for boldness. This is a time to take this argument to the American people. The Republican leadership is not going to cooperate. It's in their best interest that the president appear ineffective and not get anything done. He's got to take this fight to the American public, and that's what we want to urge him to do.
Representative Jerry Nadler
In his upcoming speech on jobs, I sincerely hope that the president announces a profound shift in federal policy that will finally put Americans back to work and extricate this nation from a truly debilitating recession. We cannot afford any less. Our approach to date has been far too timid, far too conservative, and not nearly robust enough to create employment, to increase aggregate demand, and to get dollars flowing once again through the economy. I would like the president to propose vast transportation and infrastructure investments -- the likes of which saved the nation from the Great Depression 70 years ago. We desperately need improvements to our roads, bridges, tunnels, mass transit, rail, broadband, and so forth. And we desperately need the jobs to get those improvements done. It is now up to President Obama to lead us back toward prosperity.
Senator Al Franken
Job creation needs to be our number one priority right now and I'm pleased the president agrees. I believe the federal government needs to invest in infrastructure projects and research and development to get our economic engine moving again, and maintain funding for education so that our children's skills meet the future demands of our economy.
Representative Kathy Hochul
The message I heard, loud and clear, during my seven "Congress On Your Corner" meetings this month, is that our constituents expect us to work towards real job proposals that will help get our people back to work. We need to focus on creating the right opportunities for hard-working, middle-class American families.
Investing in critical infrastructure for our country will not only help our local governments build roads, bridges and airports, but will also get our economy moving once again.
In light of our current economic situation, the American people expect bold, yet pragmatic initiatives. I'd like to see the president focus on both job creation and retaining current jobs. The F.A.A. Reauthorization and Surface Transportation Bill, both up for renewal later this month, will keep nearly one million employees working, while ensuring our nation's infrastructure continues to run properly. Additionally, a hiring tax credit and an extension of the Payroll Tax Holiday will help our small businesses put people back to work.
Representative Barbara Lee
I believe that any jobs proposal should be progressive and bold. Our nation's jobs crisis is a national emergency and requires a significant investment in the programs and projects that not only better our country, but put Americans to work. This investment could and should take many forms: expanding national service programs, allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, funding infrastructure projects, investing in state and local governments, training workers, and providing targeted tax credits such as an extension of the Earned Income Tax credit. I have specifically requested that the president include my bill H.R. 589, which would extend unemployment compensation to all jobless workers by adding an additional 14 weeks of benefits, to his jobs package. I will continue to work with the various caucuses of which I am a member (Congressional Out of Poverty Caucus, Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Congressional Black Caucus) to reach out to the president with specific proposals that will invest in workers, provide targeted relief to the most vulnerable struggling to get by and give the economy the jolt it needs.
Senator Bernie Sanders
Everyone in Vermont and across the country understands that we can put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding the nation's bridges, roads, schools, dams, culverts, rail systems and public transportation, among other vital needs. We must also transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy. A significant number of jobs can be created through weatherization, and the manufacturing of American-made wind turbines, solar panels, and heat pumps. Also, we must make fundamental changes in our trade policy so that we rebuild our manufacturing sector. Corporate America must invest in the United States and stop the outsourcing of jobs to China, Vietnam, and other low-wage countries.
Representative John Sarbanes
I believe the manufacturing sector can be the leading edge of our economic recovery. The president must outline a national manufacturing strategy that ensures "Made in America" is a source of pride for our country.
The president should also get serious about investing in our nation's critical infrastructure, which is in a state of dire need. The unemployment rate in the construction industry remains extremely high at 13.6 percent. We can put these individuals back to work rebuilding our roads and bridges, public transportation, and water and sewer systems.
Representative Dennis Kucinich
President Obama defers to Congress on everything except war. There is a battle going on in this country for economic survival. The time to get America working again is now. Fourteen million Americans are unemployed, and more than eight million more are underemployed. Our fellow Americans cannot wait any longer. Unfortunately, the president's only recent push has been for the passage of free trade agreements.
On Labor Day, we should celebrate labor and honor it by making real investments in jobs and ending policies that do away with jobs.
First, we need the president to summon the same enthusiasm for change which F.D.R. brought forth. America is ready for a second NEW DEAL where the government spends money into circulation for the purposes of rebuilding America's infrastructure. The government can use the same mechanism which the Fed uses. If the Fed can create money and give it to the banks, the Administration can spend money into circulation to rebuild America. It is time for a Works Green Administration where all the green technology potential of America is harnessed to create millions of new jobs. For example, N.A.S.A., which is already heavily involved in developing green technology, should receive a major investment for purposes of conceptual development, design and engineering of wind and solar microtechnologies which can be licensed or sold to the private sector. The private sector would then be involved in the manufacture, distribution, installation and maintenance of the wind and solar microtechnologies for purposes of placing them in millions of homes and businesses. This would create millions of jobs, lower energy costs and clean up the environment. These are just a few of the ideas which are available to put into action. We need to see the Administration demonstrate the determination to act!
Second, end the wars in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan and spend just a fraction of the saved funds on the estimated $2.2 trillion in infrastructure repairs that are so desperately needed in this country.
Third, cancel the proposed "free" trade agreements pending with South Korea, Columbia and Panama, as these will only add to the 5.3 million manufacturing jobs that the U.S. has lost since 2001.
Fourth, direct Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (the Government Sponsored Entities, GSEs) to assist borrowers of the roughly 37 million mortgages these GSEs hold in refinancing those loans at the extremely low mortgage rates currently available. A large-scale refinancing program could reduce mortgage payments by $50 billion. If enacted, a truly bold initiative like this would benefit many middle class Americans, including the borrowers of the estimated one million who will receive foreclosure notices this year, instead of just boosting the bottom lines of large financial institutions.
Senator Mark Begich
Expand broadband access to rural communities to improve opportunities for education, medicine and commerce for rural Americans.
Expand the New Markets Tax Credit to encourage small businesses to expand, especially in rural America and Native-owned businesses.
Streamline permitting for resource development on Native American lands where there is potentially a trillion dollars in untapped revenue and jobs.
Expand the international visa waiver program so international visitors and business people can more easily visit America for tourism and to purchase American products.
Create a national infrastructure bank with dedicated funding to rebuild America's crumbling roads, bridges, ports, energy generation and transmission networks and water and sewer systems which are so vital to commerce and basic transportation.
Expand and make permanent the Research and Development Tax Credit to encourage more innovation and investment by American companies.
Expand the clean-up of formerly used defense sites and bases around the country.
Encourage greater investment in green energy initiatives at U.S. military bases.
Continue or expand weatherization initiatives to create jobs, conserve fossil fuels and reduce energy costs.
Expand grants to states and local education agencies to improve science, technology, education and math which are so vital for the 21st century workforce.
Provide construction bonds for states and local entities for house for teachers and medical providers working in the most remote parts of America.
Expand national seafood marketing to increase domestic sale of American seafood.
Maintain basic fisheries research such as stock assessments which is vital for the nation's seafood industry jobs.
Make low interest loans to hard-hit cities and states to prevent the layoff of teachers, police officers and firefighters.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant