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Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Chairman Jim Himes for a press conference introducing Members of the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. Below are the Speaker’s Remarks:
Speaker Pelosi. Thank you all for being here this afternoon. It’s been a busy time.
We’re so proud of our President, as he represents our country and our values in these days over there with NATO, EU – the G7, NATO, EU and now a vis-a-vis Putin. I’m just – very proud of him. And, so, we’re all sort of in the aftermath of his visit. But our work here has continued, as does his for our country, even when he’s away.
Let me just quote a couple of headlines. ‘U.N. warns that runaway inequality is destabilizing to the world’s democracies;’ ‘Beyond Pandemic’s Upheaval, a Racial Wealth Divide Endures;’ Powell – that would be Chairman of the – of the Fed, ‘Powell defends Federal Reserve’s attention to inequality;’ ‘Post-Pandemic Economy Will Boom – But Not For All.’
That is really what brings us together, for us to come together to build up an economy where the prosperity is shared by all Americans. I, in December, December 30th, I put out a statement announcing that our Rules Package would contain provisions for a Select Committee, and that is what we did. However, we are now – I am now announcing the members of that Select Committee, because, as you know, we had unforeseen events following December 7th that have – excuse me, December 30th, that have taken up our time.
The Select Committee is called the ‘Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth.’ It is predicated on something said by Franklin Roosevelt, when he established something called the Temporary National Committee – the Temporary National Economic Committee. And this is what he said at the time: ‘The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of the private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their – democracy, than the democratic state itself … the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.’
He went on to say in a message to Congress – he made this announcement in an address to Congress. He said, ‘We believe in a way of living in which political democracy and free enterprise – free private enterprise, for profit, should serve and protect each other, to ensure a maximum of human liberty not for a few but for all.’
So, in that spirit, we have established this Select Committee. I’m very proud of those who have accepted the invitation to join the Committee, and you’ll – I will be acknowledging them in a moment.
It’s very clear the widening chasm between CEOs – CEO compensation, worker pay has gone from unfair to immoral. The stagnation of worker pay: an historic picture of injustice. Maybe about 40 years ago, if you saw our economy, you would see if productivity rose, worker pay rose, CEO pay rose. Within the past 40, more like 35 years, it started to be, productivity rises, wages stagnate, CEO pay increases. I call it a ‘right angle going in the wrong direction.’ To the point where some CEOs make in a few weeks, what their entry-level employees make in a lifetime, in a lifetime.
So, the question is, let us define the challenge and hear from those most affected by it, most in need, most concerned about the diminishing of the luster of the American Dream, because that has a very demoralizing effect on our country. Everybody has to think that they and their families will have a better future than their parents. And when that is dulled, again, not good for a country.
I have more to say on this, but I want you to hear from our distinguished Chair, who has agreed to take on this responsibility. He – I’ll use his words to describe him, and that is that Jim Himes is a member of the Financial Services Committee – I’m sure you probably know that – but he wants to bring extensive professional experience from the private sector, where he was before, and in affordable housing, which is very important [in] reducing the actual racial divide in equity in our country.
I am pleased that he has – for a time now, one of the motivations for putting this together was that people were coming with suggestions, whether it’s about housing, whether it was about a sovereign fund in order to use the profits to help the neediest in our country, a 50 year bond with low interest rates, you know, everybody had different suggestions, how housing could impact fairness and equity. And I would always just refer to Mr. Himes and say, ‘Could you could you take these meetings? Can you see how they could be incorporated into our regular order with our committees?’ But it just became so much that we decided to have a Select Committee on that.
This Select Committee will work with the Committees of jurisdiction, the standing Committees of jurisdiction. I couldn’t be prouder than by the team that we have assembled here. Let us start with our distinguished Chairman, Jim Himes of the great state of Connecticut. Jim.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We do not have the names yet from the Republican side for their appointees, but they are in the works and hope they will be in short order coming forward, forth. As we said, this is not about partisanship. It’s about how we meet the needs of the American people in the best possible way.
I did want to – our Members stand ready to take any of your questions, but I just want to acknowledge them. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Madam Chair, just came over from Appropriations, who’s focusing on regional economic revitalization. Representative Gwen Moore, here she is, of Wisconsin, leading action to close the racial wealth gap. Representative Vicente Gonzalez from Texas, recognizing the ties between economic growth and infrastructure connectivity. Pramila Jayapal, who is not with us – she’s with us but she is – we have meetings. This is a working farm. A press conference doesn’t mean everything else stops. Congresswoman Jayapal will be delivering workers better wages and a brighter future. That’s her focus. Representative Angie Craig – oh, and she’s of Washington state – Representative Angie Craig of Minnesota, Minnesota, is representing family farmers and rural communities, their concerns. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, addressing generational dispute – disparities and, again, increasing worker power in the economy. And Representative Sarah Jacobs of California, focusing on the future of work with both a family and a global perspective. I thank them for their participation. And I’m sure they’ll be pleased to take any questions that you may have.
Q: Madam Speaker, along these lines, there’s a lot of discussion about how to paid for an infrastructure –
Speaker Pelosi. Okay, may I just – I’ll be happy to go back to that, but I just want to talk about this.
Q: What about a wealth tax, and this is – on this concern –
Speaker Pelosi. Oh, I see.
Q: Do you – would you like to see the Congress consider and pass a tax on wealth on unrealized asset gains, that the super wealthy, the Jeff Bezoses –
Speaker Pelosi. Let me repeat what I said at the beginning. The purpose of the Select Committee is to measure the problem and consider the solutions. And that perhaps would be one of the initiatives that would be under consideration.
I thought you were going to the infrastructure, which I’m happy to go to after we finish this. Thank you.
Q: Madam Speaker, the Federal Reserve raised its expectations for inflation for the rest of the year. I was wondering how concerned you are about, just, rising cause of inflation and how maybe the Committee or how you might address it for lower income Americans?
Speaker Pelosi. The issue of inflation is one that I started out in Congress on the, then called the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Commission – Committee, now called Financial Services. And the very first – one of the very first meetings we had with the then-Chairman of the Fed, and I was very, very junior, practically like this with the guests. You know, right in that first row, of which there were like four. You know, Marcy, you were senior to me, but you know what I say.
Congresswoman Kaptur. I would have been there.
Speaker Pelosi. And the Chairman of the Fed said, when we were discussing inflation, because he was reporting on inflation and unemployment, Humphrey Hawkins, he said, when asked about inflation, he said, ‘Unemployment is dangerously low. Unemployment is – .’ Remember that Marcy? Oh, my God. ‘Unemployment is dangerously low.’
The issue of inflation has been addressed by the Chairman of the Fed and the Secretary of the Treasury, who have said, should there be something of concern, we had the tools to deal with it. But it should not stand in the way of the increase of employment in our country.
Any of our colleagues want to speak to inflation? Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Himes. I’m not going to front-run the conclusions of the Committee, but, but, but, but here’s how it relates to the Committee. If you have $1,000 in the bank, which most Americans don’t, but that’s, that’s not a wealthy person. If you have $1,000 in the bank, inflation, attacks that $1,000. It makes it less valuable. If you have a lot more in stocks and commodities and swaps, those are – those grow with inflation. So, it’s yet another example about how inflation will, if it does come and that’s a debate right now, yet again, create a structural problem for those who are trying to climb the ladder.
Speaker Pelosi. And my colleagues, you’re invited to chime in on any of these, if you wish. Gwen Moore – I’m sorry.
Congresswoman Moore. Thank you. I don’t know what the thrust of your question is, but what we have been told by folk like Janet Yellen, for example, and economists on both sides of the aisle, is that worrying about inflation should be secondary to what we have just done, as things like the American Rescue Plan, where we spent money to bail people out of the circumstances they were in due to no fault of their own.
So, while inflation is a problem, I – again, as the Speaker said, the Fed has tools to do that. We have – right now we have very, very low interest rates. And they have tools to be able to do that. But I think that our focus on inflation in the midst this crisis is inappropriate. And again, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats have agreed to that.
Speaker Pelosi. Marcy? Thank you, Gwen.
Congresswoman Kaptur. I view my job on this Committee – and I want to thank the Speaker very much for her attention to the serious situation facing millions of people in our country and the lack of real wealth creation for some regions being very, very serious, as our chief mission.
In terms of inflation, I think you have to go back and look – if you look back in the 1980s, we went into deep, deep recession, because of rising oil prices over $4 a gallon for a price of gas. So, there was high inflation. But why did that happen? It happened because we were dependent. We were not independent as a country. We are now about 95 percent independent for the moment, in terms of energy production here in our country, and we have to keep up the pace.
If you look back at the crash of 2008, and you look at housing inflation, that was a Wall Street-induced collapse, and people made a lot of money. So, you can look at housing inflation, but there were reasons that that happened. Our job has to be to create wealth and a path to the middle class for every American.
And for those that have lost footing, and there are millions in my region that have, we have to look at how we put Humpty Dumpty back together again, in the various regions of this country. I think that we’re just coming out of this pandemic. And I think some of the inflation we see right now, if you look at gas prices, for example, I think we see an oil and gas industry that is worried about competition. And I’m not saying that the increase in price isn’t a natural market, market function. However, I think it is also a hedge against what they see coming down the road in terms of real competition. And we are all here for real competition.
Congresswoman Craig. I just – my name is Angie Craig. I represent Minnesota’s Second Congressional District. And right now, if you look above that district, about 60 percent of it is going to be covered in corn and soybeans. So, hopefully that frames my district for you. You know, one way we can de-risk inflation is long-term investment in infrastructure. So, I’m coming back to this original question that we had. If we want to make sure that we lower inflation, we’ve got to start planning and thinking about what is happening in the long run. And I think we’ve let this issue of income inequality – I’m representing the part of this Select Committee that’s going to focus on rural communities across our nation. And the best way that we can create good-paying jobs in rural communities is a long-term investment in infrastructure. And that will also de-risk inflation.
Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. Thank you so much, Speaker Pelosi. And thank you and congratulations to our new Chairman and as well as all of our new colleagues on this Committee. I think this is an extremely important moment.
You know, on the question of inflation, I have the privilege of serving on Financial Services as well, alongside Representative Himes. And we’ve had Chairman Powell come in quite a few times, over the last one to two years. And one of the things that is slowly emerging around questions of inflation, employment, etc., is that the traditional relationships that the Fed has, and trends that the Fed has relied on, regarding questions of full employment and inflation, have been directly challenged by the macroeconomic developments and trends that we’ve seen in the last two to three years – to the point that Chairman Powell himself has kind of talked about these relationships now being at a faint heartbeat when we thought they were almost macroeconomic law in a way. And so, I think that one of the things that would be interesting for us to examine is that we should probably revisit some of the basic macroeconomic assumptions about the U.S. economy and not take for granted that inflation is due to one thing or another, or that full employment is impossible in the United States of America. And I believe that’s been reiterated at the White House with very promising assertions and ambitious goals and trying to make sure that every American has a dignified job.
Congresswoman Jacobs. Well, thank you, all. Thank you, Madam Speaker for appointing me to this Select Committee. I’m honored to be serving with all of you and with you, Mr. Chair. I’ll just echo what my colleagues have said. You know, we’ve actually – prior to COVID-19, we were under our inflation targets. You know, the Fed sets [an] inflation target of two to three percent. We were not reaching that for many, many years. And so, this also could be a natural rebalancing of our economy. And I know some people like to say that the inflation is in part because of the deficit spending. But you know, I think if you ask any businessperson if they’ll take on some debt to make the investments they know will grow their business. 99 percent of the time, they’ll say yes. And that’s exactly what we’re working on now, making the investments we know we need to make in order to grow our economy and grow our economy equitably. And so, I think that’s exactly what we’re going to be looking [at] on this Committee. And that’s why I’m so excited to be part of it.
Congressman Gonzalez. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Madam Speaker. And thank you, Chairman Himes. It’s such a pleasure to be here and serve on this very important Committee to close the inequality gap in districts such as mine. I represent one of the poorest Congressional districts in the country, the largest population that is not connected with the interstate highway. One of the largest gaps in connectivity is in our district. And this gives us an opportunity – not just in districts like mine, but across the country – to assure that when we divide the pie of American prosperity, it’s fair and equitable for Americans across the country, regardless of the region or the color or the religion of your background – and that it’s a real opportunity for prosperity for all Americans. Thank you very much.
Speaker Pelosi. Well, thank you all very much for agreeing to serve, for being with us today. Congresswoman Jayapal is an enthusiastic member of this group as well. And I’m sure she’ll be available for questions for any of you.
I have to tell you this, though. The Juneteenth vote is on the Floor right now. So, we’re going to have – if you want to just say very quickly, because we’ll be in trouble. They’re holding the vote open for us.
Q: Madam Speaker, could you comment on Senator Manchin’s efforts to get a voting rights bill through the Senate? He proposed a variety of changes to the bill you’ve already passed. Do you feel hopeful about that?
Speaker Pelosi. Yes.
Q: Do you agree with the changes?
Speaker Pelosi. No – some. I’ve seen the changes that he has suggested. We’ve discussed that. This is a negotiation in the Senate, however. And I think there’s a path. And as I said on TV on Sunday, I haven’t given up on him. We must pass the legislation. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about our democracy. And the clock is ticking on our democracy when it comes to the sanctity of the vote. So, I’m optimistic and hopeful.
Q: A piece of legislation is very much related to this idea of addressing income disparity, opportunity disparities is H.R. 40, the reparations bill –
Speaker Pelosi. You know what? I’m going to be here tomorrow morning for my issues conference, and we can go afield then. But right now, in relationship to that, Sheila Jackson Lee has a vote on the Floor to declare Juneteenth, which is June 19th, a national holiday. So, we’re going to have to excuse ourselves.
I’ll see you tomorrow if you wish. Thank you.
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