Below is a transcript of the interview:
Q. I have to ask you, first and foremost – Fair Minimum Wage Act – taking minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. This is a bill that you're really pushing. Why do you feel this is important for Americans.
A. Well, for a couple of reasons. One is that right now, minimum wage is 30 percent below in terms of buying power than what it was 40 years ago. So the middle class and those working at or near the minimum wage have really not seen their standard of living increase at all. As a matter of fact, it's declined.
The other thing is when you allow somebody to be paid less than the living wage you basically are having the taxpayer subsidize their employers because they're getting food stamps, their getting earned income tax credits, their getting other support programs in order to live, housing subsidies and so forth.
So basically, in the case of Wal-Mart, for instance, there's one estimate that they get subsidized to the tune of $2.5 billion a year. That's one of the most profitable companies in the world. So this is a question, I think, of paying a fair wage so people can live on it and people can actually try to support their families without taxpayer subsidies.
Q. Now opponents of this bill say this is going to crush small businesses in America, it's going to affect small businesses, it's really going to hamper large corporations that are going to have to make cuts. What do you have to say to that?
A. Interestingly enough, we have experiments going on all over the countries where states and localities actually have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum. In Washington State, for instance, where it's over $9 an hour, they have the highest rate of expansion among small businesses of any state in the country.
So wherever you look and see where they're paying a higher minimum wage than $7.25, their growth and their economies are doing better than states that don't. So, again we have the evidence out there that when you raise the minimum wage, people spend that money and it helps the economy overall, rather than hurting it.
Q. Talk about the chance of this bill being passed. Do you feel good about it heading into the session?
A. If we can get a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, it'll pass. We have virtually every Democrat for it. There are enough Republicans for it to get to a majority. It's just a question of having a vote. And so far, Republican leadership in the House hasn't been willing to bring it to a vote.
Q. All right, Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act -- you want to help students with large amounts of loans. How do you plan to do that with this bill?
A. Well, one of the things that's astounding about our system right now is ... people with student loans cannot refinance their loans. It's against the law.
Q. So once you borrow the money, it's set?
A. It set and you know, nobody else is in that position. Anybody can refinance. So what we're saying is allow graduates to refinance their student loans at the same rate that banks get to borrow money from the federal government. We think this is fair. It will save people billions of dollars and will allow them to actually have a better chance of advancing themselves.
We talked to somebody last week at a rally we had who's a graduate of U of L, and is working at minimum-wage, it's the only job he can find now. And he has $56,000 in student loans.
So he's obviously in very, very desperate straits. He's trying hard, he's a very, very bright young man. So why wouldn't he be allowed to – instead of paying 6 or 7 percent on a student loan – to refinance at 2 or 3 percent.
Q. What can we do to secure our borders in the Texas area with people coming in our country illegally?
A. Actually, we have done a great job in securing our borders. The illegal crossings are down about 60 percent over the past five years. The young people who are coming now are actually not coming to be sneaking in. They're actually crossing the border and turning themselves in. Because they're actually refugees, they're trying to seek asylum, essentially, from a violent society where they originated.
So we've actually done a great job securing the borders. This recent incursion … flood of immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is a totally different issue than those who are coming, trying to sneak over the border whether it's for drugs and so forth.
Again, we can still do better, there's no question about that. We've invested an awful lot of money. We have a huge number of border patrol on the borders. We have equipment -- I worked on immigration reform all of last year. We're proposing to do even more with equipment, but we've made great progress.
But this current situation, again, is a situation evolving from a law which says if you have young people coming here to escape violence or human trafficking, that we actually have to maintain them and then give them a hearing through the judicial to see if they actually qualify for asylum here. So, I think we've made great progress over the last five years. We still have work to do. There are still illegal crossings, but we're doing much better.