Schumer Floor Remarks on Senate Republicans’ Tax Plan

November 15, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding Senate Republicans’ tax plan and their last-minute decision to include repealing the individual mandate under this legislation. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

The Republican tax plan, even before yesterday, would exacerbate income inequality at a time when it’s already spiraling out of control, helping the rich get richer and big corporations get bigger while the middle class is left stuck in neutral. Many millions of middle-class families would wind up paying higher taxes at the end of the day; 13 million in 2019 and nearly 20 million in 2027, under the Senate plan.

That’s the wrong kind of approach for our economy; it betrays the American worker and the American family who deserve tax relief, because it concentrates more of our country’s wealth at the very top, just what the American people don’t want, but what so many of those who fund the Republican party do.

For most of my colleagues and most of the American people, that is reason enough to oppose this bill, and the American people do, by large numbers.

But yesterday, Republicans made two last-minute changes to their bill that make it much worse. First, the Republicans decided to throw the mother-of-all monkey wrenches into their bill: repealing the individual mandate.

My friend, the Majority Leader, called this provision “helpful” to the bill because it raises revenue. I’d remind him, and all of my Republican colleagues that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has already said that it would lead to 13 million fewer Americans with health insurance. So we’re kicking 13 million people off health insurance to give tax cuts to the wealthy. Also, according to CBO, it would lead to a 10% increase in premiums; each year they’d be 10% higher than they otherwise would be.

So our Republican bill says raise the premiums on average Americans’ health care by 10%, so we can give the wealthy a tax cut. This is the same thing they did in the healthcare bill, until the public outrage forced them to back off, and of course, it lost. And they’re doing it again, because the Republican belief is reduce the healthcare safety net for middle-class Americans, so that they can give more tax cuts to the wealthiest and most powerful amongst us.

Younger, healthier people, if Republicans had their plan, would flee the market, making the risk pool older and sicker. If you’re fifty to sixty-four, this is very bad news for you. That’s why the AARP is against this bill, and yesterday denounced the new change.

I’d remind my Republican colleagues that the provision raises $400 billion in revenue, because it will throw Americans off insurance; $179 billion alone is saved because people wouldn’t sign up for Medicaid. So the Republican bill takes $400 billion out of health care and gives it to the wealthy and the powerful for even more tax breaks. Does any American support that? A handful, maybe. But it seems like a lot of people in this chamber might.

So when Republicans say that including this provision in their bill is “helpful,” they don’t mean it’s helpful to Americans. It may help Republicans in the Senate give a larger tax break to the rich, but it hurts millions of Americans seeking affordable health insurance. Many will lose insurance. Many more will pay an increase in their premiums, while our colleagues have always promised to make premiums lower.

I’ve heard some on the other side say that they would be willing to pass the bipartisan Alexander-Murray healthcare compromise as a sort of salve after they repeal the individual mandate. I’m here to tell my colleagues that won’t work. You don’t attempt to blow up the healthcare system, and then say we’re going to make a few tweaks to make it better. We’re not falling for that, and you shouldn’t either, my Republican friends.

They are completely contradictory ideas. Alexander-Murray is meant to stabilize the marketplaces and lower premiums.The Republican plan destabilizes markets and raises premiums in a way that Alexander-Murray could never repair.

Furthermore, Alexander-Murray would not survive under the rules of reconciliation. Too many of its provisions are under the jurisdiction of the HELP Committee, not the Finance Committee. So anyone who thinks they can justify the changes that the Majority Leader has said he will put in the bill by saying, “Okay, we’ll then pass Murray-Alexander,” is wrong on the substance and wrong on the politics, because it won’t pass.

And to that point, Alexander-Murray was negotiated in good faith by the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the HELP Committee as a compromise healthcare bill. The Republicans cannot expect to pass their own, separate, ideological healthcare provision and then turn around and ask for Democratic votes to pass Alexander-Murray. Again, you can’t create major injury to the healthcare system and hurt millions and then say, “Please give us a Band-Aid.” That’s not what is going to happen. That’s not the right thing to do.

Any Republican Senator who thinks they can pass the individual mandate and then turn around and get Murray-Alexander passed is dead wrong.

It’s clear that the dark tradeoff at the center of the Republican policy agenda is back: cutting healthcare in order to fund tax giveaways to the very wealthy and very powerful. Democrats won’t go for it.

The second change the Republicans made to their tax bill was to have many of their tax provisions for individuals expire while corporate breaks remain permanent.

With this new proposal, Republicans have put themselves between a rock and a hard place. The provisions for individuals, that help individuals, and not enough of them were helped, middle class folks, expire by 2025. The corporate tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations, above all, are permanent.

Why did our colleagues do this? Well, for one, they favor the big corporate powerful interests over the middle class, but the second is they had a huge deficit problem. They had to figure out where to reduce the deficit. And so they took it out on the crumbs that they gave to the middle class in the earlier years in this bill. Well, one of two things will happen. Some of our Republican colleagues say, “Don’t worry, we’ll extend the middle class tax cuts after 2025.” That will create a huge deficit.

So I say to my colleagues, particularly the deficit hawks, you can't have it both ways. You cannot say we’re going to protect the middle class after 2025, and we’re going to reduce the deficit. This bill is a deficit budget buster. We all know what will happen. We all know that the deficit will skyrocket after 2025. So we can’t allow the sort of tricks that are put into this bill to dissuade us from the fact that this bill will dramatically increase the deficit.

So there are two problems with this tax bill: one is inside the confines of the bill and one is with the public, should it pass, which I think it won’t.

Inside the bill, as I just mentioned, Republicans are stuck between raising taxes on millions of middle-class families or busting the deficit. There is no choice. You can’t have it both ways. The bill is a dramatic, dramatic exposition of being between a rock and a hard place. Two choices, the bill gives people, raise taxes on the middle class or dramatically increase the deficit.

But outside the bill, with the public, the Republicans have a dilemma as well. If they do not pass the bill, they wind up looking feckless and unable to govern, and that’s what motivating most of my colleagues. But if they pass the bill there’s going to be public outrage, and they’re going to pay a real price in 2018. They know it.

So outside the bill, the Republics have two bad choices too. Outside the confines of the bill and the broad brushstrokes, our Republican colleagues can fail to pass the bill and look unable to govern or they can pass the bill, dramatically unpopular, and pay a price at the polls.

These are not enviable choices. They are a Gordian knot that my Republican friends will not be able to slip out of. If they pull on one part of the knot, they tighten another part of it.

The reason my Republican friends are so caught in this lose-lose situation is that they’ve elected, time and time again, to eschew bipartisanship. Passing legislation of this magnitude with the votes of only one party is divisive and demanding. A small number, say the Freedom Caucus, can demand almost all the tax breaks go to the very wealthy, or they won’t vote for the bill. That gives the rest of the Republicans a very difficult choice: hurt the middle class or blow a hole in the deficit.

On the other hand, if our Republican colleagues had worked with us, that Freedom Caucus would have no say. It wouldn’t have the votes to kill the bill, because there would be lots of Democratic support.

We are a fiercely divided country. Legislation that’s crafted to appease the extremes of only one political party is never going to be broadly popular with the American people, and frankly, won’t work.

That’s why we should pursue bipartisan legislation; both parties accepting the credit of success and the blame of failure. The American people are clamoring for us to work together in such a fashion, and working together doesn’t mean a bill crafted behind closed doors under reconciliation, which basically says to Democrats, “Take a hike, we don’t need you.”

So I say to my Republican friends: the way out of this mess is a simple – reject these Faustian choices and come work with Democrats on real, bipartisan reform. You won’t have to choose between blowing up the deficit and hurting the middle class. You won’t have to choose between unpopular legislation and legislative failure.

Just like Alexander-Murray proved, we can produce legislation on the thorniest of issues that will receive bipartisan support and improve the condition of working and middle-class Americans.

How about we give that a try on tax reform as well? Because the choices you are giving yourself now, you will regret.