Elections 2010

Congressmen debate unemployment, deficit spending

All politics may be local, but when House representatives Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and John Campbell (R-Newport Beach) joined Madeleine Brand on the Patt Morrison show today, much of the talk centered on national issues such as stimulus programs and banking regulations.

Sherman said one of the biggest problems facing the economy was the U.S.'s trading with China.

“The problem is first, we need manufacturing jobs. We can’t have this huge trade deficit. Our trade relationship with China will doom us," he said.

Sherman, who voted for the last stimulus package but against the TARP, also said he didn't think it was time for another stimulus program, because any such money would have to be paid back in years to come.

“We need Keynesian-ism, but we need it on both sides," he said. "Keynes get s a bad rap because people think it’s just about spending money in the bad times. It’s also about collecting taxes and turning off the spigot in the good times.”

Campbell was similarly disenchanted with the new banking regulations bill, saying it would make it too hard for small businesses and others to get capital.

“Yes, we got into a bind... as far as the financial collapse in 2008, but now we’ve swung the pendulum too far the opposite way,” he said. "We need to encourage some degree of risk-taking, but not careless risks.”

He also expressed concerns that the call to extend unemployment benefits would hurt the country's finances in the long run.

“Unemployment payments do not help reduce unemployment," he said. "We’re already at a record number of weeks of assistance… as far as unemployment, why we haven’t extended them is that the biggest problem the country probably has right now is its debt and deficit, which is probably worsening the unemployment situation right now.”

He said he also worried that people receiving unemployment benefits would not start seriously looking for work or would hold out to find better jobs, saying he knew several friends in that situation.

Sherman disagreed with both points. "The idea that you're going to reduce the deficit by not providing benefits, it ignores the fact that unemployment benefits are one of the most effective stimulus programs," he said. "As for the idea that people are lying on the couch getting rich on unemployment benefits, the average is $308 a week. I don’t think anyone is turning down a job to get $308 and the lack of self-respect that can come from being unemployed.”

Unemployment is likely on the minds of many of Sherman's colleagues, as they face the upcoming midterms, and an electorate that has been described as both anti-incumbent and particularly exasperated with Democrats.

Sherman acknowledged that it was a bad year for his party, although he predicted that Democrats would lose fewer seats than have been estimated. It's a natural consequence of being in power at a difficult time, he said.

"The unemployment is high, the economy is weak, the people are upset. That’s reflected in the Pew polls. The Republicans lost a lot of seats in 2008, because people were upset then,” he said. “It’s a tradition that two years after you win the presidency, you’re going to lose some seats. It even happened to Ronald Reagan.”

In the meantime, he said, more could be done without the partisan gridlock in Washington, which he blamed on the Republicans, whom he called obstructionist.

“It’s not a Republican party that wants to vote yes as long as their ideas are included. It’s a Republican party trying to strangle a presidency," he said, citing Republican co-sponsors of a bill who eventually voted against it.

The supermajority, or 60 votes, required in the Senate for cloture, had forced the Senate into a stalemate, he said.

Campbell said members of his party only opposed measures they ideologically differed from.

“We are not opposing things just to obstruct or just because of November," he said. "The president and Democrats can’t craft their own solutions, put them out, and say, OK, Republicans, you’re being obstructionist if you don’t vote for them.”

He pointed to GOP support for the Afghanistan war as an area of agreement, although he said it was one place where he diverged from his party.

“I personally think that is not a conflict we can win. It is not worth the blood and treasure we are putting in, and I think we should get out,” he said.

You can hear more from both Sherman and Campbell, as well as the concerns of other local listeners, right here.

(Photo: Ferderick M. Brown/Getty Images & campbell.house.gov)

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