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Schumer Floor Remarks on Year End Negotiations, the Republican Tax Bill, and the FCC Vote on Net Neutrality

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the year end budget negotiations, the need to hit pause on the Republican tax bill in order to avoid rushing a partisan bill through the Senate, and the consequences of repealing net neutrality.  Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Mr. President, first, on the year-end negotiations.

Negotiations are making headway, that’s good, but many issues remain to be resolved. We need to provide funding for community health centers, CHIP and areas hit by disasters, we need to pass a bipartisan deal to pair the Dream Act with border security, and pass a budget deal that fully funds both our national security and our economic security. In the common parlance known as ‘parity.’

If we don’t lift the spending caps for defense and also urgent domestic priorities – jobs, the economy - both will come under the specter of sequestration. Lifting those spending caps in equal measure has been the basis of successful budget agreements going back several years. It has been parity between defense and nondefense for the three last budget negotiations and that is how it ought to stay. That is what brought us to good agreements, that’s what averted shutdowns.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Freedom Caucus in the House, which doesn’t represent the mainstream America or even the mainstream of Republicans, is trying to derail another successful parity agreement. Unfortunately Speaker Ryan, as he is doing far too often to the detriment of the country and his party, is just following their lead.

Last night, the House posted what’s called a “cromnibus” - a very short extension of funding for jobs and economic development – which will lead to cuts in those areas - but a long-term extension and a large increase of funding for defense. This is merely a ruse designed to slash funding for education, healthcare, infrastructure and scientific research – all the things the Freedom Caucus doesn’t want the government to fund (against the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans).

At this late hour, it’s also an unfortunate waste of precious time. Earlier this week, 44 Senate Democrats sent a letter to our Republican colleagues explicitly warning them that Democrats could not support such an approach. Because 60 votes are needed to advance a spending bill here in the Senate, House Republicans should have known not to waste everyone’s time with a partisan spending bill that could never pass the Senate.

The cromnibus is nothing but a spectacle. A charade. A sop to some militant, hard right people who don’t want the government to spend money on almost anything. And it is a perilous waste of time as the clock ticks closer and closer and closer to the end of the year.

It’s time for our Republican colleagues -- especially in the House where the Freedom Caucus is like the tail wagging the dog -- to get serious about working with Democrats towards a real parity agreement. Every hour the House spends on the cromnibus is an hour that could be spent working on a deal to avert a shutdown and solve the many, pressing issues Congress must grapple with before the end of the year.

If Speaker Ryan decides to press forward with a cromnibus, it will quickly fail in the Senate, and we can get back to negotiating a real bipartisan agreement that provides certainty and full funding to both our national defense and the middle class. Speaker Ryan has gone along with the approach three times in a row, or at least the House republicans have, I think Ryan was speaker for two of those three and chairman of the Ways and Means for the third.

But, right now Speaker Ryan is pursuing a dead-end strategy and instead we urge him to continue working with Democrats on a bipartisan, long-term agreement that will keep the government open and fund our major priorities, both defense and jobs and economy on the other side. By the way, even on the other side of the ledger there are things that affect our security – like the border, the FBI, all of these kinds of things are funded on the non-defense side. You have got to have security in every way in this terrorism-ridden world in which we live in.

Now, a word on the Republican tax bill.

On both process and substance, it appears that the Republican conference committee is making all the same mistakes that Republicans made when passing their bill in the first place.

Even though there is still not a final agreement on the text of the tax bill, Republican leaders promise a vote on the committee report as early as Monday of next week. I’m not sure my colleagues have had enough time to read and digest the bill that passed this chamber a few weeks ago, let alone an entirely new conference report that will include many changes.

It’s the same rushed, awful process as before – and it can only result in mistakes and unintended consequences that could wreak havoc on the economy. Why are our republican colleagues rushing this bill through? I think they are ashamed of it. Every day, the more people know about the bill, the more they don’t like it. Just polling data today shows that the popularity of the bill continues to plummet and a poll out today said that not only do the people not like the bill, but those who vote for it would be affected at election time. The poll today asked people if they would be more or less likely to vote for a congressman who voted for this bill, to vote for a senator who voted for this bill. The public, many of the public, said that they were less likely to vote for a congressman who votes for this awful bill. The public knows that it is awful.

Why? Well, they know that Republicans are doubling down in this new proposal on the core mistake of their bill by tilting it even further in favor of the wealthy. You know, I saw on TV this morning the guy from Club for Growth – a narrow, narrow group with very little support who is funded by the hard right group of billionaires who want to see their taxes cut. And they don’t even talk about what the bill is in the bill. They try to talk about it as a job creator, but they dare don’t say, like so many of my republican colleagues don’t say, how disproportionately it goes to the upper income and not the middle class. Amazingly enough, behind closed doors, they made a bad bill even worse. 

One of the most significant changes made by the conference committee will be to lower the top tax rate two percentage points more than the original bill. Let’s help those millionaires get even a lower tax rate than they have now! They’re doing so poorly! This is…crazy. Crazy. There are a lot of wealthy people in America, God Bless them. I don’t resent their wealth, but they don’t need a tax break! On the other hand, there are hundreds of millions of struggling middle class people and they could use that kind of money. And yet millions of people in this bill who are middle class, upper middle class, and struggling to be middle class get a tax increase! Why not use the money, instead of lowering the rate on the highest income people, use it to help those in the middle?

Despite all the concerns about raising middle-class taxes, making the bill as unpopular as I just mentioned, the one big thing Republicans go back and change is to lower the top rate – the rate paid by the wealthiest of Americans.

When it comes down to a choice between the middle class and the wealthy, the middle class and big corporations, the Republicans just instinctively, atavistically, and in a knee-jerk way choose the wealthy and the powerful over the middle class. That is why they are struggling. I believe that is why President Trump’s numbers are as low as they have ever been. People are getting a feel, a smell that President Trump talks about the middle class, but when he acts, like in this tax bill, it is to help the wealthiest and the most powerful. That happens issue after issue, I see my colleague Dick Blumenthal coming to the floor. Senator from Connecticut, he is going to talk about Net Neutrality, I believe. Again! Help the big cable companies and corporations, make it harder for the middle class when it comes to the cable service and the cost of cable.

Now, Republicans claim that lowering the top rate is an attempt to address tax hikes that would result from their plan to gut the state and local deduction. But reducing the top rate only helps the very wealthy – couples making over $1 million in the last draft that he heard about – and they are already the primary beneficiaries of this tax plan.

I have a feeling that President Trump was hearing from his handful of wealthy friends who pay a lot in state and local taxes – many from my home state of New York -  and he decided to lower their taxes even more. But 99% of state and local deductions are taken by Americans with incomes under $1 million. More than half of taxpayers taking the SALT deduction make less than $100,000. Reducing the top rate does nothing to help 99% of taxpayers who take SALT – it only helps the top 1% making over a million. But this is what it seems the President, and our Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate keep doing.

As I have said from the start, eliminating or cutting SALT would hurt the middle class across the country. It would raise taxes on millions, lower home values for millions more, and gut our state and local programs –education, law enforcement and infrastructure. 

None of those problems were addressed in conference. Instead, the richest Americans will likely get an even bigger tax break.

Mr. President, there is no good reason to rush this awful bill through the Senate. Tuesday night – as our presiding officer so knows - we had an election in Alabama, and this chamber is waiting for the seating of a new Senator. Shouldn’t the people of Alabama have their voice in the Senate present for a vote on the tax bill?

Again I’d ask my friend the Majority Leader: to slow down and wait for Senator-elect Jones to arrive before taking any more votes on the tax bill. Democrats waited for Republican Senator Scott Brown in 2010, but now that the shoe is on the other foot, Republicans should do the same. It’s the right thing to do, and it will give every Senator, and the American people, more time to consider the legislation.

Finally, Mr. President, a word on today’s FCC vote on net neutrality.

We depend on a free and open internet to spur innovation and job creation. Our economy works best when innovators, entrepreneurs, and business of all sizes compete on a level playing field. Net Neutrality, very simply, says that everyone deserves the same, fair access to the internet.

Consumers, small businesses, students…everyone from the elderly couple using Skype to talk to their grandchildren half a country away to the startup company operating out of its founder’s basement… Everyone, everyone, everyone deserves the same access to and quality of internet as big corporations.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my father owned a small exterminating business. If his competitor down the street had received preferred electricity service, he would have been rightly outraged—and the law would have protected him from that unfair treatment. We don’t reserve certain highways for a single trucking company, and we don’t limit phone service to hand-picked stores. We shouldn’t reserve high-speed internet for a favored few corporations either.

But now President Trump’s appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is on the verge of eliminating Net Neutrality – bringing to an end the free and open internet that has enabled so many successful companies and created so many jobs. Our internet is the envy of the world. Why are we changing it in a way that could harm it?

If Net Neutrality is eliminated, the Internet may start to resemble a toll road, with the highest bidders cruising along private “fast lanes” while the rest of us inch along a single, traffic-choked public lane. We could be forced to purchase internet packages much like cable packages, paying more for popular sites.

It’s hard to imagine an entrepreneur building the world’s next revolutionary, billion-dollar company while she sits in bumper-to-bumper traffic online.

It’s hard to imagine that average consumers are going to get a good deal if internet service providers are unshackled and allowed to offer premium service to premium customers. Again, President Trump talks one way and acts another. Talks like he is helping the middle class, is fully supportive of the FCC and his handpicked chairman hurting the middle class and helping the big interests when it comes to the internet.

Chairman Pai and the Trump administration are once again siding with corporate interests against consumers and small business. Once again, the Trump administration is picking CEOs over citizens, just like in the tax bill and now here on net neutrality, and thwarting the desires of millions of Americans who have sent comments to the FCC asking that they preserve Net Neutrality and keep the Internet free and open to everyone.

The American people have spoken. I hope, I hope Chairman Pai and President Trump are listening.