The Congressional Progressive Caucusby Representative Hakeem S. Jeffries
Posted on 2014-01-09
JEFFRIES. I thank the distinguished gentleman from Wisconsin, the
Badger State, for his continued leadership, and each and every week
when we are in session coming to the floor of the House of
Representatives and articulating the progressive message for all to
hear and for the good of the country. I appreciate you yielding some
time during this Congressional Progressive Caucus Special Order.
This month we marked the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the war on poverty. We know that on January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson came to this very Chamber, spoke to a joint session of Congress, and laid out a series of initiatives designed to combat chronic poverty in this country.
As a result of this effort, there were many legislative battles that were won: in the march toward the creation of a Great Society, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, school breakfast program, the Food Stamp Act, minimum wage enhancement, Job Corps, college work study. These were programs all part of that Great Society era enacted between 1964 and 1966; and taken together with other war on poverty initiatives, they managed to rescue millions and millions of Americans from their impoverished condition and set them on a pathway toward the middle class.
Over the years, we have attempted to continue that war on poverty with great success such that the situation in America now is better than it was in 1964; yet we know that the war continues. Instead, it seems like as opposed to waging a war on poverty here in this Chamber, many of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have decided to embark on a war against the poor, a war against middle class families and senior citizens, those who are striving to realize the full potential of the American Dream. And that's why we are also so troubled by the failure to extend long-term unemployment benefits.
Now, I arrived in this Chamber feeling as if I was prepared for the experience, given the professional and educational legislative experiences that I had had in advance of January 3, 2013. And it has been my honor and my privilege to work with such a tremendous class of freshmen.
I have been troubled over the last year by the fact that I appeared deficient in one area, and that is in my failure to have any meaningful experience in the art of hostage negotiation. But from the very beginning that I set forth in this Chamber, it seemed as if those skills were necessary in this climate.
In January of 2013, we had to wait more than 75 days before this House would pass a Superstorm Sandy relief package, unprecedented in the history of this Congress' response to a natural disaster because there were some who put forth a ransom note, demanding offsets, even though never had that happened in the history of the Republic.
Then several months later, in the run-up to October 1, you had an Affordable Care Act law passed by this Congress in 2010, signed by the President, declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in an opinion parenthetically written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and then reaffirmed with the overwhelming electoral college election of the President in 2012. Notwithstanding any of that, you had folks demanding an exchange for keeping the government open: that we either delay, destroy, or defund the Affordable Care Act. Again, a ransom note exercise.
Here we are, 1 year removed from my inaugural experience around the Superstorm Sandy debacle back again facing an almost unprecedented situation where the majority has said, in exchange for us renewing long-term unemployment benefits for Americans that reasonable people should conclude are in need, not only do we want a pay-for, almost unprecedented, the last 17 times that this has been extended, but we have got a whole list of ransom demands that we want enacted in order for us to rescue these Americans who are in distress.
I am just hopeful, Mr. Speaker, that we can get together subsequent to the United States Senate which has signaled and indicated its willingness to move forward, see to it that it shouldn't be the case that in exchange for taking a positive step forward in this institution, we always have to take two steps backward.
[[Page H122]] The positive step would simply be to renew the provision of unemployment benefits for the long term, individuals who have been working hard to find a job, and then coming together to figure out collectively how we can all move forward in the best interest of this country and our economy. I am hopeful that that will take place in the next day or week, certainly within the month, and we will continue to press forward in that regard.
With that, I thank the gentleman from Wisconsin for his continued leadership.