Schumer Floor Remarks on Immigration, Infrastructure, and President Trump’s Budget RequestFebruary 12, 2018
Mr. President, before I begin, I’d again like to thank my friend the Republican leader for his gracious invitation to address the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville - I learned today that you don’t say, as we say in New York, Loo-ee-ville, it’s Loo-ville - this morning. It was a great pleasure to speak to hundreds of bright Kentucky students interested in the future of this great country. Seeing these kids gives you faith in the future of America, despite all the sturm und drang we witness here in this city. And it was my distinct pleasure to gift the Republican leader a bottle of Brooklyn bourbon as a thank you for his invitation. I assure him it was not to challenge Kentucky’s pride but rather to suggest that maybe Kentucky and New York aren’t so different after all.
Our craft distilling industry is booming and we have very good bourbon made in no place other than Brooklyn, New York. It’s called by the way, as long as it’s made in America, it can be called bourbon, and I believe it can be called - I’m not sure if it can be called Kentucky bourbon, but it can be called bourbon.
Now – onto the business of the day.
Mr. President, on the heels of passing a significant, bipartisan budget deal, the Senate returns this week to grapple with one of the most contentious issues – immigration.
Leader McConnell, to his credit, has promised debate on a neutral bill with an amendment process fair to both sides. Democrats and Republicans are working hard to find a bill to protect the Dreamers and provide border security that will garner sixty votes. No easy task, it’s like threading a needle. I’m sure we will have the opportunity to vote on a few ways to do that, but the key is to find a consensus bill, largely acceptable to a significant number of members of both parties. The purpose here is not to make a point, as the Republican Leader just said, that’s easy. The purpose is to get something done. That’s hard, but it really is so important.
It won’t be easy, but it’s certainly achievable. Democrats are fully committed to protecting the Dreamers, and we have long supported effective border security. Many Republicans are in the same boat. The only enemy to this process is overreach.
Now is not the time nor the place to reform the entire legal immigration system. Rather, this is the moment for a narrow bill. And every ounce of our energy is going into finding one that can pass.
Just like on the budget, this is an opportunity for the Senate to lead the nation. Let the same spirit of bipartisanship and compromise that generated the budget deal carry forward this week as we debate the fate of the Dreamers.
Now on infrastructure. Today, the Trump administration released its infrastructure plan. Democrats released our own plan over a year ago and have waited just as long to see this plan because infrastructure is an issue where we thought we could find some common ground.
Unfortunately, despite a glaring need, the president’s proposal would do very little to make our ailing infrastructure better. Instead of proposing direct federal investments to help all parts of the country, the Trump infrastructure plan relies on private companies or states and localities to put up the lion’s share of the money. In turn, those entities would have to either charge local taxpayers new tolls or raise taxes and other fees to pay for new infrastructure.
So, a word that describes so much of the president’s bill, probably about 80% of it, is Trump tolls.
The Trump infrastructure plan is like a Hollywood façade – it may look real from afar, but in truth, it is a flat mirage. The Trump plan has the skin of an infrastructure plan, but it lacks the guts. The lack of direct investment would leave out large parts of America, particularly rural America, where local governments don’t have the money or the traffic to attract private-sector investment.
Small towns and cities throughout the heartland have waited too long for upgrades to their schools and roads and water systems, as well as access to high-speed Internet. Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt said that every rural home should have electricity in the 1930s, Democrats today believe every rural home should have access to high-speed Internet in the 21st century. Roosevelt called for the REA in the 30s, and soon enough - it took a while - every rural home had electricity.
We Democrats are calling for the 21st century version of Roosevelt’s vision. Every rural home should have access to high-speed Internet, and that ought to be one of our goals in the 21st century. Very little could do more to revitalize rural America than that plan, which by the way we got a start of in our budget because we Democrats insisted on a certain amount of money be allocated for that. Not enough to get the job done, but a start.
The administration’s infrastructure plan would also result in tolls — Trump tolls — across America.
Wealthy investors and large banks will want projects that generate a profit. How do they get the profit? By charging middle-class Americans hundreds of dollars a year in tolls. In fact it’s written right into the plan. Page 20 of the Trump infrastructure proposal has a section entitled “Provide States Tolling Flexibility.”
So the middle class need not ask from whom this bill tolls, it tolls thee.
The middle class is already struggling with the ever-rising costs of health care, child care, college tuition, prescription drugs. They don’t need higher local taxes and Trump tolls on top of all that. This is the kind of plan you’d expect from a president who surrounds himself with bankers and financiers and wealthy people, who don’t mind paying another $20 toll every time they go to work.
It is a plan designed to reward rich developers, large banks, and the president’s political allies, not to rebuild the country.
It would put unsustainable burdens on local governments, which are hurting right now, and lead to Trump tolls all over the country, particularly in middle-sized cities, small cities, and rural America. No investor is going to invest in a bridge in Springfield or Hannibal, Missouri, to pick a couple of places. Because they don’t have the revenue to repay it. So those folks will be stuck, as will so much of America. And at the same time, the Trump proposal undermines important protections like Buy America.
We believe if we are going to put some real investment into this - the stuff, the steel, and the pipes, and the concrete, and everything else, ought to be made in America. And employ people, Americans. They left that out of the bill, unfortunately.
Democrats want to work in a bipartisan way to improve our infrastructure, which is why we put forward a real plan that would expand access to high-speed Internet across the country, rebuild our roads and bridges, and modernize our electric grid while creating millions of good-paying, middle-class construction jobs. Unfortunately, the president’s plan falls short on all of these fronts.
And I’d remind my Republican colleagues: the federal government has invested in infrastructure and road building for a very long time. Henry Clay, from the great state of Kentucky, called for internal improvements. I believe it was in the mid-1800s, because he wanted and knew the economic benefits of connecting places that were called the Far West in those days - Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio - with all the people who lived on the eastern seaboard.
Henry Clay was not a Republican, he was a Whig, but that was the predecessor party of the Republicans. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican president in the 50s, started that interstate highway program, which has benefitted so much of America for so many decades. And Ronald Reagan never cut back on infrastructure, even though he cut back on lots of other programs.
It’s brand new. President Trump is about the first president in a long, long line of Democrats and Republicans, who doesn’t really believe that the federal government should be at the forefront of building our infrastructure, whether it’s highways, roads, bridges, water, sewer, power grid, high-speed Internet.
I hope, I hope, that Democrats and Republicans can do what we did on the budget. Sort of ignore President Trump, because he is way off base on this, and come together ourselves. Because people on both sides of the aisle have always believed in investing in infrastructure.
One final word on the president’s budget request - for next year, we already now have dealt with this year’s budget request - but he put in a budget request for next year which was just sent to Congress. We just passed a two-year budget on Friday, so the Trump administration should have no illusions about its budget becoming law. It won’t. But presidential budgets are still important as a statement of an administration’s priorities.
Now, unfortunately, the president’s priorities are so far away from what the American people want, in terms of how he portrays his budget. President Trump’s budget request, just six weeks after slashing taxes on the wealthy and biggest corporations, after creating a massive deficit, who does the president ask to pay for this? Middle-class and older Americans. He slashes education, environmental protection, and Medicare and Medicaid.
While corporations reap billions in tax giveaways, older Americans now have to worry about the Trump administration cutting Medicare and Medicaid. It is in his budget. Many others, including children and working families, would be hurt by this budget as well. If Americans want a picture of who President Trump works for, the combination of the tax bill and this budget make it crystal clear -- he’s for the rich and powerful at the expense of the middle class.