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Have Movements Pushed Biden to the Left? Rep. Delia Ramirez & Economist Dean Baker Respond to SOTU

StoryFebruary 08, 2023
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President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address Tuesday, touting his administration’s achievements and laying out his plans for the next two years under a divided Congress, including on immigration, the economy, the climate crisis and more. We speak with Democratic Congressmember Delia Ramirez, who delivered a response to Tuesday’s speech on behalf of the Working Families Party, and economist Dean Baker, who both applaud Biden’s focus on income inequality and making the rich pay more in taxes. “He’s clearly moved to the left,” says Baker.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: During his State of the Union, President Biden urged lawmakers to support raising the debt ceiling. Let’s go to what he said.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Nearly 25% of the entire national debt, that took over 200 years to accumulate, was added by just one administration alone, the last one. They’re the facts. Check it out. Check it out. How did Congress respond to that debt? They did the right thing: They lifted the debt ceiling three times without preconditions or crisis. They paid American bills to prevent an economic disaster for the country.

So, tonight, I’m asking the Congress to follow suit. Let’s commit here tonight that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will never, ever be questioned.

So, my many — some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage — I get it — unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what those plans are. Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans — some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority. Let me give you — anybody who doubts it, contact my office. I’ll give you a copy — I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That means Congress doesn’t vote —


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I’m glad to see. No, I tell you, I enjoy conversion. You know, it means if Congress doesn’t keep the programs the way they are, they’d go away. Other Republicans say — I’m not saying it’s the majority of you. I don’t even think it’s even a significant — but it’s being proposed by individuals. I’m not — politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some of you. Look, folks — 


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: — the idea is that we’re not going to be — we’re not going to be moved into being threatened to default on the debt if we don’t respond. Folks … so, folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be touched. All right. All right. We’ve got unanimity.

AMY GOODMAN: What our radio listeners can’t see that our TV viewers do see is that right behind President Biden, of course, in this new McCarthy era, is House Speaker McCarthy, who was also shaking his head as he was talking about Medicare and Social Security being cut, and you had Marjorie Taylor Greene shouting “Liar! Liar!” Your response — this is an issue that is very close to your heart, Congressmember Ramirez — to the issue of the debt ceiling and using it as a way to cut Social Security and Medicare?

REP. DELIA RAMIREZ: Yeah, look, I need to applaud the president for what he said last night. When he said, “We’re not cutting Social Security or Medicare, not today, not tomorrow, not ever,” I stand fully in solidarity with him. The idea that we begin a conversation of negotiation over the things that are keeping people alive and keeping people from living in deep poverty the last few years of their life should be something that would be unimaginable in this country. And yet we have Republicans — maybe not all of them, but a good number of them — that want to use it as a negotiating bargain: “I’ll give you Social Security, but let’s cut SNAP benefits. I’ll give you Medicare; we just can’t expand it.” That kind of negotiation is bizarre to me. Last I checked, poverty doesn’t have a color red or blue. People need Social Security in Kentucky. People need Social Security in Illinois. People need Social Security in Oklahoma. And they certainly need it in Georgia.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Dean Baker into the conversation, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, his most recent book, Rigged: How Globalization and Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. If you can take off from this issue of Social Security and Medicare, as Republicans were shouting “liar” at President Biden, and then go on to talk about President Biden talking about the billionaires’ tax and also increasing a tax on people who make $400,000 or more?

DEAN BAKER: Yeah, I have to say it was great to hear President Biden stand up in defending Social Security and Medicare. I’ve been around long enough. I remember President Clinton was not pushing it, but he was willing to consider cuts to Social Security, cuts to Medicare, and same with President Obama. And it was just great to see President Biden just stand up there and go, “No, we’re not cutting it. It’s not on the agenda.” So, that was a really, really good thing to see him change from prior Democratic administrations. A good one.

And anyhow, so, President Biden was — he has a lot to boast about. He, of course, spent a lot of time in the speech talking about 12 million jobs, 800,000 manufacturing jobs, lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, lowest Black unemployment rate ever. He didn’t mention this, but I think an important point: We have a record number of people with disabilities who are now able to work, record low unemployment rate for people with disabilities. I assume that’s largely because of increased work from home. These are all really, really big deals to millions and millions of people. Homeownership rate has risen for Blacks, for young people. A lot of good news there.

But in terms of — I shouldn’t say in terms of policy — like, that wasn’t policy, because that was because of his Recovery Act. But, specifically, he has been focused on trying to increase taxes on the rich, taxes on corporations, and also reducing the money that drug companies get. And again, he’s made some headway here. Obviously, he’d like to do more. I’d love to see him do more. But he’s had really big breakthroughs. I mean, increasing the funding for the Internal Revenue Service, that’s a big deal. I mean, you have a number of the richest people in the country get away with paying no taxes. A lot of it is gaming. It means it’s legal. But a lot of it’s illegal. And that’s straightforward. I mean, we should cut down on the gaming, but that means changing the law. But enforcing the law should be straightforward, should be simple. And he’s gotten increased resources for the IRS to do that, and that should be a really big deal. He’s trying to get a minimum tax on billionaires. Again, that if you’re among the richest people in the country, you should be paying at least 20% of your income in taxes, that hardly seems like an outrageous situation. Also for corporations, again, trying to have a minimum tax — corporations pay at least 15% of their profits in tax, at least the big profitable ones. These are really, really big deals.

And also, I should mention something he actually did get in the Inflation Reduction Act. He got a tax on stock buybacks, a small one, one percentage point, but that’s a big deal. To my view, it’s — I’d love to see us have more focus on stock buybacks, dividend payouts, returns to shareholders, because those are things we see. So, the corporate income tax is currently based on profits. We don’t see profits. Corporate accountants tell us what profits are. But if you tax share buybacks, they can’t hide those. We see them. And he wants to quadruple that from 1% to 4%. And again, great policy. Obviously, the companies have it, or they wouldn’t be paying it, paying it out to their shareholders, so it’s not a question that we’re going to be putting them out of business. These are very profitable companies. Profits have been way up. So, there’s a lot of very good things in his agenda that he hit on last night. And it’ll be hard to get through this Congress, but he should at least be pushing them, and I’m sure he will.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to President Biden talking about the climate crisis and taxes.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Let’s face reality. The climate crisis doesn’t care if you’re in a red or blue state. It’s an existential threat. We have an obligation, not to ourselves but to our children and our grandchildren, to confront it. I’m proud of how America, at last, is stepping up to the challenge. We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while, but guess what. No, we do. But there’s so much more to do. We’ve got to finish the job. And we pay for these investments in our future by finally making the wealthiest and biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share. Just begin. Look, I’m a capitalist. I’m a capitalist, but pay your fair share.

AMY GOODMAN: Delia Ramirez, your response? And what can be accomplished in this Republican House?

REP. DELIA RAMIREZ: Well, I think it’s really interesting that when we talked about reducing taxes for working-class families, not a Republican applauds. When you talk about taxing or a fair share tax for corporations and billionaires, not a Republican applauds. But when you talk about oil and gas, a lot of their corporate donors, they all clap. I really hope that the American people see the hypocrisy that I saw in that chamber last night.

I applaud the president for what he said. I thought he sounded incredibly progressive when he said that. And it’s something that a number of us have been saying for a very, very long time. The idea that you make $80,000 a year and you are being taxed more than a billionaire is unacceptable. It’s enraging. That’s what I hear at the doors. I hear about property tax and income tax: “If I make a little more, I’m actually making less because of how much I’m paying in taxes.” That’s unacceptable. If you make $6 billion a year and you pay your fair share at 20%, here’s the thing, you’re still a billionaire with $4 billion.

I applaud him, and I think there’s a number of things we could be doing through executive action. And that’s what I was talking about last night. Look, I don’t pretend to assume or believe that somehow we’re going have a miracle, and a number — maybe six or seven Republicans are going to come our way, because I hear them talking behind the chamber: “You know, you’re right. It’s actually a really good piece of legislation. You’re right. We shouldn’t be voting for that.” But when they get into that chamber, they vote that party line, even if they don’t agree with it. So I know that we won’t have the legislative action that we need in this Congress. But we have to do everything in our power through executive action to ensure that we provide the protections, that we provide the resources, that we build the economy with working families at the center of it. And when we do that, when we show people that we find creative ways to protect and support, then the American people will go to the ballot box and remember that in 2024, so we can get the majority we need, and no excuses, and pass the legislation we should on climate, on immigration, on housing, on economy, raising the minimum wage, getting to a living wage. Let’s show what we can do now.

AMY GOODMAN: And, economist Dean Baker, what you feel can be accomplished in this Republican House? And an incredibly important point that Congressmember Ramirez raised is the pressure that’s been brought on Biden to — this is not the Biden you have followed for decades, Dean.

DEAN BAKER: Yeah, he’s clearly moved to the left, which, again, obviously, a response to pressure. I mean, the progressive segments of the Democratic Party are far more important today than they were 30 years ago. So, that’s clearly behind his movement. But it’s a great thing to see. I mean, again, I don’t know how much he’ll be able to accomplish in this Congress.

But I’ll just point out, you’re referring — well, we had the section on his speech about climate change. We’ve turned the dial on that. I don’t mean to say, you know, obviously, climate change is going to continue to be an enormous problem. We’re going to suffer enormous hardships here and elsewhere in the world, of course. But we’ve so much changed the picture with his infrastructure bill, and particularly the Inflation Reduction Act. You now have companies that are all in on electric cars, massive industries in terms of solar and wind. That can’t be turned back. So, that is really, really huge. Now, obviously, we’re going to have to do a lot more. We have to keep the pressure up. But we have to recognize what’s been done. We are moving forward with a clean energy transition. That’s not stoppable.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dean Baker, we want to thank you so much for being with us from Astoria, Oregon, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Congressmember Delia Ramirez, Democrat of Illinois, speaking to us from the Capitol.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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