A picture of Representative Mark Pocan
Mark P.
Democrat WI 2

About Rep. Mark
  • The Congressional Progressive Caucus

    by Representative Mark Pocan

    Posted on 2014-01-09

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    POCAN. Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on behalf of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. During our Special Order hour, we want to talk specifically about the need for unemployment insurance but, more broadly, about what we need to do to make sure that everyone in this country has access to opportunity.

    Just yesterday, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty. President Johnson said, during his State of the Union in 1964: Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope, some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

    This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. It will not be a short or easy struggle. No single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on Earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.

    Those are the words of President Johnson 50 years ago when we started the war on poverty in this country. We created Medicare and Medicaid, the food stamp program and programs like Head Start. And we have great results from those programs.

    In fact, according to a new study, these initial programs, coupled with expansion of pro-work and pro-family programs, like the earned income tax credit, have helped reduce poverty by nearly 40 percent since the 1960s. The poverty line fell from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012, when the safety net is taken into account.

    Now, while there has been a lot of progress, we still have far too many people in this country who are still living in poverty or on the brink of living in poverty. Fifteen percent of Americans today are living below the poverty line, and that is just $11,490 for an individual. 46.5 million people in our country are living in poverty, and one in three Americans teeters on the brink of living in poverty. That includes 16 million children in this country. That is more than 700,000 people in my home State of Wisconsin.

    According to the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in Rock County, in my district, a county that I share with Congressman Paul Ryan, 22 percent of the children in that county are living in poverty.

    We still have vast inequality, income inequality. We have unlivable wages. And we still have Members of this body, Mr. Speaker, who want to chip away at that very economic security. It almost seems like today it is not a war on poverty, but sometimes it seems like there is a war on the war on poverty, that we are actually stepping backwards from the very improvements we made over the years from 1960.

    In fact, what we noticed that just happened was the not extending of the benefits, emergency unemployment benefits back in December, on December 28. It has affected 1.3 million Americans. Not only do we have issues like that, but we also have an attack on food stamps, where this very body has voted to cut $39 billion from the SNAP program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program--$39 billion--affecting millions and millions of Americans.

    We have seen attempts to not allow us to raise the minimum wage, a minimum wage that is entirely behind where it should be. If you took into consideration where it should be, just for inflation from 1968, that minimum wage in 2013 dollars would be at $10.60--not $7.25, at $10.60. We are way behind keeping up with inflation.

    Income inequality is at an all-time high. We are finding that incomes for the top 1 percent have grown more than 31 percent since 2009, and the bottom 99 percent of people, their income has moved less than 1 percent. So we are in a challenging time.

    We know that there was an economic downfall across the globe, and especially hard hit, we feel it in this country. And while we are having dual activities happen, jobs are creeping back up, we are having progress, but still, 7 percent of people are unemployed.

    And while we have got those jobs creeping up, we still also notice that [[Page H119]] people are being left behind with this economy, and that is exactly why we have tried to do things like extending the unemployment insurance benefits for people.

    But unfortunately, in this body, in this very body, Mr. Speaker, austerity has ruled the day. Austerity has taken place, instead of prosperity. Instead of doing measures that would lift people out of poverty and help people get a job and help people be able to support their families, we are trying to take government down and down and down, like they did in Europe, and they have had disastrous results from doing that.

    That is not a path out of our current economic condition. We need to be investing in our people so that they have those opportunities. They can grab a ring at that ladder and get a good job and be able to get by. So there are so many things we need to do.

    Unfortunately, these attacks aren't just in this body, in the Congress. Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, these attacks are even happening in the States.

    In my home State of Wisconsin, our Governor, Scott Walker, was recently on a CNN program. And when he was asked about extending unemployment benefits, his response was, the reason why the White House is so actively pursuing this, unemployment insurance, is they want to desperately talk about anything but ObamaCare.

    Can you believe the Governor of a State who is 37th in job creation, who promised when he was elected to create 250,000 jobs, and he has done a portion of that, is somehow trying to say that helping people to get out of poverty, helping people to be able to support their family with groceries and to be able to pay their rent or mortgage, at a time of still having record people who are out of work, while we are trying to start getting jobs to come back, at 7 percent, at that time, Mr. Speaker, that Governor can still only talk about ObamaCare, as all too often this body has done.

    We need to act now. The time to act on this, for this body, is now. 1.3 million people are currently out of work and trying to get those benefits they need so desperately during that period that have been cut off. And every week, across the country, 72,000 new Americans will lose their benefits if we don't do something--72,000 thousand people across the country.

    Mr. Speaker, in our Speaker of the House's district alone, you look at the largest cities in that district in Ohio: Springfield, Ohio, 60,000 people, that would be like having your entire city of Springfield go unemployed in a single week; in the city of Hamilton, 62,000 people, 1 week, all out of work; Middleton, 48,000 people, you can take that and the surrounding communities, all in 1 week, out of work if we don't do something.

    That is why, Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that this body do something. 1.3 million Americans have lost these benefits at the end of December, including 20,000 military veterans who aren't getting the benefits they need. These are hardworking people who are still trying to find jobs in this economy, but there are just not enough jobs yet available. And in many fields it is even tougher.

    Right now, 24,000 Wisconsinites have lost these important, vital lifelines, and the number just keeps going up every single week by 72,000 people. Yet, Mr. Speaker, the House Republicans adjourned Congress on December 12, more than 2 weeks before these benefits were set to expire. We could have done something, we could have stayed and worked, and instead we didn't. Now, because of that, we have 1.3 million and counting people who don't have access to these vital benefits.

    Now, let's just think about this. Under President Bush, five times we extended these benefits without any strings attached like this Congress is trying to do to this President, five times, and the unemployment was less than the 7 percent we are at right now. It is hypocritical for us not to do what we all did together five times under President Bush while people are still looking for work.

    The bottom line is you still need this money, not just to pay for groceries and to pay for rent or your mortgage, but you need things to be able to get a job. If you don't have the ability to pay for gas in your car, how are you going to be able to find a job? You need to be able to have that car to go to interviews to find a job.

    {time} 1745 You need to be able to pay for your phone so you can receive a phone call for these jobs. These are all reasons why we need to make sure those benefits are available for all too many people in this country.

    There is also what happens to the economy when you don't have these benefits in place. Just in the first week since Congress cut off long- term unemployment, our local economies across America lost $400 million of potential economic activity, and that is going to grow every single week. So it is a double-whammy: not only the people who are desperately looking for work, trying to find that job, not able to find that job, but we are also going to have even more people be unemployed because of the overall impact that has on the economy.

    It has been said that 200,000 jobs would be lost in 2014, and we are going to decrease the gross domestic product simply by not doing these benefits. The bottom line is, there are so many reasons why we need to do this. Later, I am going to talk more about my State of Wisconsin and why it is important.

    I am joined by one of my colleagues here today who is actually the cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Representative Raul Grijalva. Representative Grijalva has served in Congress for six terms. He is a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and he also serves on the Committee on Natural Resources, where he is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

    He is a tremendous Member of Congress. He has been a mentor to many of us who are freshmen, who recently have joined, and is a very strong member of our Progressive Caucus, speaking on behalf of each and every American who needs opportunity. It is my pleasure to yield now to the gentleman from Arizona, Representative Grijalva.

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