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Clyburn Vows Independence as Assistant Leader

Tom Williams/Roll Call

Clyburn, meanwhile, plans to use his position to focus on the looming battle with Republicans on the budget and appropriations. He said he will try and protect budget items such as community health centers and student loans, and he took credit for getting funding for those items included in the stimulus and health care bills.

He describes the tense final night of negotiations with the Senate on the health care reconciliation package and on student loan reform with particular pride.

“All of a sudden the Senate says, ‘We can’t do education,’” Clyburn recalled. “That was the night that Jim Clyburn threw off his cloak of Southern gentlemanship and says, ‘Uh-uh, uh-uh.’ And we got a break on that, because I forced them to go to the parliamentarian. And we got a ruling out of the parliamentarian that allowed us to do the education bill along with reconciliation.”

Clyburn, a former bank board director, said the banks were profiting at students’ expense. “I don’t have anything against banks making money, but I have a problem with taking $40 billion out of students’ pocketbooks,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that I have been doing, and I don’t think I could have done that adequately unless I could develop a portfolio at the leadership table that allowed me to do that.”

The party also needs to do a better job of messaging, Clyburn said, and he plans to use his new post to expand the party’s public outreach. “How do you expand the life of Medicare by 14 years and then lose the senior vote by 20 [percent]?” he said. “Seniors did not see in this health care vote all that we were doing.”

Democrats moved from bill to bill without taking the time to sell their work to the public, he said, adding, “You can’t be too busy to explain what you’ve done.”

But Clyburn said the Democrats’ biggest problem this election year was the 9.6 percent unemployment rate, which he attributed in part to a stimulus package that he said was too small and too focused on tax credits.

“This thing got screwed over in the Senate,” he said. “I advocated for a $1.2 trillion bill. [It] finally came out of the Senate at $787 billion, 40 percent of which was tax credits not creating any jobs. It may have helped some bottom lines that got invested in companies that are sending jobs overseas, but on Main Street, it did not have the impact it should have had.”

Clyburn also said he championed a proposal by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) for a big transportation package paid for by a transaction tax on Wall Street — an idea that never made it to the House floor.

“That would have paid for the whole bill and reduced the deficit by about $500 billion,” Clyburn said of the transaction tax. “I advocated for that, and I truly believe we ought to have been running on stuff like that.”

That package made political sense, he said, because it would have been sold as Wall Street paying the price for its own bailout. “Hindsight is 20/20,” he said.

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