Schakowsky Discusses Obama's Speech

President Obama presented his plan for job creation. For more, Robert Siegel talks to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Joining us now is a Democrat, Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, a member of the House Progressive Caucus, someone who's proposed her own jobs bill. Well, how did the president do?

Representative JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, you know what I heard was a sense of urgency, not desperation, as my colleague has described it. And quite rightly, because the American people are waiting for the government to come up with a plan, which the president did tonight, on how are we going to put Americans back to work, how are we going to put money in their pocket so they can actually go out and be customers and be the job creators that are going to help, as he put it, to jumpstart our economy.

I thought that was a very practical speech, as well as a very inspiring speech. I think a lot of people who have been wanting to hear the president with his strength and inspiration actually saw that president tonight.

SIEGEL: You felt he channeled his Harry Truman tonight?

SCHAKOWSKY: I thought he did. And he called on the American people and I think the American people will respond. Our office was flooded with calls the last time that the president called on people to contact Congress. And I think it is at their peril that the Republicans turn their back on this proposal, which as you pointed out, will be paid for.

SIEGEL: Well, let me ask you about the peril the Republicans face here. Was this actually a speech, as you heard it, that stands a chance of, well, presenting a bill that stands a chance of being passed by both Houses and signed into law soon, or was this a challenge saying, I assume you're going to be against this and if you are, I'm going to campaign against you for the next year?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, he made it very clear that most Americans, and rightly so, are not interested in politics at all, that they can't wait 14 months for something to happen. And, frankly, the proposals, as he put it, are things that the Republicans and Democrats have supported over the years and that there's absolutely no reason - we're talking about infrastructure programs of helping to rebuild our schools and our transportation infrastructure, we're talking about teachers and firefighters and our soldiers. And, actually, the Republicans finally stood up when he talked about making sure that there were jobs for returning veterans.

Well, where the heck are those jobs going to be if the federal government doesn't help to jumpstart those jobs.

SIEGEL: Representative Schakowsky, let me ask you this, if the president, a week from Monday, proposes a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases to pay for all this, and it takes, oh, over $200 billion out of federal spending, can you do that in any reasonably short term without removing precisely the stimulus to the economy that you're trying to add through the infrastructure spending?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I certainly would rather focus on what he talked about is the fairness in our tax policies, that - and I don't understand even why they, the Republicans laughed when he referred to Warren Buffett, who said, you know, tax me more. The American people understand that there is not fairness right now in who's actually footing the bill, that they're being asked to make sacrifices while wealthy Americans are not and wealthy corporations, some of which are paying no taxes, have to share in the sacrifice.

So, I hope that there is this good mix of revenue increases but there certainly are some programs that we could trim back. I think about the defense budget where we could make significant cuts. And a lot of Americans who think we ought to stop spending so much in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, yes, there are cuts that can be made. And I think that the president has talked about a balanced package that all Americans will support.

SIEGEL: So, in sum, we heard a very skeptical reaction from Congressman Price, the Republican. I hear you. If you had to grade this speech, what do you give it?

SCHAKOWSKY: I'm going to give it an A. I saw a number of things that I proposed in a jobs bill that progressives are supporting, including the direct employment of people for schools and for, you know, for a number of the infrastructure programs. And so, I think it's an A. And I think the American people will respond warmly to it.

SIEGEL: That's Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois. Thanks for talking with us.

SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: We've been hearing reactions to President Obama's jobs speech, which he made before a joint session of Congress. He started about an hour ago. Of course, he was done extremely early so that he could be done in time for the opening kickoff of the National Football League season. We'll have more on this subject. You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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