Democrats give their final arguments before Election Day
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So Democrats rank democracy itself as the preeminent issue this year, but they know that many voters expect democracy to deliver things for them. Representative Hakeem Jeffries asserts that Republicans have nothing to offer. He says that is the reason they've worked so hard for years to demonize Nancy Pelosi.
HAKEEM JEFFRIES: They have no concrete vision for the future other than doing what they always do, which is to cut taxes for the wealthy, the well-off and the well-connected, and everybody else gets screwed.
INSKEEP: We called Jeffries to hear Democrats' closing argument as Americans vote. His location suggested how hard an election it can be for Democrats. He was helping to defend congressional seats in a blue state, Oregon. His party has been hoping to run on achievements, like infrastructure spending and gun safety. They also run as supporters of abortion rights. But these concerns compete for attention with inflation, as we've been hearing from voters, like those who spoke with NPR in Georgia.
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VELVET SHEETS: We never run out of milk, right? We always keep milk in the refrigerator. And it just seems like it just keeps getting higher and higher and higher.
DARRYL SHEETS: Our 401(k)s are down by 25 to 35%. There's, you know, one party controlling what's going on politically. You have to assign that to somebody.
INSKEEP: So we asked Jeffries about it.
JEFFRIES: We had a once-in-a-century public health crisis that caused the economy to have to shut down. We worked hard to bring it back in a way that allowed for everyday Americans to regain their jobs, to remain in their homes and to see a pathway back to pursuing the American dream in the most robust fashion possible. We have more work to do, and our track record of accomplishment is one that I cite not simply to say reward us, but to say trust us.
INSKEEP: I guess we should be fair here and note that inflation has been global, and a lot of the work of dealing with inflation falls to the Federal Reserve. And still, people expect something of the leaders that they elect. So what is something concrete you can do in the coming year if you have the majority?
JEFFRIES: I expect that we will be in the majority, that all of us come together to put back into place the child tax credit, which resulted in providing additional support for the expenses that the American people confront in a way that benefits working families, middle-class families and low-income families. That's something that can be done. It's also important for us to deal with the high cost of child care and make child care more accessible and affordable for everyday Americans. And I think it's also critical that we address the housing crisis that exists. We have a plan that would, at minimum, invest $150 billion in the creation and preservation of affordable housing.
INSKEEP: You would certainly be addressing things that bother people in their day-to-day lives - the price of housing, the price of raising kids, the price of day care. But if you subsidize those areas and you don't do it very carefully, don't those tend to be inflationary things to do?
JEFFRIES: I think what the American people want us to do is to make sure that in their day-to-day lives, we are addressing the rising costs that they are confronting.
INSKEEP: We should pause to say the causes of inflation are complicated. A Federal Reserve study in 2016 found federal spending had little effect on inflation. An economic stimulus package in 2021 was so huge that it did provoke warnings that it would worsen inflation. This year, Democrats passed a mix of taxes, climate and energy measures, which they labeled the Inflation Reduction Act, although congressional analysts found its inflation effects would be limited. Jeffries says he wants to keep trying and that the other party has nothing better.
JEFFRIES: My Republican colleagues are too busy talking about things without proposing any real plan to address the concerns of everyday Americans. Extreme MAGA Republicans want to impose a nationwide ban on abortion and criminalize reproductive freedom. They actually want to take away Social Security and Medicare after five years. And they also, apparently, don't really believe in democracy anymore.
INSKEEP: Let's talk about a couple of those things. When you talked about Social Security and Medicare - of course, Senator Rick Scott of Florida has put out a proposal to sunset those laws and reconsider them, in effect, in some way.
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RICK SCOTT: People relying on Medicare - we have to have Medicare. But I also believe that we ought to start telling people how we're going to fix it because we know that it's not being fully funded. The same thing with Social Security.
INSKEEP: Rick Scott was speaking on this program earlier this year. Many Republicans disowned Scott's plan, although others have talked about changes to retirement programs. Jeffries contends Democrats will preserve many benefits, although he left open for now the question of how to pay for them.
Are you going to fund some of those priorities that you mentioned, which would mean, I guess, higher taxes on someone as opposed to borrowing money?
JEFFRIES: Well, we have continued to actually fund every single thing that we've done.
INSKEEP: Jeffries insists his party will also support voting rights. And if Democrats should keep their majority, they would retain the power to continue investigations of Donald Trump's bid to stay in office after his 2020 election defeat.
JEFFRIES: Democracy is just not an esoteric thing. It is good for freedom. It is good for a thriving economy.
INSKEEP: One other thing, Representative Jeffries. Do you sense that Democratic voters are ready for new leaders?
JEFFRIES: I think Democratic voters want us to continue to get the job done in Washington, D.C., to continue to put people over politics, continue to fight for lower costs, better paying jobs and safer communities. And that's exactly what we will do.
INSKEEP: I guess I should make explicit the reason I asked that. The president is going to be 80. The speaker of the House is 82. Her top deputies are also in their 80s. Do you think that there are Democratic voters who might be looking for someone from a different generation?
JEFFRIES: I think Democratic voters understand that every single thing that we care about right now is on the ballot. Reproductive freedom is on the ballot. Health care is on the ballot. Social Security and Medicare - on the ballot. Voting rights - on the ballot. And certainly democracy itself is on the ballot. And the voters that I've encountered, traveling throughout the country, all want to make sure that we hold the House, hold the Senate and can continue America's march toward a more perfect union.
INSKEEP: Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.
JEFFRIES: Great to talk to you. Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's a closing argument from Democrats as Election Day nears. We expect to hear from Republican Senator Rick Scott tomorrow.
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