Schumer Floor Remarks on the Bipartisan Healthcare Deal and the Budget

October 19, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need to vote on the bipartisan healthcare deal and urging a more bipartisan approach to the budget and tax reform. Below are his remarks:

First, on health care.

My two friends Senators Alexander and Murray have constructed a good, fair, bipartisan agreement that gives us a way forward on health care. It will offer stability to the markets, it will help lower premiums.

We’ve seen President Trump’s near-constant equivocation on the agreement. We shouldn’t let it impede the progress of this very important bipartisan compromise.

He’s for the bill one day; he’s against it the next. That’s not uncommon – the President is sometimes for and against something in the same sentence.

We can only hope he comes around and grasps what’s in the bill. The Alexander-Murray deal bill is not a bailout to insurance companies at all, it’s the opposite; we’ve taken pains to ensure that insurance companies do not reap any benefits from this program. That’s what Alexander and Murray have done. They have explicit provisions in the bill to ensure that the cost-sharing program does what it’s intended to do: lower premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs for Americans who can least afford them.

I was reading an article this morning where they interviewed a retired manufacturing worker in Pennsylvania who was upset by the President’s decision. “It seems like he is trying to hurt the middle class,” the man said, “He [President Trump] says he’s going to make it better for everyone. How does a premium increase make it better?” That’s the question the President should ask himself.

Ending cost-sharing hurts people, Mr. President, not insurance companies. Restoring cost-sharing will help people, not insurance companies. Senators Alexander and Murray have made sure of it. I’ve worked, I’ve talked to them about their language, it’s good language. And maybe we can make it better. If the President has suggestions we welcome it. But as it is, it’s pretty strong.

Well-intentioned members of both sides – I hope - will sign their names onto this bill. It has significant support within my caucus and if Leader McConnell put it on the floor of the Senate, it’s pretty certain it would pass.

So I’d urge my Republican colleagues to take a hard look at the bill and to cosponsor it. So many of my Republican friends have said ‘why can’t we be more bipartisan?’ This is a bipartisan agreement. It wasn’t one party coming up with something and telling the other to be for it as too often happens in this chamber. It was done together, by the Chair of the HELP Committee and the Ranking Democrat of the HELP Committee. So it was truly bipartisan, and it’s a good way for us to go forward and set a metaphor – a metaphor – for future bipartisanship.

Now, on the budget.

Today the Senate will vote on amendments – more amendments - to the GOP Budget resolution, which increases deficits by $1.5 trillion, slashes Medicare and Medicaid by $1.5 trillion, and sets up the same, awful, partisan process that our Republican friends used on healthcare.

Democrats could have offered an unlimited amount of amendments on this bill, but this bill is so bad that we didn’t want to be all over the lot. We wanted to focus on a few issues where we know the American people are overwhelmingly with us, not with the language in the bill. So here is somewhat what we are doing.

We’re going to make our colleagues say they want to vote to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. After eight years of crowing about debts and deficits under a Democratic president, the Republican deficit hawks seem to have flown the coop.

This budget is going to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion; our amendment would say ‘no’ – it should be deficit-neutral. We’ve heard that for the last eight years whenever a spending program comes about. I know our side says spending programs grow the economy, their side says tax cuts grow the economy, but if there is going to be a deficit – an actual deficit – we should vote for it. Put your convictions where your votes are.

We’re going to also make our Republican colleagues vote on whether they want to raise taxes on the middle class. The President claims his tax plan will cut taxes, but it actually will raise them on millions of hard working families. Today, our Republican colleagues will decide whether they want to support those tax increases, or protect the middle class from paying more taxes. 

And we’re going to make our Republican colleagues vote on their specific proposal to eliminate the state and local deduction. Nearly a third of all taxpayers take the deduction: red states, blue states, everywhere in between. As the Chairman of the Finance Committee knows, 35% of Utahans take the state and local deduction. It goes right to the heart of the middle-class and upper-middle-class, giving families tens of thousands of dollars in deductions so their taxes are lower.

The elimination of state and local deductibility is the surest sign that the GOP tax plan does not favor the middle class.

In fact, AP reported yesterday that, according to experts, the GOP tax plan may still allow corporations to claim state and local deductibility but not individuals. Did you hear that? Corporations can claim it, individuals can’t. Isn’t that backward? It shouldn’t be taken away from either one.

What the GOP plan takes away from individuals and families, it makes sure remains for big corporations.

So today Democrats will ask our Republican friends to vote on our amendment, led by Senators Cantwell and Van Hollen, to protect state and local deductibility for middle-class families. Now Senator Capito has an amendment that is incredibly vague and leaves the door open – doesn’t say it will, but leaves it open. So a coalition of groups - the National Governor’s Association, the US Conference of Mayors, and organizations representing firefighters, teachers, and sheriffs - have come out against Senator Capito’s amendment.

Senator Cantwell and Van Hollen’s amendment, by contrast, is crystal clear: no elimination of state and local. I hope my Republican friends won’t vote to raise taxes on so many of their middle-class residents.

Now, finally, every morning, I hear my friend the Majority Leader and the Chairman of the Finance Committee talk about the need for tax reform because the middle class is stuck in a rut. That the economy isn’t working the way it should for American families. Now I agree with that assessment. We need to do more to grow the economy, create jobs, raise wages, and put money in the pockets of average Americans.

But when you hear the details of the plan they have to solve those problems, your head spins. Lower the tax rate on big corporations and the top 1%, repeal the estate tax which only goes to estates of over $5 million, and eliminate critical middle-class tax breaks like state and local deductibility. 80% of the tax breaks in the Republican tax plan would go to the top 1% while large swaths of the middle class would see a tax increase to pay for those tax breaks.

In what world does that deliver middle-class tax relief or solve the problems we are talking about?

It’s the same game they played with health care. Complain about high premiums, deductibles, and counties without enough insurers. And then each Republican bills exacerbates the very same problems.

The Republicans slide in their favorite solution – tax cuts for the rich – as the answer to every ill. If the economy is doing well – Republicans push tax cuts for the rich. If the economy is doing poorly –Republicans push for tax cuts for the rich. If our healthcare system needs to be improved – tax cuts for the rich. It’s entirely divorced from the real problems in our economy and our society.

Our economy suffers from massive inequality – which is growing – a concentration of wealth at the very apex of our country’s elite. The rich are doing well in America. God bless them, I’m glad they are. And American corporations are recording record high profits – just look at the stock market, which reflects that. God bless them too, we hope they do well. But middle class incomes have not risen with the rise in corporate profits or record levels of wealth concentrated among the wealthiest families.

But looking at the GOP tax plan, the American people have to wonder: is now the time to tilt the scales even further in favor of big corporations and the very rich?

I believe the American people will reject that approach soundly and roundly. And after the amendment votes today, the American people are getting a clearer picture of what the Republican budget and tax plan are about.

Now there is still a chance to turn back from this budget and the one-party legislating that has stymied this Congress and been such folly. I urge my colleagues on the Republican side to reject this budget and come work with Democrats, and we can produce real, successful, bipartisan tax reform.