Schumer Floor Remarks on the Need for Bipartisanship on Health Care, Tax Reform and the Withdrawal of the Nomination of Rep. Marino

October 17, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need for bipartisanship on health care, taxes, and the nomination of the next head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy:

Well first, Mr. President, a brief word on health care.

Senators Alexander and Murray continue to negotiate a bipartisan package of legislation to stabilize our healthcare markets and lower premiums, a process that began over the summer. From what I’ve heard, they are down to a final few issues and are hopefully close to an agreement that can be taken back to both of our caucuses.

Congress ought to show, through the work started by Senators Alexander and Murray way back in July, that Congress can work in a bipartisan way on healthcare; that we have no intention of going along with President Trump’s reckless sabotage of the nation’s healthcare law.

Last week, President Trump showed that he’s willing to take a wrecking ball to our nation’s healthcare for the sake of politics, without any regard for of the people it would hurt: veterans, senior citizens, kids, folks struggling to afford insurance. President Trump was so angry that they couldn’t repeal and replace, that he instead said, ‘I’m going to wreck the system.’ The problem is, it hurts millions of innocent people, all for pique and politics. He’s shown that he’s willing to put at risk the healthcare of millions of Americans. President Trump’s decision to end the cost-sharing program was an act of impulsive malice with no benefit and to no end.

Now this seems to be his M.O., Mr. President. He throws red meat to his right wing base, whether it’s on health care, immigration, Iran, disaster aid, and then he says to Congress, ‘You fix it up.’ That’s not the way to lead. That’s following. That’s an act that exhibits no strength, no strength. We want our President to be a strong leader, every American does regardless of ideology. But when the President plays so many political games that are not just harmless, that hurt people, and then says to Congress, ‘you clean it up,’ then blames Congress for the mess he created? It doesn’t work. It’s not right. And it’s the reason that, except for his base, President Trump’s numbers keep sliding. They’re flat now and they’re down below 40%. No President has had such low numbers, and by the way it’s not helping the Republican Party. Numbers today showed a record difference between whether people preferred Democrats or Republicans. So, I would urge we stop this, these shenanigans. Harmful, almost malicious shenanigans, and all work together for the good of our country.

On health care, we in Congress should continue to shore up the healthcare markets and lower premiums in a bipartisan way. We ought to reject the path of President Trump’s sabotage and destruction and instead hew a path of consensus and compromise. That’s where it has to go, no side wins everything they want. That is not how the founding fathers set up this country, otherwise we’d be a dictatorship or a country without checks and balances. We ought to work together, together to improve our healthcare system, to lower costs for people and ensure more people have access to health coverage.

Now, we Democrats have been pushing for that for several months now, I want to salute Senators Alexander and Murray for understanding that. They’ve been in careful negotiations and that represents the best first step forward on health care. So I hope we hear more about them on the status of the negotiations. I hope they can come to an agreement, an agreement that includes curtailing the sabotage that I spoke of, that the President is doing. I hope Leader McConnell and I can support this bill together, and then even the House might pass it. The President has said, I think, we don’t know, it changes from day to day, but I think the most recent pronouncement is that he might sign it.

Now, taxes -- the GOP tax plan.

As soon as today, we’ll vote on the motion to proceed to the GOP budget resolution, which includes instructions to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion, slash Medicare and Medicaid by $1.5 trillion, and sets up, unfortunately, very unfortunately for everybody, the same destructive, partisan process on taxes that the GOP used for health care. It’s called reconciliation. It says ‘we don’t need you, we’re just going to rush it through, just with our votes.’ It didn’t work on health care. It’s not going to work on this either. Tax reform, if it’s real reform, or even just tax cuts, are very complicated, and if you don’t have the center coming together, everyone can pick it apart, and they’re setting themselves up to do just that.

So while the Republican—and the Republican tax plan is little more than principles at the moment – and we’ve talked a lot about those principles – this budget is the first real legislative aspect of the Republican plan. And it is so far away from what the American people think, and that is because of the process that they decided to use. When you don’t want Democrats and use just Republicans, the hard right people, a minority in the Republican party probably, can push the debate so far over, because they say, ‘We’re not voting for this, unless you do it our way.’ And so we’ve gotten a bill that really is so out of touch and harmful to all but the wealthiest Americans that it’s hard to believe that the Republicans are putting it forward with a straight face.

It will be the first time, my friends, that Republicans this Congress will vote to increase our nation’s deficit by $1.5 trillion, which is spelled out, clear as day, in the budget. I hope, given this increase in the deficit--dramatic, all the Republican deficit hawks are out of their nests for this one.

For the sake of ideological consistency, the same folks who decried debts and deficits under President Obama ought to denounce them under President Trump. But we haven’t heard much of a peep from too many on the Republican side, with a few notable, brave, and leader-like, exceptions.

Here’s what Representative Walker, a conservative member of the House, said, lamenting what was going on, “[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. There’s been less talk about it this year with a Republican-led administration than there has been the last seven or eight years.” He’s exactly accurate, Representative Walker.

And the Republican Leader May 16th, Bloomberg TV, said tax reform “will have to be revenue neutral” – his words. That’s a principle he’s advanced for years.

But we’re not hearing much from Republicans about deficits now. And yet, I repeat, this budget instructs the committees to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. It will be difficult for many of my Republican friends to say they care about deficits and still vote for this budget.

The GOP budget resolution will also be the first time that my Republican colleagues vote to slash Medicare. The budget spells out over $400 billion in Medicare cuts, as well as over a trillion dollars in Medicaid cuts. Even more than the health care bill, and probably the number one reason for its demise was that huge slash to Medicaid.

So it will be difficult for my Republican friends, and this Republican Party, to say they want to protect Medicare and Medicaid and still vote for this budget.

And, unfortunately, Mr. President, this will NOT be the first time that Republicans vote to advance a major piece of legislation – changes to our tax code – through a hyper-partisan process known as reconciliation. Reconciliation, as has just been documented in an article—I believe it was in Politico, but in one of our leading publications—was never intended for this type of purpose.

With this vote, though, Republicans are saying from the very outset that they don’t really want Democratic input on this bill because they’re setting up a process in which they don’t really need Democratic votes.

It’s honestly a shame, and just as the partisan reconciliation process portended failure for the Republican health care bill, it’s likely to may portend failure here as well.

It’s difficult to pass major legislation in the Senate, as it should be, that’s what the founding fathers intended. That’s the true conservatism of our government, checks and balances, no rush. It’s even more difficult if you only work with the votes of one party, as I said, that allows a few, a small few, usually on the hard right, to dictate what’s in this bill. My guess is the vast majority of people here didn’t want to vote for Medicare and Medicaid cuts, but because they couldn’t get enough votes in the House to pass the budget without putting that in, because maybe thirty or forty members insisted on it, it’s in there. This body was not designed to be the rubber stamp for one party’s partisan agenda. The Senate was designed to empower the minority viewpoint, down to the individual member, as a way to force compromise and consensus.

It’s not going to serve you well. And if anyone thinks it doesn’t have real effect, look at the PAYGO rules. This is not just a budget, PAYGO, after this budget passes would insist on slashes in Medicare, 4%, that’s the law, that’s not a rule. So, I would hope, that our colleagues would vote down this bill, and then I promise you, just as we’re doing on health care, we could come together in a bipartisan way. That doesn’t mean you get everything you like. It probably means more of the tax cuts go to the middle class and less to the wealthy. But there are lots of people on our side of the aisle who want to see small business get a tax cut, who want to see money from overseas come here and be used for jobs, and who want to see a middle class tax break. We could come up with a bipartisan bill that could make—for the first time in a long time—this body shine.

But this Republican Congress, at least for the moment the path it’s on, has abandoned that grand tradition of bipartisanship and working together that has made this chamber great through the centuries. When Republicans need Democratic votes, they come to us. And you know the President and the Leader have said, ‘Come vote with us! Make it bipartisan!’ That’s not what bipartisanship is. You don’t craft a bill just in your party and then say, ‘You voting with us is bipartisan.’ Bipartisanship means that you sit down together, and you come out with a proposal that both parties can support. They’re not doing that.

So, Republicans will spend the entire first year of this Congress trying to pass their major agendas on reconciliation or similar vehicles – first with CRAs, then healthcare, now taxes.

The Majority Leader said himself in a speech “Restoring the Senate,” 2014 that: “When the Senate is allowed to work the way it was designed to, it arrives at a result acceptable to people all along the political spectrum. But if it's an assembly line for one party's partisan legislative agenda,” it creates, these are his words, “instability and strife” rather than “good, stable law.”

The American people want to see us work together. We may not always succeed. It may not be easy. But we can try. And as I said, and I would say this to my colleagues, there are areas we can agree on taxes. Lower middle class taxes, don’t raise them. Give some relief to small business. Try to bring money from overseas and put it into infrastructure and job creation. We can work together, but not in this process and not with this awful bill, which favors the wealthy dramatically, raises taxes on the middle class, hurts the deficit—increases the deficit dramatically, and is a partisan process.

I hope my Republican friends keep that in mind when they vote today. If you vote this down, I promise you, we could come together in a bipartisan way and work something that actually could pass, instead of what happened with health care. Try it. Try it. Reconciliation, working with one party, failed miserably for you on health care, and now we’re coming together. Let’s not repeat the same mistake on taxes.

And finally, Mr. President – I just heard that the nomination of Representative Marino to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy had been withdrawn.

That is the right decision, and the fact that he was nominated in the first place is further evidence that when it comes to the opioid crisis, the Trump administration talks the talk, but refuses to walk the walk. The bottom line is, this Congressman supported President Trump, but is the wrong person for the job. And I’m glad they saw it and withdrew, and I want to salute two of my colleagues who were way out front on this: Senator Manchin, whose state has been ravaged by opioids, and Senator McCaskill, who has similar problems, particularly in our rural areas, but all over.

The opioid crisis demands that the next drug czar is solely focused on getting communities across the country the help they desperately need.

We hope the administration nominates someone that fits the bill, so we can pass that nominee quickly and in a bipartisan way.