House Democrats Split on Stimulus Package

Melissa Block talks with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) about Thursday's proposed economic stimulus package. Hoyer was involved in negotiating the deal, but not all Democrats are thrilled with the plan.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're joined by the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Congressman Hoyer, welcome to the program.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland; House Majority Leader): Thank you very much. Glad to be with you.

BLOCK: As we just heard, Democrats did have to drop some of the things they wanted to get this deal - increases in food stamps, extension of unemployment benefits. Do you think you sacrificed too much?

Rep. HOYER: Well, I think we didn't get what we wanted. But very frankly, the need to move quickly, if we're going to have a stimulative effect, was felt by all of us to dictate that we have a compromise that all sides could support. That's the definition of compromise. And although we have not achieved an extension on the unemployment insurance or an increase in the payments made or on food stamps, which economists tell us will get into the economy very quickly and would in fact be a stimulus, and for that matter, giving some additional assistance on the Medicaid side for states who are going to be sorely stretched, we didn't get that.

As speaker Pelosi said earlier in the comments she made, that does not mean they are off the table, we're now focused on them. They're not in this particular package, however. The proposal that has been made, though, we think made some great strides towards the objectives that we were fighting for on the Democratic side of the aisle. That was for the…

BLOCK: But when you said they're not in this particular package, are you saying…

Rep. HOYER: …broad inclusion…

BLOCK: Excuse me?

Rep. HOYER: …of people in this program. And as you indicated earlier, some 35 million who are not covered under the president's proposal will be covered under the proposal that I - that is going to be presented to the House.

BLOCK: But when you said they're not…

Rep. HOYER: From that stand point, we made a very, very substantial step forward, we think, in making sure those working Americans who are the hardest hit and under the greatest stress will get significant relief.

BLOCK: When you say these - they're not in this particular package, are you implying that this will go, undergo some pretty radical revisions before it becomes law?

Rep. HOYER: No, no, no. But we hope that this will stimulate the economy, turn the downturn around and that unemployment will again drop and that the economy will start to regenerate itself. But if it does not and if it continues its downward trend, we have been very critical of this administration's economic programs which we believe have not produced the kind of economy, for instance, that we had in the '90s. Having said that, this package, we think, is a package which can pass quickly, which is focused on working people who need money and who will spend it quickly to stimulate the economy, and as you know, it's temporary.

So I'm hopeful that the Senate will take this package and pass it quickly. I know that the senators are looking at other alternative as we did. We fought very hard for unemployment insurance and food stamps, in particular. The Republicans were simply not going to support that kind of program. But they did come back and did come to a point where - at our urging, and we indicated in order for us to support a program, it was going to have to have those at the lower end of the economic spectrum just as it was helping those at the higher end in business. And we support that - this stimuli, to try to spur investment and expensing by small businesses being substantially increased as a tax deduction.

BLOCK: Excuse me, congressman, you just heard senator…

Rep. HOYER: (unintelligible)

BLOCK: You just heard Senators Harry Reid and Charles…

Rep. HOYER: …of this program could really have done more and we wanted to do more. But this is a compromise, and we think it's a compromise that we could support.

BLOCK: Congressman Hoyer, thanks for being with us.

Rep. HOYER: You bet. Thank you.

BLOCK: Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland. He's the House majority leader.

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