The frustration being voiced by the electorate this year is rooted in a Democratic Party trending toward socialism and Republicans who won’t do anything about it, U.S. Rep. John Fleming said Monday.
“The Democratic Party has moved so far to the left that it’s fully aligned with socialism,” Fleming, a Minden Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Coupled with that, he said, are Republicans, who in 2010 asked voters to give them a majority in the U.S. House so the party could fix problems. “But nothing changed.” In 2014, voters also gave Republicans a majority in the U.S. Senate. “And folks, nothing changed,” Fleming said.
He was one of the nine founding members of the House Freedom Caucus in 2015, which was instrumental in ousting fellow Republican House Speaker John Boehner, of Cincinnati, and blocked GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of Bakersfield, Calif., from assuming the top job in the U.S. House. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, eventually was voted in as speaker.
“I’m not afraid to stand up to our leadership in Washington,” Fleming said.
Fleming said one key reason for voter anger is that jobless rates are high and the middle class is being squeezed by a sluggish economy.
“Today, government is hurting commerce more than ever,” Fleming said.
The unemployment rate has been at 5 percent or below since October, which is about where the percentage hovered prior to the recession that began in 2007 during the final months of President George W. Bush’s administration.
Fleming said those statistics are misleading. The U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t count people as unemployed, if they stopped looking for work or if they accepted part-time jobs or low-paying jobs to tide them over.
That’s evident in the latest March numbers, which showed unemployment increased one-tenth of 1 percent to 5 percent, Fleming said.
More people are looking for work again, which boosted the statistics, he said.
A better indicator, Fleming said, is “workplace participation,” which is the share of the working-age population either employed or seeking a job. That statistic was at 63 percent in March — down from 66 percent in 2009.
In addition, while gross domestic product — the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period — increased 1.2 percent during the last quarter, the growth is still stagnant, Fleming said.
“Both those markers (worker participation and GDP) are in bad shape,” Fleming said, adding that low interest rates is the only thing keeping the American economy afloat.
He said too many students are graduating college without work, but with debt in the tens of thousands of dollars. They’re ending up in their childhood bedrooms and are defaulting on their student loans. Fleming predicted a lot of defaults on student loans could trigger the next recession.
Fleming advises students to go to community colleges, rather than traditional four-year universities and to work part time to keep debt low. “Don’t run up a bunch of debt; you’re going to regret it,” Fleming said.
Fleming is running for the U.S. Senate this fall to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie.
Among the major candidates in the fall election, Fleming faces fellow congressman Charles Boustany, of Lafayette; former U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao, of New Orleans; State Treasurer John Kennedy, of Madisonville; and retired U.S. Air Force officer Rob Maness, of Madisonville, all Republicans. Among the Democratic candidates are Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish, and New Orleans lawyer Caroline Fayard.
Qualifying for the Nov. 8 election is July 20 to July 22. If no candidate receives more than half the vote, the two top vote-getters will meet in a Dec. 10 runoff.
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