Schumer Floor Remarks on the Alexander-Murray Bill, CHIP Reauthorization, the GOP Tax Plan, and American Steel and Aluminum

October 23, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need to pass the Alexander-Murray bill, CHIP reauthorization, the GOP tax plan, and on American steel and aluminum:

Thank you, Mr. President, first, on the issue of health care.

Since I last addressed this chamber, the bipartisan agreement reached by Senators Alexander and Murray has amassed enough cosponsors to guarantee its passage.

It now has 12 Republican cosponsors and 12 Democratic cosponsors – that’s as bipartisan as it gets. I believe all 48 members of my caucus will support the agreement, meaning it has the necessary 60 votes.

Even Leader McConnell has made it clear that he will put the Alexander-Murray bill on the floor as soon as President Trump supports it.

So let me make a direct appeal to the President: Mr. President, come out and support the Alexander-Murray bill. You’ve called it a “very good solution” already. Announce that you’ll support it and it’ll pass through the Senate soon after.

Now the President’s only stated concern was that the Alexander-Murray bill “bails out insurance companies,” but I can assure the President that Senators Alexander and Murray took great pains to make sure that the insurance companies would not get one extra penny from this deal. I’ve read the language, I’ve worked with them. It’s good, it’s strong. They’ve included provisions in the bill to prevent insurance companies from double dipping on the cost-sharing program and ensure that money goes precisely to where it’s intended: to keep premiums and other out-of-pocket costs down for low-income Americans.

If the President wants even greater assurances, we can work to move back the start of enrollment one month. He may be able to do that administratively, but if not that’s something both Senator Alexander and Senator Murray wanted to do which would ensure then that there would be new applications, and the rates would be looked at as if cost-sharing was happening. But the White House blocked it. So if the White House and the President want to make it even stronger – and I think it’s strong enough already – then we can do that. And from what I understand the President might be able to do that administratively.

So this idea that the President isn’t supporting this because he doesn’t want the insurance companies to make money on this, it’s wrong. There’s some other reason he doesn’t want it done. Maybe he doesn’t want a bipartisan bill. Maybe it’s because he wasn’t involved. Maybe it’s because, as on issue after issue, the hard-right, Freedom Caucus people say ‘don’t do it’ and he’s afraid. Because he’s not showing much leadership when they stand up to him.

But, the only reason that the President shouldn’t support this bill is that he wants to continue intentionally hurting Americans. He’s talked about that, he almost seems gleeful. ‘Obamacare will fail,’ even though he is trying to make it fail. Now he should know, the President, that premiums have shot up 30% in Pennsylvania because of the President’s decision to end cost-sharing. Premiums for silver plans will rise 20 to 25% if cost-sharing is not restored.

So it’s time for the President to stop the sabotage. He created the problem by for the first time not renewing cost-sharing payments. Now we have a solution which will renew them, but Democrats have had to give. Copper plans have never been our favorite. He should go along with a good compromise. The President has told me, repeatedly, he wants to work in a bipartisan way. He told me he wants to work in a bipartisan way on healthcare. Well on this one I’m from Missouri, show us. Show me.

It’s time, Mr. President, to turn the page on health care and pass Alexander-Murray.

We have other pressing health care issues to grapple with. For the first time in history, again due to lack of leadership from that White House, the authorization for the Children’s Health Insurance Program has expired. That must be reauthorized too, and soon. Kids across America are depending on it.

So, President Trump – please, stop the games. Stop the zigging and zagging, you’re for it one day and against it the next. Stop coming up with fake excuses. Declare your support for this bill so we can move forward in a bipartisan way to improve our nation’s health care.

Now, on taxes.

Last week, the Republican Majority jammed through one of the worst budgets in history: and that’s not hyperbole it’s one of the worst budgets in history. They should hang their heads in shame. It increases the deficit by $1.5 trillion, slashes Medicare and Medicaid by $1.5 trillion, and sets up the same partisan process the Republicans used for healthcare.

And now it goes to the House for their approval, where many conservative House Republicans will have to rationalize voting for a bill that dramatically increases deficits.

For many in the conservative wing of the House Republican caucus, the debt and deficit have been their number one focus in Congress; their raison d’etre. Many campaigned on the singular promise, made with an almost religious fervor, to lower our nation’s debt and deficit. They rhapsodize fiscal responsibility. They hold themselves up as the guardians of preventing the debt from being passed on to our grandchildren. They evangelize constitutional amendments requiring a balanced budget. They were willing to risk a default on our nation’s credit for a spurious talking point.            

So the budget resolution will be a true test of the principles that the Freedom Caucus and the hard-right in the House have espoused about the evils of deficits for the better part of the last decade, because those same members of the Freedom Caucus must vote now to approve a budget that increases the deficit by 1.5 trillion dollars. The House bill didn’t do that, the Senate bill clearly does.

Yet, so far, we haven’t heard a peep from the Freedom Caucus. The most scolding deficit hawks have morphed into deficit doves, eschewing principle for political expediency.

Any economist would tell you, with respect to the deficit, a dollar less in revenue due to a tax cut is the same as a dollar less in spending– and yet the Freedom Caucus and deficit hawks only harp on the deficit when it’s about spending cuts. Get rid of Medicare, get rid of Medicaid, slash them. Programs every bit as popular and important as any.

Here’s what Representative Walker, a conservative member of the House, lamented, “[The deficit] is a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led. It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.” Really? So you’re only a deficit hawk when it’s politically expedient?

Well, the Freedom Caucus still has a chance to change the course of their budget with the vote this week. When the Freedom Caucus came out against the Republican health care bill, the Republican majority was forced to make concessions to them. If they were real deficit hawks, honest deficit hawks, consistent deficit hawks, non-political deficit hawks, they would do the same thing here.

So let’s see how Representative Walker and the House Freedom Caucus vote on a GOP budget to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. That is a trillion dollars.

Another point on the GOP tax plan, Mr. President.

The Republicans are so wedded to their desire to give a massive tax break to big corporations and the superrich -- which will blow up the deficit even in their fake math models – that they are searching for new ways to sock it to the middle class to make up the difference.

First, the Republicans debated eliminating the mortgage deduction, then they included the provision to eliminate state and local deductibility, and recently there have been reports that some Republicans want to cap American’s pre-tax contributions to their 401k – one of the few provisions we have to encourage middle-class families to start saving for an early retirement.

Now President Trump tweeted this morning that they were not going down that road, but the fact that Republicans were even considering raiding American’s retirement savings to pay for a giant tax cut for corporations, states, shows you just how backward their plan is. The Tax Policy Center estimated that while the wealthiest 1% of America would reap 80% of the benefits under the GOP plan, it would also raise taxes on nearly a third of middle-class workers.

That statistic reveals the rotten core at the center of this tax plan: the Republicans are so eager to give tax cuts for the rich that they’re willing to explore different ways – many different ways - of raising taxes on the middle class to pay for it.

Each time they bring up different methods -- the mortgage interest deduction, state and local deductibility, capping pre-tax 401k’s – and then back-off when the see the political and popular cost to each proposal, shows you the dilemma they are in.

The fact is, there is no way the Republicans can avoid raising taxes on a good number of middle-class families if they are going to cling to such massive tax cuts for the rich and powerful and still make the numbers work, even with fake math.

How about instead of capping middle-class deductions or pilfering retirement savings, Republicans drop their proposal to repeal the estate tax? Repealing the estate tax costs the government hundreds of billions. Why are Republicans looking at middle-class deductions instead of merely scrapping the estate tax repeal, which goes only to estates of over $5 million? Only to estates of over $5 million. The number who benefit is tiny, in the thousands. They get huge, huge benefits. Their estates do. Get rid of that instead of hurting the middle-class. The logic is confounding. And our Republican colleagues will not even talk about it, not even talk about it.

So, this plan is so rotten at its core that it has our Republican colleagues turning themselves into pretzels, jumping through hoops. And they can’t really say what they believe -- trickle-down works. The only rationale for this entire plan is that if you give tax breaks to the wealthy and the big corporations, that there will be a lot of job growth. It didn’t happen when George Bush’s tax cuts occurred. It didn’t happen when Kansas dramatically cut its taxes. The Koch Brothers center, Kansas, did just what the Koch Brothers wanted, and it was a disaster. Growth was much less than the national average even though the taxes were slashed. Contrary to what our Republican colleagues believe here, although they don’t state it.

I’ll respect the Republican member who comes up and says ‘trickle-down works, that’s why we are doing it. Tax cuts for the wealthy is what fuels the economy.’ No one else believes it anymore, history has disproved it, it’s a fake, a fig leaf. So that they don’t have to admit what they want to do, give huge tax cuts for the wealthiest of their contributors, people who have sort of set up the sinew of this Republican Party – with their think tanks, and op-eds, and so many other things, the Koch Brothers network.

The American people should know that the money to pay for that giant tax cut for the rich is coming from somewhere, and it’s likely to be coming from their pocketbooks.

One final topic, Mr. President. Steel and aluminum.

Recently, and shockingly, Commerce Secretary Ross has said that he’s waiting for the Republican’s tax plan before completing critical investigations into how steel and aluminum imports are impacting the capacity of steel and aluminum U.S. producers to supply our defense needs.

I’m not sure why the Republican tax plan has anything to do with this national security investigation, which could finally lead to some relief from the predatory trade practices from China and other countries. The two are entirely unrelated.

Secretary Ross’s comments smell like an excuse for further delays and a bad one at that. I’d like to see him explain his decision to the thousands of steelworkers whose jobs are on the line because their companies aren’t competing on a level playing field because China repeatedly subsidizes, doesn’t play by the rules, and cheats.

It’s another classic example of the Trump Administration promising one thing but doing another. President Trump has promised many times to crack down on China, and still, ten months into his administration, his Commerce Secretary is once again needlessly delaying a preliminary step in that effort. Every time I see Secretary Ross – I’ve known him for 30 years, he is a New Yorker like I am – I say to him ‘when are we going to do something on China.’ ‘Oh we are going to do something tough.’ And each time there is a different excuse. This should have happened in the first two months of the administration. It hasn’t.

So, because of the Republican inaction, because of the President’s unfulfilled and rapidly becoming broken promise on being tough with China, Senate Democrats will be sending a letter to President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross demanding that the Administration keep its promise to crack down on China’s unfair and predatory trade practices. We’re asking that they continue these investigations and expeditiously complete them.

These trade investigations have nothing to do with tax reform, and there’s no reason to delay them.

Now one more thing on China. Today I read that Tesla, our great car manufacturing company, will be relocating to China. When you want to sell cars or many other advanced products in China, you have to do one of two things: set up a joint ownership company which lets them steal our intellectual property, or face huge tariffs. That’s based on the fact that the WTO is poorly negotiated, and China is regarded as a developing country. That was the fault of President Bush and President Obama, neither did enough to stop China.

Based on his campaign rhetoric, you’d think President Trump would be tougher as China steals our family jewels. It’s no longer clothing and furniture, it’s our best industries. They steal our intellectual property by these joint ventures. Sometimes they do it by cyber theft – a lot of times they do it by cyber theft. And it’s hurting the good-paying jobs that might be available to our children and grandchildren. Based on campaign rhetoric you’d think President Trump would be tougher on China, but so far, it’s been a lot of talk, and not very much action. The delay in these investigations is another example.