Minnesota Congressman Talks About the Economic Crisis
Kid Reporter Addie Backhus with her congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison. (Photo courtesy Addie Backhus)
Congressman Keith Ellison has represented Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2007. Rep. Ellison sits on the House’s Financial Services Committee, which gives him keen insight into the current economic crisis. Kid Reporter Addie Backhus lives in Rep. Ellison’s district, and she spoke with him about the problems in the economy and the $700 billion federal bailout bill.
Scholastic News Online: Were your votes on the two bailout bills easy or difficult, given how voters in your district felt about the bills?
Rep. Keith Ellison: They were tough votes because I had a lot of people who didn’t want me voting for those bills. But I called a number of people who understand financial markets, understand the capital markets, and those people helped me understand that we would have even more layoffs and more people losing their jobs if we didn’t do something. And so I thought that with unemployment in Minnesota—it’s 6.2 percent, and 6.1 percent nationally—we couldn’t afford to have more layoffs even though some people didn’t want me to [vote for it].
SNO: Did you have pressure in Washington from other congress members or the president to vote yes?
Rep. Ellison: No I didn’t. I’m on the Financial Services Committee, or the Banking Committee some people call it, and so I have been watching the difficulties that banks and non-bank lenders have been having for over a year. So I was pretty well acquainted with the issues. And in Congress, not everyone is as acquainted with the same things because some of us are on certain committees so we know the issues that that committee handles more. For example, we have a committee called Armed Services. And that committee deals with the military, and the people on the Armed Services Committee know more about what’s happening with the Navy and the Army and stuff like that, but I know more than them about what’s happening with banking.
SNO: Why did you vote yes?
Rep. Ellison: I voted yes because I knew that if banks didn’t lend money to each other then businesses would not be able to get lines of credit and they wouldn’t be able to borrow the money they needed to make payrolls, and if they can’t make payrolls, they would have to lay people off, then there’s people who won’t have jobs and then there’s kids just like you whose mom and dad might not have a job and that would be a big deal. And your dad could probably tell you it would be tough not to have a job because that’s how the family gets money to pay for the lights to go on and get gas for the car, and it’s just a lot easier when there’s money around.
SNO: Are you confident that the bill will work?
Rep. Ellison: Yes, as a matter of fact the bill has already begun to work. There’s a man whose name is Ben Bernanke and he is the chairperson of the Federal Reserve Bank. And he appeared before Congress today. And he reported that credit markets are thawing out and there’s more lending going on than there had been in the past. So, it’s looking a little better.
SNO: Is the economic crisis affecting you or your family?
Rep. Ellison: Yes it is. Unemployment impacts everybody and because constituents are calling me about losing jobs and a lot of small business people are telling me that they have had difficulties with their credit. I also live in an area of town known as North Minneapolis where there’s a lot of foreclosures. And so there’s even been people who have had their house foreclosed on my block. Now, what that means is that, well, see, when you buy a house, most people don’t have enough money just to go buy it. They have to borrow the money for it. And if you can’t pay the money back, then they take your house. And so they’ve been having foreclosures, even on my block, which means that you have a house and nobody’s living there and they don’t take care of the grass and stuff and it makes the rest of the neighborhood look not as good.
SNO: So you saw this coming?
Rep. Ellison: I think so. I kind of liken it to a situation where if you have a friend who’s choking and the paramedics have to make a hole in their trachea so they can breath it’s a dangerous situation. And you don’t want the person to have an obstruction but sometimes you have to cause an injury to save the patient. I saw it as a serious crisis situation that could plunge our economy into a depression and so that’s why I voted for it.
Learn more about the economy and how it works in this special report.
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Addie Backhus is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.