"Plus ca change, plus la meme chose." The more things change, the more they stay the same. We took a look recently at a national TV interview with Congressman Alan Grayson that was aired several months ago. The news then was the same as the news now. The same debate over Obamacare. The same debate over raising the minimum wage. The same debate over what to do about domestic surveillance. The same debate over GOP obstructionism. We wish that we could say that all of those problems have been solved. But they haven't. So let's share with you what Congressman Grayson had to say about them. Then we'll cross our fingers and hope that this new session of Congress can be far more productive than the last one was.
John Fugelsang: Well, Florida Representative Alan Grayson is a member of the Progressive Caucus as well as the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and we've been honored to have him as a frequent guest of this program. He joins us this evening from Orlando. . . . [John asked Alan some questions about the NSA.]
Rep. Alan Grayson: Well, I think the intelligence community desperately wants to change the subject away from the fact that they've been spying on every American who has a telephone. Every time you call anyone, every time I call anyone, the NSA [National Security Agency] gets information about that call. There's also been very extensive reporting about [NSA spying on] e-mails, about logging on and off your computer, about Google searches, and all in the name of protecting us from foreign attack. I'm glad that they NSA does its job well with regard to deterring or avoiding or defeating foreign attacks. That does not in any way justify the pervasive spying on Americans . . . .
John: Is it going to work, Congressman? Do you think that this will put public fears of intrusive government spying on Americans to rest because this will give us the illusion, or at least the impression, that our government is doing this purely to protect Americans?
Alan: Listen, Americans are relatively intelligent people, and I don't think you can fool them to that degree. No one could possibly believe that the NSA should get a report of every time they call their pizzeria and ask for a pepperoni deep-dish pizza, and somehow that's meant to protect them from Al Qaeda. That doesn't make any sense at all, but that's the system we live under right now, thanks to this pervasive violation of the Fourth Amendment and the U.S. Constitution, and that has to end.
John: Well, then, let me turn to signs of a different kind of unrest here at home. Thousands of fast-food workers, as you know, walked off the job this past week in protest over the federal minimum wage. They want it to double from $7.25 to $15 an hour. Congressman, what do you think the minimum wage should be raised to?
Alan: Well, we've introduced legislation to bring it up to $10.50 an hour. That would actually put it back where it was in terms of purchasing power in 1968. We call that the "Catching Up to 1968 Act."
Alan: And in fact if you look around the world, it's pathetic to see how far our labor standards have fallen behind [those of] other countries. I want America to be Number 1 -- not Number 1 in number of foreign countries occupied, or Number 1 in number of people incarcerated. I want America to be Number 1 in wages. I want America to be Number 1 in benefits. I want America to be Number 1 in healthcare, in life expectancy. And what we see, over and over again, is that it's not the case. In Australia, which has 5% unemployment, they have a $16 per hour minimum wage. In Germany, people routinely, as a matter of law, get up to six weeks off each year. And they get 44 days of paid sick leave. Germany's not impoverished by that; they're strengthened by that. I think we need to make the same sort of steps here in America to improve the working conditions of the people who work.
John: I think Germany providing Medicare, their version of Medicare for everybody who makes under $100,000 has something to do with that of course.
Alan: Germany has had universal healthcare for a century.
Alan: And we're still arguing about it here in the United States.
John: A hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt ran for it on the Progressive ticket.
Alan: That's right.
John: But it seems like pushback's the only thing we're getting from our Republican friends in Congress these days. I don't have to tell you this, but I'll tell our viewers: of the 447 House votes this session, 40 of them, roughly 10%, were GOP attempts to defund Obamacare. I would call that theater, except I lived near Broadway. Theater creates jobs. Of course Obamacare is not the GOP's only obsession. They voted twelve times to defund embattled lobbying group ACORN, even though it doesn't exist anymore. This is like spitting in the wind, over and over again. Congressman, why bother? What do these guys say to you? I know they're friends; do you shake them and say, "What are you doing here?"
Alan: It's worse than spitting in the wind. If you spit in the wind, you don't hit anybody. What they're doing is spitting on poor people. They're spitting on sick people. They're spitting on needy people. They're bent on making sure that people who are sick cannot see a doctor, and get the care they need to stay healthy or stay alive. That is their cause. That is what they're dedicated to this year. They say that they're willing to actually bring down the U.S. government, much like an anarchist would, much like a terrorist would want to, for the sake of preventing Americans from seeing a doctor when they're sick. That is so twisted I can't even begin to describe it.
John: But can they be reasoned with, sir, when the cameras are off? I have to believe that these Republicans aren't all malice-based. Some of them may be trying to stay on message, but some must realize how much this is hurting the very people they're sworn to protect.
Alan: No. In fact, they are drenched in their own mishegoss [lunacy]. They listen to their crazy media day in and day out, and they hear the same lies, and it's a giant echo chamber that has nothing to do with Planet Earth any longer. They believe that Obamacare actually will increase the deficit, when it decreases the deficit. They believe Obamacare will take away people's insurance, when it doesn't take away people's insurance. They believe Obamacare is a government takeover, a single-payer system. It's not a single-payer system. My God! You know, we'd have to make this interview two hours at least if I'm going to recount all the lies that are stuck inside their skulls.
John: Well, as you know, we cover them relentlessly here, Alan. And I don't want to call them stupid; that's offensive. I call them "Imbecile-Americans." But before I go, I want to ask, what have your constituents been saying to you? You're home now. You're in Florida. What are people there concerned about?
Alan: Well, they want healthcare, I'll you that. Florida has the third-highest rate of uninsured people in the country. It's 20% [uninsured] for the state overall. It's 40% [uninsured] for Latinos, and my district is [nearly] 40% Latino. So we have people in Central Florida who are desperate to get [health]care – people who are dying of cancer, people who have all sorts of terrible diseases. The Governor, of course, has shut all the free healthcare clinics in this entire state for the sake of his business, Solantic, being expanded. And on and on it goes. So people here want healthcare. They want education for their children, because they understand that it's the only way their children's lives will be any better than theirs. And they want jobs, jobs, jobs. We have focused on and made great efforts to bring in every stray federal dollar that we possibly could into this district, in order to be able to promote the economy and get some kind of recovery going, in an area where 80% of the families who own houses have a mortgage that's worth more than the value of their house. They're underwater, and they feel like they're drowning. That's what I'm hearing from people here in Central Florida.
John: It's insane. I want to thank Congressman Alan Grayson for joining us here on Viewpoint. It's always a pleasure, sir, thank you for coming here and thank you for your service to the American people.
Alan: Thank you for a wonderful show that has elevated discourse about politics to an amazing degree, and thank you for your service.
John: Well, it's an honor to have you say that.
Here is our New Year's Resolution: how about if we actually solve some of these problems? So that we can get past these issues, and take a shot at some harder ones, like economic inequality, structural unemployment, regressive taxation, the trade deficit, immigration reform and climate change? Wouldn't that be nice? But either way, it's great to have like Congressman Grayson who will push-push-push to get good things done for people. To see the video, or to show your support, just click right here.