Schumer Floor Remarks On The Resolution To Terminate President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration, The Trump Administration’s Budget Proposal, Which Stipulates Deep Funding Cuts To Essential Middle-Class Programs, Republicans’ Refusal To Meaningfully Confront Climate Change, And The Surge In Corporate Stock BuybacksMarch 12, 2019
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the resolution to terminate President Trump’s national emergency declaration, the Trump administration’s budget proposal, Republicans’ refusal to meaningfully confront the climate change crisis, and the surge in corporate stock buybacks. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:
Now, by the end of this week, the Senate must vote on the resolution to terminate the president’s declaration of a national emergency. There are three very clear reasons to vote to terminate.
First, there is no factual basis for declaring an emergency at the border. The president made that clear when he said that he “didn’t need to do this.” And if we allow presidents to declare emergencies for such non-emergency type situations, and just because they want to do it, we’re headed down a very bad road.
Second, the emergency would cannibalize funds intended for our brave men and women in uniform in order to pay for the wall, including military construction and maybe even military pay and pensions.
We hear from the other side how we have to make sure we give our soldiers what they need. We completely agree, but all of a sudden, when there’s this wall, we take it away from the soldiers? We take it away from military readiness? That’s not a trade most Americans would make.
And third, and most importantly, is the danger to our constitution. The emergency declaration is an injury to this great Constitution under which we live. It claims powers for the presidency that were explicitly given to Congress. It distorts the separation of powers. And it sets a dangerous precedent for future presidents.
The bottom line is, one of the things the founding fathers gave the most thoughts to was the balance of power and how to prevent an overly powerful and overweening executive branch. That’s why they gave Congress the power of the purse. Are we going to reverse 220 years of a balance of power because a president is demanding a wall that Congress couldn’t get him and Mexico couldn’t pay for? It goes far beyond the wall, whether you’re for or against it. It goes far beyond these other issues. It goes to the very nature of our government and it will set us on a path that historians will come back and look at as a very bad turning point for America.
The budget. Now yesterday, the Trump Administration released its annual budget. These Trump budget requests have become so outlandish, so removed from reality, that even Republicans in Congress can’t work with that budget and can’t treat them seriously. They are essentially statements of principle from an administration that doesn’t care about governing. What does it care about? What are its priorities? That’s what they talked about because they know that not a single Republican would vote for the budget I bet.
Well, we looked at what the budget would mean for my home state of New York.
The president’s budget would cut millions of dollars from Department of Justice programs that New York uses to hire cops, provide them equipment, and combat the opioid epidemic. The budget would cut millions from New York’s educational programs that help schools throughout our state including those schools on military bases. It would hurt afterschool programs and STEM initiatives teaching our young people about science and math. The cuts to NIH would devastate New York’s hospitals, particularly rural hospitals, and would cut back on our great medical research facilities. We’re all living longer and healthier in part because of the medical research done by NIH. Hardly anyone wants to cut that but President Trump did. And the cuts to Medicaid would affect more than 6.5 million New Yorkers who rely on it. I think that story can be repeated for just about every state. New York is a very diverse state with large urban, rural, and suburban populations, and every one of them is hurt.
Across the board, from safety and security, to education and healthcare, to infrastructure and economic development, the Trump budget would be a gut punch to New York’s middle class. The same is true for the nation.
Setting aside for a moment the inhumanity of these cuts, this budget reveals the depth of the president’s hypocrisy on several of his “signature” issues.
Donald Trump campaigned for president promising not to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. In 2015, he tweeted: “I was the first and only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.”
Now let’s look here at President Trump’s budget. Cuts to Medicare: $845 billion. Cuts to Medicaid: $1.5 trillion. Now I understand the challenges of the office sometimes prevent presidents from achieving precisely what they campaigned on, but this is literally the exact opposite of what Donald Trump said in his campaign. No one is forcing is hand. He’s proposing this!
Candidate Trump? No cuts to Medicare or Medicaid. President Trump? Cut those programs by more than $2 trillion.
This budget says “promises kept.” Balderdash! Balderdash when it comes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Promises kept? Donald Trump said he wouldn’t cut Medicare or Medicaid. Budget? Slashes them brutally. How can they dare say promises kept on probably the most significant domestic side programs we have when they slash them?
And you don’t even need to have a long memory to find the hypocrisy of the president in this budget. Only a few months ago, the President spoke to the American Farm Bureau, promising a bright future for America’s farmers. Yet, his Administration proposed cutting the Department of Agriculture, in the midst of implementing a new Farm Bill, by 15%.
In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Trump called education the “civil rights issue of our time.” Yesterday, he proposed cutting the Department of Education by 12%. Promises kept? Balderdash.
One of the few bipartisan moments during the president’s most recent state of the union was when he pledged to “defeat AIDS in America and beyond.” The president’s budget, however, cuts the program that seeks to eliminate AIDS around the globe by 22%. Promises kept? Balderdash.
And of course, the president famously promised that Mexico would pay for the border wall. His budget asks the American taxpayer to shell out $8.6 billion for the wall. Promises kept? Balderdash.
On the cover of the president’s budget are emblazoned these words: “Promises Kept.” He really must believe that no one will read beyond the cover page, because this budget document is a list of broken promises by President Trump, one after the other after the other.
What he says to the public and what he puts out in his budget are in two different worlds. Promises kept? He said he wouldn’t cut Medicare or Medicaid. He cuts them. Promises kept? He said he would bolster our farmers. He cuts the Farm Bill by 15%.
Promises kept? Mexico will pay for the wall. Not in this budget! American taxpayers pay for it.
It is just pathetic. In this world, in the world in which we live that a president can be so hypocritical and contradictory by saying one thing and then having his budget do the exact opposite. So I have a challenge to my friend, Leader McConnell – another challenge. Because he seems to duck just about every issue we have. Put President Trump’s budget on the floor of the Senate. You’re putting the Green New Deal on the floor of the Senate. Put this budget on the floor of the Senate. Let’s see if a single Republican votes for it.
Now, on climate. This morning the president tweeted a quote from a guest on Fox & Friends who called climate change “fake science.” Here’s the quote: “There is no climate crisis, there’s weather and climate all around the world and in fact carbon dioxide is the main building block of all life.” … “There’s weather and climate all around the world.” Really – the president endorsed that quote. Just about every scientist who studies it knows climate change is the greatest challenge facing our planet. Anyone who lives in these dramatic changes of weather, whether it’s through California wildfires, whether its floods in the Middle West and upstate New York. Whether it is Miami getting its streets flooded on the coasts over, and over, and over again. Everyone knows things are changing dramatically. It’s not just the normal cycle I lived through the first 50 years of my life.
We all know it’s happening, and what does the president do? Not only does he deny it, it’s worse. The president has acted on it – in the wrong direction. He has rolled back commonsense environmental protections, opened up more federal lands for oil and gas exploration, and announced that the US would leave the Paris accords. In the budget, President Trump proposes to cut more than a third of the EPA’s funding and several other cuts to programs that combat climate change.
Communities across the country are staring climate change in the face. Ask any farmer – they’ll tell you their growing seasons have changed. They’ll tell you about record droughts, they’ll tell you about in the Mountain West rebuilding from devastating wildfires, homeowners along the coasts picking up the pieces after Hurricanes and storms ripped through their states.
It is shameful and embarrassing that the President continues to deny science and peddle these lies. Absolutely shameful. I hope my Republican colleagues will stand up to the president and call out this nonsense. So far they haven’t been willing to contradict the president’s lies about climate change. That needs to change.
And so we challenge our Republican friends. Join the resolution by Senator Carper, myself, and others. It says three simple things: One, climate change is real, do you believe that my Republican friends? Can you answer yes or no? Two, it’s caused by human activity. And three, we need to do something to stop it. To stop the dramatic change in global warming. Why are our Republican friends so silent on this? Perhaps the major issue of our day. History is not going to look kindly on them when it looks back. What are they afraid of, the oil industry? What are they afraid of, the facts? What are they afraid of, right-wing orthodoxy often funded by the Koch Brothers who don’t want to admit climate change? Shame, shame.
Buybacks. I’ve come to the Senate floor several times over the past year to sound the alarm about the explosion of corporate stock buybacks. Corporate executives have been leaning on them more and more to satisfy shareholders, who tend to be wealthy – 80% of all shares are owned by the top 10% of America. That’s even including pension funds. Last year, after the Trump tax bill, buybacks reached their highest recorded level, over $1 trillion in a single calendar year. That’s not money going to workers, that’s not money going to communities, that’s not money going into research to make better products. That’s simply going to the wealthy CEOS and shareholders, without real other benefit to the country.
Based on an analysis of America’s largest companies, for 466 of the S&P 500, the equivalent of 92 cents out of every dollar of corporate profits went to stock buybacks or dividends. 92%! That’s never happened before. Surely there are more productive ways for corporations to allocate their capital; surely those numbers suggest an overreliance – if not an obsession – with stock buybacks and an attempt to raise stock prices.
This unhealthy development is not good for the long-term interests of companies or for America. Just yesterday, a major American corporation saw its outlook downgraded because it is spending tens of billions of dollars on corporate stock buybacks at the expense of investment in research and development.
But some just refuse to look at the plain facts. The Wall Street Journal editorial board over the weekend criticized Congress, members of both parties in fact, for even expressing concerns about the levels of stock buybacks that we’ve seen recently.
Here’s what the Wall Street Journal editorial Board wrote: “Repurchasing shares is simply one way a company can return cash to owners if it lacks better ideas for investment. Tax reform increased corporate cash flow by cutting tax rates and letting companies repatriate their cash held overseas…”
First of all, it’s notable that the Wall Street Journal ed board basically admits that the Trump corporate tax cuts have fueled the explosion of stock buybacks. But second, and more importantly, the Wall Street Journal ed Board makes no mention of the record amount corporate America has announced in buybacks since the tax bill passed – more than $1 Trillion - or the many things corporations could invest in with all that spare cash.
One thing the Wall Street Journal editorial board never talks about is how income distribution is getting worse and worse, how the wealthiest at the top own more and more of our wealth and our income, while the middle is more and more worried about the future, and even about paying the bills now.
What about workers wages? Wouldn’t America be better off if workers were paid more? Income distribution is the worst it has been in decades. Why not reward workers for increases in productivity with higher wages, because the productivity has gone up over the last decade – I think since 2000. The workers have not gotten that gain even though they produced a lot of it.
What about pension funds? There are large numbers of Corporate America who have not met their obligation of their pension funds, what they promised the workers they’d pay to them in their retirement, and instead are using the money for corporate buybacks. How many of the S&P 500 have underfunded pension plans but are still authorizing billions of dollars of share repurchases? I think America would like to know that. Because in my view, and I believe Corporate America would have a hard time refuting this, it is unconscionable for a corporation to buy back billions in stock while letting its pension fund wither, breaking a promise to its workers. Many of whom have spent decades, and decades, and decades working hard for their company and looking forward to a retirement with an amount of money that won’t make them rich, but at least allow them to live decently.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board makes no mention of any of these options for investment; buybacks are simply “one way a company can return cash to owners if it lacks better ideas for investment.”
Well, if that’s the case, a lot of companies are willfully ignorant. When 92% of profits are going to buybacks and dividends, corporations must be trying really hard not to think about workers, pensions, or even R&D. To think about the maldistribution of income, to think how wealth is agglomerating to the top – all bad for America both economically and politically in the long term.
I refuse to accept that Corporate America’s sole responsibility is to maximize return for executives and wealthy shareholders. The American economy has to work for workers and communities. The Wall Street Journal just defends the status quo as things get worse, and worse, and worse, in terms of middle class workers viability, getting gains from their productivity increases, and income distribution. It’s a crisis in America.
No matter what the Wall Street Journal editorial board thinks, this topic deserves the Senate’s attention. And if they don’t believe our solutions on buybacks is the answer, what’s their solution to income maldistribution? They said the tax cuts would work. I remember the president saying every worker will get a $4,000 increase. Where’s that? Almost all of that money is going to wealthy shareholders and corporate CEOs as the buyback mania, if you will, 92%, continues.