U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-31), Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, held a telephonic town hall meeting on Oct. 13 to discuss his role on the Join Select Committee on Deficit Reduction and to listen to his constituents’ concerns.
Becerra was named to the 12-member “super committee” in August, as part of the agreement to raise the debt-ceiling limit and avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt.
The cuts aimed at reducing the size of the deficit are focused on domestic discretionary programs, Becerra said.
“Education, healthcare, highways, mass transit, water clean up, food safety—all that is domestic discretionary programs. All those are going to suffer $1 trillion in cuts and services over the next 10 years along with Dept. of Defense and Homeland Security which will be part of that as well,” Becerra explained during the phone call that lasted about an hour.
The committee is composed of six senators and six members of the House, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, who are tasked with identifying $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Failure to do so by the Dec. 23rd deadline could trigger additional cuts agreed to as part of the debt-ceiling deal, but which many Democrats hoped the super committee would negotiate a way out of.
“Many of us are trying to do more because at this stage, we are trying to kick start the economy and hopefully start creating those jobs. Because if you’re back to work, you’re paying taxes, and if you’re paying taxes, the treasury is growing in its receipts and if the treasury is growing in its receipts, your deficit is getting a lot smaller,” Becerra told callers.
The group has until Nov. 23 to report their Congress, so they can vote on the cuts by Dec. 23.
The committee is also required to identify another $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade.
“If this super committee can devise a proposal that comes up with at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, than the automatic triggers that force this additional 1.2 trillion dollars in cuts would not be needed,” Becerra said.
However, if Congress does not approve the proposal, the $1.2 trillion in cuts will be made in 2013, he said.
A couple of the questions from the audience focused on job creation. Becerra said the most recent jobs report from the Dept. of Labor indicated that 103,000 new jobs had been added—but noted gains made in the private sector were offset by job losses at every level of the public sector.
“We need to create about 100,000 to 125,000 jobs a month in order to keep pace with people entering the workforce and those who have been long-term unemployed and are not even counted in the statistics of the unemployed,” he said.
Unemployment figures put the number of unemployed Americans at 14 or 15 million, but when you factor in people who are under-employed it’s closer to 20 million,” he added.
Becerra, disappointed that Congress has not passed the President’s Jobs Act, said partisan politics is having a real impact on Americans.
“After ten months without action on jobs, it is time for the Republican majority in Congress to stop saying ‘no’ to pro-growth proposals and start taking action to put millions of Americans back to work. President Obama’s American Jobs Act includes bipartisan ideas that have traditionally found bipartisan support … The American people have waited long enough for Republicans to put forward their own jobs bill,” Becerra said in a statement earlier this month.
He also recalled his first year in Congress when President Bill Clinton took measures to deal with the recession. Clinton balanced the budget by cutting programs and services by half of the deficit and increasing taxes to make up for the other half, he said. But he stressed that members of congress don’t agree on how to create jobs or reduce the deficit.
An Echo Park resident who said his name was Craig, asked Becerra not to increase the age for social security eligibility since “persons in the top one percent” are those who have a longer life expectancy.
Becerra agreed, noting that his own father held physically strenuous jobs all his life and by age 50 it showed. To raise the retirement age to get money to pay for deficits caused by things, other than Social Security, is a cruel way to show Americans we are all in the same boat together, he said.
Responding to Michael in Atwater, Becerra said he couldn’t pledge to keep Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security as they are now, because everything needs to be considered.
“The moment I get to remove something from that table for consideration, one of my colleagues can say we can take this other thing off the table, and the next thing we know the table won’t have anything else left except the things that are easiest to cut because the most defenseless will be the folks that are going to be hurt,” he said. “But just because I’m willing to put everything on the table doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight like the dickens to keep those things that don’t deserve to be on the table … off.”
Becerra said he would fight to make sure “Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security programs that are essential to Americans are not the first thing on the chopping block to pay for things like the War in Afghanistan, and tax cuts to the wealthy of this country.”
The Town Hall included discussion on the wars, the “Occupy” protests around the country, green jobs and mention of the recent redistricting that has changed the boundaries of Becerra’s district. He will no longer be representing Atwater or Echo Park.
A recording of the Oct. 13 telephone Town Hall is available online at: http://becerra.house.gov/images/stories/podcast/TeleTownHall_10-13-2011.mp3
To read more about Becerra’s stance on national issues visit Becerra.house.gov