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Is President Obama Fixing the U.S. Economy or Holding It Back?; Abolish the Minimum Wage?

Aired May 2, 2014 - 18:28   ET


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Hey, Wolf, we're looking at the fallout tonight from the jobs numbers you've been reporting. We're excited about them. They're good news for the American people, good news for President Obama, though I'm sure the Republicans are going to find something to complain about.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Well, Van, you're right.

The big question is, which number is more important, the 200 some thousand people who got job or the 800,000 who are so discouraged they gave up and stopped looking?

JONES: We're going to fight tonight.

GINGRICH: The debate starts right now.

JONES: Yes, we are.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the best jobs report in two years.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our businesses created 273,000 new jobs last month.


ANNOUNCER: But do Americans give President Obama the credit?

On the left, Van Jones.

On the right, Newt Gingrich.

In the crossfire, Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, and Representative Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican.

Is President Obama fixing the U.S. economy or holding it back?

Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


I am Van Jones on the left.

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the crossfire tonight, two different views on today's big jobs report. Just a few hours ago, President Obama had the audacity to begin his news conference by patting himself on the back for today's supposedly stellar jobs report.


OBAMA: First, as president, my top priority is doing everything that we can to create more jobs and opportunity for hardworking families, for our economic strength as a source of strength in the world.


GINGRICH: So let me get this straight, somewhere between the Asian pivot, the Ukrainian crisis and his meeting with Angela Merkel, the president wants us to believe his top priority is whatever the latest news story is.

Anybody who goes out in this economy and brags has every worried American asking, what planet are you living on?

The answer is Planet Obama.

U.S. economic growth in the first quarter was 0.1 percent. After five years of Obama's mismanagement, only bureaucrats and billionaires are doing well. All of the rest are just left out.

Now don't you think that's right?

JONES: No. And, look, first of all, no good deed goes unpunished in this country. We have 50 months of job creation. It's good, man. It's -- nine million jobs have been created. We got the best report in years and we get this kind of stuff.

Listen, in the crossfire tonight, we've got two members of the House Appropriations Committee, Democratic Representative Barbara Lee of Oakland, California.

Welcome to you. And Republican Representative Andy Harris of Maryland.

You're both in the crossfire.

Now, I'm going to start with you.

I cannot believe that the Republicans, even today, are not willing to at least give this president some credit. Ronald Reagan, in 1987, had 6.3 percent unemployment and you guys called him a hero.

We got 6.3 percent unemployment today.

How many airports are you going to name after President Obama, given his performance so far?

REP. ANDY HARRIS (R), MARYLAND: Well, considering that the labor force participation rate is the lowest in decades -- and, honestly, honestly, isn't that what this is all about, is how many people are actually participating in the labor force?

Look, you know, they tell me, in the eye of a hurricane, the weather looks pretty good. That's what we're in. We had a -- we had one piece of good news amidst all the bad news of this economy, low economic growth, 0.1 percent GDP growth.

JONES: Look, I...

HARRIS: -- The only thing that was good about that, I guess, is that ObamaCare raised health care spending 9.9 percent in the first quarter. No wonder GDP went up. We bent the health care cost spending way up.

JONES: This is going to be a very hot show.

I'm going to let my Congresswoman from Oakland put you straight and then I'm coming at you.

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: First, I can't even believe this. You know, first of all, during the shutdown, we lost 1.6 million jobs.

JONES: Thank you.

LEE: So you've got to remember that.

Secondly, when President Bush left office, can you remember how many jobs we were losing each and every month?

Thirdly, we were on the brink of one of the greatest depressions ever and President Obama turned this around.

And so, come on, you've got to give him some credit. I mean, we haven't gotten to where, especially in communities of color, where we need to get. But when you look at the fact that, yes, there are 800,000 people who have just dropped out of the labor force, but you know what, Newt, we can't even extend unemployment compensation so they can get the unemployment compensation so they don't fall off of the brink...

GINGRICH: Let me ask you a question.

LEE: -- and over the edge.

GINGRICH: I mean you're a Californian. You made the point that you've got far too low an employment rate, particularly for minorities, particularly for teenage minorities. And yet the difference in unemployment between California and North Dakota, California has more than three times as many people unemployed, as a percent of population, as does North Dakota. And you just saw Toyota announce that they're taking over 7,000 high paying jobs out of California to Texas, which, of course, makes Rick Perry very happy.

I mean, isn't there a lesson here about high taxes and high regulation and expensive government that maybe we should be paying attention to?

LEE: No, because, let me tell you, California, first of all, is one of the most innovative states -- is the innovative state in the country.

Secondly, we have a lot of high tech, but we haven't had the workforce investment from the Congress, which we've been trying to pass, to invest in workforce training and education so that people who have been unemployed, especially under the Bush economic policies and during that era, they haven't been able to get the workforce training and the type of skills training requisite -- that's requisite for these new jobs that exist now.

JONES: And to you, Congressman, this is the kind of stuff that used to be bipartisan. She's talking about investing in American workers.

The other thing that used to be bipartisan was investing in American infrastructure.

I want to show you something happening in your state.

Roll this tape.

This is the kind of stuff that's happening across the country. Look at this.


JONES: This is a street falling into a river and people screaming and watching that go down.


Because across the country, we're not investing enough in American infrastructure. And Republicans won't work with Democrats to do that.

Why aren't you guys reaching across to support the president with infrastructure investment?

HARRIS: Let's remember...

JONES: That's real job creation.

HARRIS: -- let's remember who controls that jurisdiction. It's been run by Democrats for decades, with complaints about that street for five years in the administration.

JONES: And the highway trust fund, which would stop this from happening in your state and across the country, is about to run out of money in September.

Why won't Republicans help Americans get good jobs stopping this kind of stuff?

HARRIS: We need -- you know, the speaker is right, we need good jobs. We need good jobs by doing things like building the Keystone XL pipeline, removing all the barriers to making this an energy economy. You know, the unemployment rate -- you know, we set the bar pretty darned low if this is a great employment report.

When Reagan's recovery -- we had a million jobs created, not 200 some thousand.

GINGRICH: That -- that picture is so amazing. I have to ask you something, because you made a point that I've -- we hadn't covered earlier, which is shouldn't the current governor of Maryland have been aware of that street?

HARRIS: The mayor, the governor, the entire admin -- the complaints were for five years, that things were happening on that street.

JONES: You guys want to blame -- you want to blame this one mayor and this one governor. We had the -- all the American...

HARRIS: You want to blame the Republicans on that.

JONES: Look, the civil engineers have looked across this country. They gave Americans a report card at the beginning of this year of a D plus for infrastructure. That's a global embarrassment. That's real job creation you guys aren't helping on that.

Why not?

Why won't you work with this -- the Republicans...

HARRIS: Well, what do we want?

Do we want to have a stimulus?

You know...

LEE: Yes.

HARRIS: -- you know that...

LEE: -- let me tell you...

HARRIS: Really?

LEE: We do need a stimulus.


HARRIS: PolitiFact said 7 percent...

LEE: -- the Recovery Act, which no Republican voted for...

HARRIS: The shovel ready jobs...

LEE: -- we should definitely saved...


LEE: -- billions of jobs.

HARRIS: -- 7 percent -- 7 percent of that money...

LEE: We invested in infrastructure... HARRIS: -- was in shovel ready.

LEE: -- and people kept working or were rehired on infrastructure projects.

The president put forward the American Recovery Act infrastructure.


LEE: -- investment. You can't even get that passed.

GINGRICH: You're offering a very enthusiastic defense.


GINGRICH: But I have to...


GINGRICH: I know. And you believe...

LEE: The facts speak for themselves.

GINGRICH: I know you believe...


LEE: The facts speak for themselves.

GINGRICH: But let me ask you, didn't it bother you a little bit when the president said, you know, these shovel ready jobs weren't ready?

Remember that statement, when he said...

HARRIS: Seven percent, 7 percent...


HARRIS: -- shovel ready jobs.

GINGRICH: But let me ask you a different problem that is affecting -- going to affect jobs in America, because I think all of us are concerned that if you look even at the jobs created in the last month, in that report, too many of them are low paying jobs. What we're not seeing is the return of high paying jobs. And there's a report out this week, that because of the U.S. tax code, Pfizer, our biggest pharmaceutical company, may literally move its headquarters to London in order to get under the British tax code.

Now, it's hard for me to realize that the British tax code could be that much better than the American tax code.

But doesn't this call for maybe taking a serious look at rethinking the tax code, so American companies and other companies have a real incentive to invest here, rather than literally thinking about moving offshore? LEE: Well, let me tell you, I've always supported tax fairness. And we need to stop providing tax incentives for companies to site offshore, because that's how American jobs are lost.

Secondly, when you look at income inequality, Newt, you're looking at CEO compensation that's unheard of, off the scale. And, in fact, now we're looking at this wage -- this huge wage gap between CEOs, their salaries and low wage workers. And it's continuing. The gap is continuing.

And also, finally, I just have to say on this point, if you look at the subsidies which taxpayers are paying to corporations to pay low wage workers $7.10, $7.25 an hour, $243 billion, the federal government, taxpayers are subsidizing corporations because people are poor. They have to apply and live off of food stamps...

JONES: A lot of them are working full-time...

LEE: -- Section 8...


LEE: -- while they're working full-time.


LEE: And taxpayers are subsidizing corporations so these CEOs can make these mega billion dollar salaries. And these people need some help.


LEE: In other words, raising the minimum wage.

GINGRICH: You're going to lead us right into the next segment and I want to...


JONES: Exactly. In fact, when we get back. I want to make sure that, you know about the most radical Republican idea yet, because it is really, really stupid. And you' can get a hint about how dumb it is by taking a look at the CROSSFIRE quiz.

Our Republican friends like to pretend like only a handful of teenagers earn minimum wage.

How many Americans actually work at or below the minimum wage?

Is it 750,000, 1.7 million or 3.5 million?

We'll have those answers when we get back.


JONES: Welcome back. Big news today. We have a great jobs report, the lowest unemployment rate in almost six years.

Thank you, Mr. President.

But we are not out of the woods yet. I want you to look at the answer to our CROSSFIRE quiz.

We still have 3.3 million Americans who are working at or below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Now, unfortunately, the Republicans won't let -- the Republicans won't let the president give these workers a raise. Now, check this out. You have Republicans, they don't want laws that promote equal pay for women, unemployment insurance. They don't want to extend the runway for active job seekers who need gas money to get to their job interviews and no raise for Americans.

But that's not the nuttiest part.

Now you have Republicans like Tom Coburn saying crazy stuff like this. Quote, "I don't believe there ought to be a national minimum wage. That's my position."

So in the crossfire tonight, we've got Republican Representative Andy Harris, Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, both in the crossfire tonight.

I'm going to go to you.

Are you willing to go on the record endorsing this radical view from Coburn that says America shouldn't even have a national minimum wage?

HARRIS: We certainly don't want (ph) to raise the -- we shouldn't raise the national minimum wage.

JONES: Shouldn't raise.

HARRIS: I was with a small business owner in my district, rural area, and she was very worried because she has a small business.

JONES: I got you.

HARRIS: She wants to hire people.

JONES: I'm not going to let you out of this. Yes or no? Is a national minimum wage a good idea or bad idea?

HARRIS: Should be left where it is.

JONES: So you're for it? You're for national minimum wage.

HARRIS: Where it is.

JONES: Exactly less, not a penny less, not (INAUDIBLE)? Happens to be perfect right now? HARRIS: If states want to increase it or cities, God bless them, but, you know, if the jurisdiction does, it should be where it is.

JONES: Now since you're talking about the raise, I want to make sure you know, the vast majority of the American people, 69 percent of the American people actually agree with me we should raise the minimum wage to $10.10, only 23 percent disagree with that. Why are you smarter than 69 percent, 70 percent of the American people?

HARRIS: I bet you didn't ask the question what if raising the minimum wage to $10.10 lost 500,000 jobs in the American economy? That's what the nonpartisan CBO says. I bet the question wasn't asked that way.

LEE: Andy, I was a small business owner before I came to Congress for 11 years, 300-plus employees. Believe you me, we not only paid higher minimum wage, we paid a living wage. Productivity was off the scale, no turnover. You can't tell me that when companies --

HARRIS: Until you got to Congress.

LEE: Companies paid decent good wages with good benefits, they make money.

HARRIS: Then they would pay higher wages. That's the way the market works. It's not the president who gives anybody a wage. It's the small business owner giving someone a raise. And believe me, if they thought productivity would go up, they'd be giving that increase.

GINGRICH: Let me ask that question since you're a good advocate for this. The mayor of Seattle is proposing that the minimum wage ought to go up to $15 an hour.

LEE: Good for him. In California, more than likely from what I remembered, a living wage where people could live and take care of their families and move toward achieving the American dream was about $25, $26 an hour.

GINGRICH: So would you support that as a minimum wage for California?

LEE: Absolutely, I would support it for California. I think that regional factors --

GINGRICH: And you don't think that would affect unemployment?

LEE: No, Newt, trust me, believe you me, you'd have a more productive workforce. You would have people who could afford to live in areas now where they cannot afford to live. You would increase diversity in certain communities where you don't have diversity anymore. You would have economic parity and the income gap would begin to close.

GINGRICH: Let me shock my good friend here.

JONES: Oh, no.

GINGRICH: I'm going to be bolder than Tom Coburn. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, is visiting today. Germany is the most productive country in Europe. It has 40 percent of young people in apprenticeship programs. It has no minimum wage. In fact, if you look at Western Europe as a group, the countries that have a minimum wage have 13.8 percent unemployment. The countries with no minimum wage, and these are, by the way, higher income countries -- these are Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Germany -- they have 6.3 percent unemployment.

Now, what's wrong with this country? Here are countries that say we're going to be economically productive. They have half the unemployment rate of the countries that have a social welfare state. What am I missing here?

LEE: One, I lived in England for two years. I know Great Britain and know Europe very well. What you're missing is they have a safety net, first of all. They have universal health care. They have -- young people have access to education. Cost of housing is much lower.

Their governments ensure that there's a minimum standard of living and, in fact, the unemployment compensation is there for them. In fact --

HARRIS: I'm going to shock you, too. I think California ought to raise its minimum wage really high so maybe even Maryland can get more jobs because they will leave California. They just did. Toyota left for Texas.

Believe me, it's because the taxes are high. One of the reasons you need a living wage that high in California, is they tax everything that moves in California.

JONES: Well, let me move to a different topic related, though. You're talking about the people who are unemployed. You're concerned about that. You want people to be able to get work.

Why won't you Republicans in the House support the bipartisan Senate bill to extend that runway under those active job seekers?

I do not understand your position on unemployment insurance. These are active job seekers. These are people who are trying to get work and you got a bipartisan solution in the Senate. Are you for it or against it?

HARRIS: I've signed on to the bipartisan solution in the House. It says you extend the unemployment but you build a Keystone pipeline.

JONES: Exactly. All this stuff --


HARRIS: -- paying for.

JONES: You didn't do that under George W. Bush. How can you -- you've got people watching you right now -- HARRIS: I think this is the worst crisis we've had. This is the most we've spent on unemployment. This is, whether I'm going ask my children and grandchildren to pay for unemployment this year. I think if we pay for it, I'd sign on to the bill. I'd sign on --


LEE: Andy, that's mean there are 3 million people --

HARRIS: No, what is mean is telling my children and grandchildren to pay for that.

LEE: These 3 million people who lost their unemployment at the end of December are living -- many are living in cars now. They need their unemployment. This is an emergency.

HARRIS: And we have -- the bill is in the House. All it says --

LEE: Go back to Europe.

HARRIS: You don't get disability plus unemployment insurance.

LEE: You don't get treat people like that, Andrew. That's not American.

JONES: There is actually a bill that has passed in the Senate that doesn't do all these tricks. Look, when George W. Bush was president, you extended it. You didn't try to figure out all kind of pay-fors and stick in your favorite projects. He said, listen, let's take care of Americans. Don't you love Americans now?

HARRIS: I'm going to shock you. The Senate is a little different from the House. The Senate wants to spend money without thinking about its effect on the fiscal situation. The House actually wants to act responsibly.

GINGRICH: The whole argument around when George W. Bush -- if George W. Bush was president, the Keystone pipeline would be completed by now.

JONES: And you would have 33 permanent jobs.

LEE: Our values are we are our brother's keeper. We are our sister's keeper. We should be careful that we don't start playing around with that value. People deserve to -- they pay into unemployment.

GINGRICH: We're also our children and our grandchildren's keeper. Don't we owe them some obligation to not bankrupt them?

LEE: Yes, but you don't need to play them against each other. People have paid into unemployment. They deserve their unemployment compensation.


HARRIS: We do things like say, look, you should actually, if you claim the dependent child tax credit, you actually ought to have a Social Security number on your tax return, $4 billion a year paid illegally by the IRS for that. It could pay for all the unemployment we need.

LEE: Three million people deserve their unemployment, Andrew, and you should go for it.

HARRIS: Let's give it to them.

LEE: Go for it.

JONES: Hold on a second. Two things -- first of all, every single time anything happens in America, you guys scream Keystone pipeline. It was last night we were talking about Putin, and how to stop Putin, a tyrant from eating Europe. You know what the answer was? Build the Keystone pipeline.

I just want to make sure you know and people back home know you're talk about 3,000 temporary jobs for one year and 33 permanent jobs patching the pipe -- 33 permanent jobs patching the pipe.


GINGRICH: -- by building it. If you build it, it won't come up again.

LEE: But you hold people hostage for a signal on Keystone is not an American value. The majority of people would say no way to that.

GINGRICH: You need to give me a shot here. Stay here.

We want you at home to weigh in on today's question. Do you agree with the Seattle mayor that the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

We also have the outrages of the day. I'm outraged that only billionaires are lining up to buy the Los Angeles Clippers. Shouldn't the American people get a chance as well?



GINGRICH: Now it's time for our outrages of the day. I'm outraged that only billionaires get to own sports teams, and it's largely a rigged game. With all the talk about the NBA owners forcing Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, I think the people of Los Angeles deserve a chance to bid against the billionaires lining up to buy the team.

Calista and I own a share of stock in the Green Bay Packers. I think it would be very helpful for America to move professional sports back to a community-based system instead of billionaire-based system. After all, most sports arenas are built with taxpayer money. Why shouldn't taxpayers also have a chance to own the team? And I'd just be curious what you three think of that.

JONES: I actually kind of agree with you, Newt.


LEE: I think it's a very novel idea, although you say that Green Bay that has that model. I think any time people are invested, invested in any economic activity, it's really very intriguing.

HARRIS: And people are invested in. They pay for the stadiums. You're right. They ought to be able to own the team.

GINGRICH: That would be a seismic change --

JONES: Absolutely.

GINGRICH: -- in the way these sports have been operated.

JONES: I think we should spread that around.

Listen. That's a good idea. I want to talk about something else. I know everybody is suppose on the happy sloppy. It's almost the weekend. And you know what? That's part of why I'm outraged.

It is going to be anything but a fun weekend for about 200 schoolgirls. These are teenagers. They were kidnapped by terrorists almost three weeks ago.

Now, have you heard anything about this? If you have been watching CNN today, you probably have. CNN has been reporting that these terrorists who grabbed these children are selling them off as brides for $12 apiece. Now, you imagine the outrage or the hysteria if that was happening in your town. But since it's happening in Nigeria, the world doesn't seem to care very much. And to me, that's absolutely outrageous.

GINGRICH: It's a terrible tragedy. But I hope all of you will keep them in your prayers this weekend.

JONES: Absolutely.

GINGRICH: Let's check on our fire back results.

Do you agree with the Seattle mayor that the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour?

Right now, 54 percent of you say yes, 46 percent say no.

You should be really happy.

JONES: You actually kind of for it and it turns out you're not. (INAUDIBLE) by yourself.

Look, I want to thank you, Barbara Lee and Andy Harris. The debate will continue online at as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.