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Our previous coverage of Claire McCaskill’s events in Missouri this week:

Claire McCaskill (D): “Kitchen Table Talk” in Kansas City (Kansas City)

Claire McCaskill’s Kitchen Table Talk in St. Louis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (St. Louis)

This is the first part of the talk on Monday, December 15, 2008 in Kansas City – we’ll continue with subsequent portions in Part 3.

[transcription by CC]


Claire McCaskill: Thank you, thank you all for coming here on a very cold day. And, we’re just going to have a conversation. I’m not here to give you any kind of lecture. I’m here to listen to things you want to talk about and get your input. And I wish that I could do this more frequently. Unfortunately they don’t cooperate in Washington and many times it’s, it’s hard for me to spend much time in parts of the state as I’d like. I, before we begin with questions, your questions and your concerns, I want to make sure I introduce all the staff that’s in the room….[staff introductions]…

…We call these kitchen table talks because this is about things that you’re worried about. And I don’t know about in your family, but in my family we always talked around the kitchen table about things we were worried about. Or things that we were excited about! And so, I wanted to just take a – and I really, I’ll take as much time as we need today, I’ve got to be somewhere in about two hours, but I don’t want to cut anybody off. I want to hear questions you have. I want to know what concerns you have and make sure that I have a chance – whenever I do this, I always go back to my job in Washington better equipped to work for you. What you’re, what’s on your mind is more important to me than what’s on the mind of the folks that work in Washington. So, let’s begin. Raise your hand and we’ll take any questions or comments. Yes…


Question: I’d like to start with an easy issue and that is climate change. [audience laughter] I, I’ve been told that you are reluctant to support a cap and trade program or some other major federal effort to address climate change until the economy improves. It seems that every week, there’s a new study that comes out that says that the consequences of climate change are coming much more rapidly and much more severe than we have anticipated. And my, my concern is that we’ve really got to address this climate change issue early. We need to expect, in this climate change, for all of us to share some sacrifice. I have some pain, if a cap and trade program or a carbon tax, or something like that, is the best way to begin to address climate change. I believe we’ve got to do it.

Claire McCaskill: Well, let me, say that I – first of all, I support cap and trade. And my hesitation is not as much about the economy but the way it was, it was drafted in the beginning. And I think we’re going to do a better job as we got back at it again under the Obama administration. First of all, I hope that you noticed that the person who is going to head the Department of Energy is, his foremost expertise is in the area of global warming and climate change. And so, I think we’re going to have somebody at the head of the department that certainly understands the scientific risks that our planet faces because of what’s going on in our atmosphere. The way the bill was originally drafted, we were talking about fifty possibly, trillion dollars, as much as fifty trillion dollars being pre-spent. What they’ve done is they’ve divided up this money, and this is the money that would come about as a result of the auction. Essentially what you would do, is you would trade a commodity, a commodity is your ability to pollute. So if you were polluting, you’d have to pay for it. You’d have to buy goods to allow you to pollute. And if you weren’t polluting you earn benefits. So it’s really putting into the free market system an incentive to not put out carbon emissions. That’s essentially the simplest way to explain cap and trade. You, so, it becomes a free market. Now they’ve done this in Europe and they’ve had some success, but they’ve also had some failures. And we can learn from that. One of the things I didn’t want to see happen is, they were so busy handing out this money, to California and other – to buy them off, and this was all money that we weren’t going to spend in Congress. It was going to be spent by a board. Well as a former auditor, the idea that we were going to pre-spend fifty, over fifty trillion dollars without a whole lot of oversight kind of frightened me. And what I was most worried about was that the money wasn’t going to help citizens who were going to be faced with astronomical increases in utility costs. I want to make sure that we take the money from the auction and get it back to regular folks to help pay the utility bills. So it’s not, I’m, I’m for cap and trade, the devil’s in the details about how this is going to work. And I think we’re going to find that middle. And I know that Senator Obama agrees with me on this, he completely supports cap and trade, as did in fact, John McCain. They both were in favor of cap and trade. Now we’ve got to figure out how to make it work in a way that doesn’t damage working families and the middle class any more than they’re currently being damaged by this economy. And I think we can do that. I think we can do that. Okay, yes…

Question: Hey, Claire. I’ve had trouble trying to get into the Stowers Institute. As I’ve reached close to retirement stage I’ve kind of feel like I could do some work for them or at least [inaudible]. Have you got any ideas or any direction that you could give me to get there? And really talk to somebody.

Claire McCaskill: That’s a, that’s a good, you know I think that the Stowers Institute has been fairly insular ’cause it’s been so, it’s been a community of scientists. The best scientists in the world that are doing amazing work, and we’re lucky to have it in Missouri. And we’re very lucky to have it in Kansas City as a quality institution, incredible reputation around the world. But they’ve, they’ve not – the only really community that the, kind of – they’ve done some community outreach but it’s usually been around political attacks they’ve were under. Because of whatever type of research people were objecting to. So, I don’t know they have a really good community outreach arm over there, but certainly I know some people over there and if you visit with Corey [Dillon] maybe we can find some names or phone numbers and get you guys hooked up. Because I think certainly, they’d benefit from it. Okay, yeah, hi!

Question: In the stimulus package that’s being talked about, there’s been a lot of focus on roads and bridges and fiscal infrastructure, which is necessary and I support that. However, it only tends to focus on one type of worker, i.e. those workers who [inaudible] in construction. There’s an extremely high degree of people who do not work in that field, who are out of work. At least that I haven’t seen – in all my life, that’s twenty five years in this business. And I’m wondering, what types of things are you considering for the white collar administrative secretary, of people like that who are losing their jobs at rates as high and one recommendation that we’ve had was to look at a public service corps, where you would put people to work, working in non-profit [inaudible] government. Doing green jobs, that type of thing, but not so dependent upon the private sector to hire, because they just aren’t doing it at the high rates. And I haven’t heard that much talk of it, I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, but I’ve only heard the infrastruc
ture part of it and you can do all those other things but I’m wondering, are you all looking into that? Is it something that’s being talked about because the infrastructure thing is not going to solve the employment issues for a lot of people who are not in that field.

Claire McCaskill: Well, I think the question is, first of all we’re not talking about it a lot because we’re waiting for, for what the administration, the future administration wants. I mean the stimulus bill, I mean, I know leadership was complaining last week saying, “We don’t really have any direction yet from” – and I think that Obama’s new economic team is really kind of hunkered down right now in figuring out what it is that should go in this plan. And, and  I know what they’re worried about, they’re worried about Congress loading it up with all kinds of ridiculous nonsense. You know, there’s this huge pent up demand for funding for so many things in this country. Now, it’s a very dangerous thing to say to the members of Congress, “Okay, we’re going to give you five hundred billion dollars to spend, now go to it.” So, I think they’re trying to figure out a way to craft this so there’s some discipline that what we’re funding is stimulative to the economy. That is, in fact, creating jobs. They know, if it’s a project that’s shovel ready in ninety days, that some people are going to go to work. Now it may not be all sectors of the economy, but it, we’re going to have people that go to work, if you do that. And we know that it’s going to be projects that are already on the books. In other words, the environmental studies that have been done, the cost benefit that has been done, all the things have been done to make sure you’re not wasting public money. To create new programs with that money, is really probably, I would assume they would want to be careful about that because it would open Pandora’s Box. Because there’s so many programs we need to be funding right now. But honestly, what you read about the stimulus program, is as much people in Congress know. And I think the next thirty days will really, it will get flushed out in the next thirty days, and if you have some specific ideas that you think could really pass that strict test of about how stimulative it would be to the economy. Because this, the idea here is, what Senator Obama campaigned on was, first we’re going to deal with energy, cap and trade, green jobs, green technology, then we’re going to do health care. Well now, we’re going to do the economy and then we’re going to do the economy and then we’re going to do the economy, the economy, the economy, the economy, the economy, until we turn this job loss situation around and along the way, we’re going to try to pick up some education, pick up some health care, pick up some energy. Yes!…

Question: In 2007, the House passed a Employee Choice Free Act Bill, and it went to the Senate and might have been a majority of Senate people that would not pass that but it got killed in the filibuster, George Bush said he was, you know, veto it. So, now that President-elect Obama is there, he has said that he would sign on to Employee’s Free Choice Act bill that would allow workers to unionize through card check and also create a level playing field so that they don’t have to use the old NLRB process that bogs down the old idea of unionization, you know. I’m wondering now that we have a majority of Senate, a majority of House, you know, if it’s going to be possible in order for that bill to get through because I know that’s a big part of economic recovery. You know, we’re hearing things that may have some Democratic Senators that may not want to vote for Employee Free Choice Act, I just want to hear your thoughts on it.

Claire McCaskill: Well, I, I don’t – I said this in the last meeting I was in – I don’t get what the huge deal is about this. I, I honestly, I don’t understand why it would be a massive difference, if someone has the ability to vote a secret ballot, versus whether they’re voting on a ballot that’s not secret. I, I don’t think there’s a massive difference in terms of what’s going to happen in the workplace. So there’s a really incredibly intense opposition to this in some places. I, I’ve said I’m for it, and I’ll vote for it and I think that most of the Democrats in the Senate will. I think a few of the Republicans will. The question is, will we be able to get to sixty. And I, you know, I don’t know, you know, it still depends, maybe on who ends up winning in Minnesota. [laughter] You know, we still have it, believe it or not, it’s going to be Christmas and we still don’t have a Senator from Minnesota elected yet. So, it’ll be close. It will be close. Yes…

Question: As you know, in Missouri, we passed the ballot initiative for renewable energy. And at this time I’m sure the Missouri legislature is not going to be able to fund any additional projects on renewable energy in the state of Missouri. I was wondering, because a lot of our rural folks are interested in this if, if that’s a possibility in regard to economic stimulus for, for the state of Missouri but also throughout the country?

Claire McCaskill: Well, I think there’s two or three things that are going to impact how much investment is going to go on in alternative energy and the green sector. One is, how much of that can be done in a way that is very stimulative to the economy, in other words, can it be done quickly. You know, it’s, it’s – we’re not going to fund things probably in the first part of the year that would go online in 2010, or go online in 2011 or 2012. We need something that’s going to help now in terms of getting, getting the economy moving. But, certainly if you listened at all during the campaign, green technology and the economic sector that could be revitalized with green technology, whether it’s batteries, or wind farm, or solar, you know, investment in the grid. So we can transfer these new forms of alternative energy to places that really need it, that are currently using coal fired, electric plants and currently – I mean we were still allowing people to build oil-based utility plants in the east coast. Not too long ago. And so, in order to transfer electricity from places that can generate it with, by alternative forms, to some of our major metropolitan areas, is going to take a massive investment in the grid. All of those are things that, that President Obama wants to do. All those things I think there is good support for in Congress. The question is, how quickly we do them if they’re going to be part of this original stimulus package that we will probably be dealing with in January and February. But, and the other issue that I have to bring up here, is that pesky price of oil. Oil being sky-high really helps business plans for alternative energy. Oil dropping precipitously like it did, make it economically much more difficult because the business plan doesn’t work as well. If you want to get financing for an alternative form of energy, it’s hard if it’s going to be more expensive, a lot more expensive, than oil. So ironically, even though the drop in oil prices has been terrific for consumers, in a time we really need it, it is the enemy in some ways of alternative fuel technology. Having oil prices a little bit higher, make those business plans work better for some of the alternatives. So, I don’t want, don’t anybody write down in a blog, I came here and said I wanted oil prices to go up! [audience laughter] I’m just explaining a reality of, you can’t subsidize something to make it work in the market, if it doesn’t have market value intrinsically. Yes –

Question: Recently the TVPRA was, well the Williamsburg, was just passed through the Senate and the State. You know, when it was signed in 2005, in Title II, there were some provisions and appropriations for American victims of trafficking that were never requested. So now then that it has been reauthorized,
it hasn’t been signed by the President yet, but it’s passed, what would you suggest to be done to make some amendments to that bill, you know, to go back to the Title II in ’05 because we have, I work at Veronica’s Voice here in the city, and we work with women and girls that are trapped in prostitution. And there is no federal funding for our American citizens, it is all going for foreign nationals and it is, it is a cry to my heart to see the victimization that these women go through. And when we look at their history, ninety seven percent of the women we work with were trafficked as children and sexually exploited commercially, as children, and now they’re stuck in this cycle, but yet, there’s no funding for our Americans. So, what would you suggest? And I did bring a packet I want to give to you, if you would take it.

Claire McCaskill: Well, first of all, you have to understand that there’s lots of ways that we can address the issues of these women besides just federal funding. And, you know, I know that you’re probably clued in, in the community but there are very few women that are trapped in this, the prostitution, in the victimization, that don’t have substance abuse problems.  

Question: They, yes, they do end up with substance abuse issues.

Claire McCaskill:: Yeah. And, and so there’s all kinds of places that you can try to go to get help for women who are in this situation. I mean, Clyde McQueen and Jim Nunley are sitting up here, one’s Full Employment Council, and one has run the Combat Program in this county forever.

Question: We have gotten Combat money before. [crosstalk] The, the thing is, to sustain us, because, yes, there are these other programs, women don’t really turn to those. When you’re labeled a prostitute, by society, you know you don’t go, “Oh, I’m a drug addict.” Yes, we get girls that go to drug treatment, but they don’t talk about their prostitution issues in drug treatment. Drug treatment centers bring them to us and the VOCA money is not authorized, and that’s state funding and fed – and, you know –  

Claire McCaskill:: It’s federal dollars that are authorized.

Question: Right, but it comes through the states, we’re not entitled to those funds.

Claire McCaskill: Well, we’ll take a look at it. I mean, I, I have to tell you, I’ve got – I mean, I want to try to be helpful and we want to try to find you different places, grants or wherever, but there are, you know, the reason that the nation – the foreign folks are under the federal funding more so, is because they, generally speaking, we can impact, we can only impact the conduct of foreign nations at the federal level. Whereas, a lot of problems like the victimization of children is inherently, like there are not laws on, on the books in the federal government to prosecute child predators. [crosstalk] That’s state law.

Question: So we should, maybe we should look more at states.

Claire McCaskill:: Absolutely. The prosecution of violent crime and sexual assault, ninety nine percent of it is done at the state level. People don’t realize, they think the Attorney General has all this power to go after crime in this country, there is very limited federal crime under our constitutional framework. Vast majority of the crime that occurs in this country is prosecuted at the local and state level. And one of the problems we’ve had traditionally is all the prostitution crime has gone into municipal courts so we’ve never gotten a handle on how serious it is even at the state court. So we can try to help, sit down with you and try to strategize. [crosstalk] Okay. Okay.

Question:: I would love that. I would absolutely love that. And who should I leave this packet with?  

Claire McCaskill: With Corey [Dillon]. She’s right behind you.

Question: Oh great, thank you. And thank you so much.

Claire McCaskill:: Yes, sir…  

Question: One of the things that’s been difficult for a lot of people to understand, including myself is the difference in how Congress has treated Wall Street, AIG and so on, and then when all of a sudden the blue-collar representing and other auto makers come they’re asking questions like, “How did you, how did you get here? And did you fly?” And so on. No one ever asked whether the people from New York took Amtrak. So, the question is, how would you explain, and, and then you have this bailout, which looks as though no one knows what’s happening to it, and yet, now you have the treatment of people who include, blue-collar worker people on the line and all of a sudden now, you know, there’s concern about how this is going to be spent and it’s so much less and it’s a loan. How would you explain the difference in how this is being treated by Congress? [crosstalk]

Claire McCaskill: Let me try to explain. And I don’t know if any of you saw – I gave a speech on the floor of the Senate that basically expressed what you’ve just expressed, a terribly unfair double-standard that occurred in terms of – in fact, we call, I had my staff call, there are five different major financial institutions that have individually received more than fifteen billion dollars from the federal government in the last ninety days. And, you know, Citicorp, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, all of them, have received more than fifteen billion dollars.

Question: And we don’t know how the spent it.

Claire McCaskill: Well, we know something about how they spent it. But the bottom line is, we called all of them to ask how many times they’ve used their corporate jet in the last thirty days. Citigroup has gotten fifty billion dollars and they’ve used their corporate jet fourteen times in the last thirty days. So, clearly they weren’t worried about using a corporate jet. Meanwhile, the guys that run GM, Chrysler, and Ford were taking the task for using corporate jets to come to Washington. Probably dumb they did that, they should have at least ridden together for gosh sakes but – [audience laughter] But here’s what happened, and, and pardon me if I go on too long but I want to give you a sense of how this really felt if you were there. All of a sudden, we start having high level meetings in Washington with a wide variety of economic experts. It wasn’t just Hank Paulson, who’s the Secretary of Treasury for George Bush. It was everyone from Paul Volcker, who obviously was President of the Fed a long time ago, to the, the best economists in, in academic institutions all over the world. All of them saying, we have this horrible crisis because what had happened was, all this toxic paper was out there, all of these ridiculous liars loans and these sub-prime mortgages that got sliced and diced into different financial instruments and they were being traded and frankly, their value was absolutely, no one had any idea what they were worth. So all these giant financial institutions, that essentially are, make money flow in this country, were frozen because no one was willing to loan anybody money because nobody knew what anybody was worth. The confidence was zero. So all of a sudden, nobody was loaning anything. Now, you hadn’t felt it out here yet but you would have, eventually. Eventually no small businessman would have been able to get a loan. Nobody would have been able to buy a car. Nobody would have been able to get a college loan. All of a sudden there was no loaning going on. So, they said, we need a stimu- we need this money to buy up assets. We’re going to buy stuff. We’re not going to write anybody a check. We’re going to buy stuff. And by buying this stuff, we’re going to unfreeze the credit and people are going to start loaning money again. Barack Obama said yes, John McCain said yes, believe me, just about everybody said yes. Because the consequences of no money being loaned in this country, would have impacted everyone, not just GM, and Chrysler, and Ford but Brown’s Deli, right up here. Okay? And, and all the businesses you can see within, within your eyesight. So that’s why it happened. Now, i
t happened. Then Paulson gets over there and realizes that if he starts buying up this toxic paper it’s going to take too long. We’ve got to do something quickly. So they decide to start buying stock in banks instead. Nobody got written a check, we bought stuff with it. And I believe we’ll get all of it back, every dime of it I think we’ll get back. We may even make money on it. And, and by buying stock in these financial institutions, by taking an interest in these financial institutions, we injected capital in them. And sure enough, money began being loaned again. It’s still not back where it was, but you’re beginning to see it unloose. You’re beginning to see some things happen. I mean, like, a good example, Kansas City Southern announced a hundred and twenty nine new jobs today in, in Kansas City, that average seventy seven thousand dollars apiece. And, I know they were closing on a big bond deal today. In other words, they were borrowing some money today. So, it, it did help a little. Now, we all came home after that. And everywhere I went I got yelled at. [audience laughter] I mean, I would drive down the street and people would yell at me, “Where’s my money? You’re not giving me any money!” [audience laughter] I’d walk down the aisle in the grocery store and people would start hollering at me, “What are you doing writing those rich people checks on Wall Street, what about my family? What about Middle America?” And it was like, oh my gosh, everyone’s so angry. So, go back to Washington, along comes General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. So everyone who’s been yelled out now wants to show how we’re on the job and paying attention [audience laughter] so all of a sudden we start asking questions we never asked on the financial bailout, that is, “How much money is everybody making?” “What about your health care costs?” “What about your pension?” “What about your CEO pay?” “What about corporate jets?” That’s how it happened. It’s not right. It’s a terrible double-standard. And frankly, it is unbelievable to me that we would put manufacturing in this country at risk like this. Now, the good news is, I believe that the White House is going to do the right thing and do some of these bridge loans to General Motors and Chrysler before the end of the year. I know this, there’s three hundred fifty billion of that original financial rescue package, that has not been authorized yet. All they got was three hundred fifty, they didn’t get the other three hundred fifty yet. I know this, there’s going to be a lot of us who are going to be reluctant to give them the other three hundred fifty if they don’t do what’s necessary to give automobile manufacturing a chance to survive in this country. That make sense? Okay, in the very back…