Schumer Floor Remarks on Aid for Puerto Rico, the Mass Shooting in Las Vegas, and the GOP Tax Plan

October 4, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the Administration’s intent to submit a request for disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the need for the President to bring together Congressional Leaders to act on gun safety legislation, and Republicans’ tax proposal. Below are his remarks: 

I understand that the Administration intends to submit its first request for disaster aid for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands today.

It’s a good first step, but it is just the start of the financial aid we will need to provide to the American citizens in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

I am urging my colleagues to work quickly to add additional and urgent flexible funding for recovery, like Community Development Block Grants, just as we did for Texas after Hurricane Harvey, with the understanding that an additional and more comprehensive request for Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Florida, Texas, and the western wildfires will be coming from the Administration once the damage assessments are complete.

Now, returning to the events in Las Vegas on Sunday. We cannot let this American tragedy, another in a long line of American tragedies, fall out of our hearts and minds too quickly.

Let us pledge to be there for the families of the 59 Americans who were killed and the over 500 Americans who are still injured and recovering. Seeing the pictures of so many of these beautiful young people in the prime of life, young, excited about the world, some of them newly married, some of them a little older with young children: it just breaks your heart. So, not just today, or this week, but in the weeks and months to come. Let us pledge to continue to show our gratitude to the firefighters and cops, emergency medical personnel and all the other first responders who rushed to the scene. And let us pledge to remember the acts of everyday heroism that are a beacon of light in this moment of darkness: the lines to give blood that stretched around the block at 6 am, the teachers who went to school the day after the shooting to try to give their students a sense of normalcy.

I hope these are the things that President Trump highlights in his visit to Las Vegas today – and one more thing.

President Trump has an opportunity today to wrench his party out of the grasp of the NRA and get our country and our Congress to start talking about common sense gun safety reforms.

Before President Trump ran for office, he repeatedly supported several sane, rational gun safety measures, including the assault weapons ban and longer waiting periods to purchase a gun. As recently as 2012, President Trump supported President Obama’s response to Sandy Hook. In the wake of Sandy Hook, President Obama called for action. In the wake of Las Vegas, President Trump should do the same.

We’ve heard it said over and over again that now is not the time to talk about gun safety because it would “politicize” the tragedy. My friend, the Majority Leader, said no less than three times at his press conference yesterday that it was premature and inappropriate to talk about any legislative solutions to the epidemic of gun violence.

As Martin Luther King said in his letter from the Birmingham jail, ‘Not now means never—wait means never, that’s what he said, “’Wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.’” And that’s what our Republican—they don’t want ot talk about it today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. 

And we know why they don’t want to talk about it. They know the country is totally against their view. The only place where a discussion about commonsense gun safety laws is political is here in Washington. It’s not political out in the country. Over 90% of Americans support universal background checks. A significant majority of Republicans support them. That’s not political, I’d say to my friend the Majority Leader. It’s political for him, because he’s afraid of the NRA, a powerful lobby that is off to the extreme. It’s not political for the American people or for Republicans, they’re for it. Over 70% of gun owners support background checks for private sales and at gun shows. The only place where this is political is here.

And that is because the NRA, the gun manufacturers, and their powerful lobby make these folks afraid. Afraid to do the right thing. They know it’s the right thing. The NRA and these lobbies are the swamp that President Trump was talking about. President Trump talked about the swamp, groups of lobbyists who thwart the American people. That’s just what the NRA does. 

So, I’d say to the President: Mr. President, you have an opportunity to buck the NRA, buck the gun lobbyists, buck the swamp, and lead this country in an adult conversation about gun violence. He can and should bring the parties together, the Leaders of this Congress, and let both sides know that he is ready to address this issue head-on, and talk about sensible, moderate measures of gun safety, above all background checks.

The president’s visit today is an important one. He should be going; he should seek to provide comfort to the families and express our gratitude to our first responders. But he should take it one step further. Call us together, lead this nation in a debate about rational, moderate gun safety laws. Get us started on the work that so many Americans are desperate for us to do.

Now, one final matter – the Republican tax plan.

We Democrats have long said that we are willing to work with our Republican colleagues on tax reform, and we laid out our principles early on, so there would be no mistake about it. We wanted tax reform to be deficit-neutral, it shouldn’t increase the deficit. For every rededication in rate, they ought to close a loophole. We wanted it to go through the regular order. Not the way healthcare did, not through reconciliation, but work with us, you’ll get a much more sensible product. And most importantly, we didn’t want to give a tax cut to the top 1%. They’re doing great already, God bless them, they don’t need any more tax relief, it’s the middle class that does.

But the framework the GOP released last week violates all three of these commonsense principles, vastly favoring the wealthy over working Americans.

Now, I’ve spoken several times about the tax breaks for the rich included in this package: lowering the top rate from 39.6 to 35, repealing the estate tax, opening up a gaping tax loophole for hedge fund managers, wealthy Wall Street firms, lobbyists, law firms by lowering the rate on pass-throughs, so that these rich people would only pay 25% on their personal income tax, while other people were paying a lot more.

This morning I want to highlight not only how the Republican plan not only favors the rich, but also sticks it to the middle class, something you, Mr. President, have brought up.

Just this week, we found a bombshell contained within the GOP budget resolution they’re using to pass tax reform: the Republicans plan says cut Medicare by $473 billion and Medicaid by more than $1 trillion.

It can be a little hard to find, but it’s right there in the GOP budget: $473 billion from Medicare, over a trillion from Medicaid.

So if you’re an older American, or have a family in a nursing home, someone in treatment for opioid addiction – and you think the GOP tax plan doesn’t affect you, think again. The AARP, not a political organization, it simply represents the interests of the elderly, sent a letter yesterday opposing this Republican plan, the one in the House and I think we’ve gotten one in the Senate as well. Same group that represented senior citizens and fought back on the health care republicans proposed. So, the Republicans are proposing to pay for their giant tax cut to the rich by gutting Medicare and Medicaid. That’s the bombshell this week. That is the nugget that will destroy their whole plan, because Americans are so against those kinds of cuts. 

Amazingly, it’s just like the inverse of the Republican plan on healthcare: in each case they gut health care for Americans who need it the most to pay for tax cuts for Americans who need it the least. The health care plan focused on cuts to Medicaid but snuck in tax cuts for the rich. This plan focused on tax cuts for the rich, and sneaks in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The GOP budget is just another page out of the same playbook.

And the GOP tax plan contains another punch to the gut of the middle class, and this is what you, Mr. President, I believe spoke about yesterday, in the form of the repeal of the state and local deduction.

44 million Americans take the state and local deduction, that’s almost a third of all taxpayers. This is not just a small, rarified group in California or New York. It’s across the country. And they get an average of several thousands of dollars off their taxes each year. 40% of taxpayers making between $50,000 to $75,000 per year; 70% of taxpayers earning from $100,000 to $200,000. 

So, this is a middle-class tax deduction worth several thousand dollars a year and the GOP tax plan yanks it away. Taking it away means double taxation on middle-class families.

And for many families, this will not be offset by a larger standard deduction in the GOP plan. Largely due to the elimination of state and local, The Tax Policy Center estimate that, 30 percent of those making between $50,000 and $150,000 and 60 percent between $150,000 and $300,000 will see a tax increase with the GOP plan and that’s after doubling the standard deduction. And by the way, don’t think that’s just a few states. The numbers are astounding across the country, folks in every state claim this deduction. I say to my dear friend, chairman of the Finance Committee. 35% of Utahns. 33% of Georgians. 32% of Coloradans.

So Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to place in the record a list of how many tax payers are affected in every state by removing state and local deductibility, and how much it will cost them on average. 

Thank you, Mr. President. I urge my colleagues to look in the record and see how it affects them. You’re fooling yourself if you think you’re not affected by the state and local deductibility. If you’re a family of four in one of those states, the repeal of state and local could be a killer, because, again, you lose the personal exemption, the larger the family the greater the exemption—the greater the loss of exemption.

So I want to make one final point on tax reform. And this is related to two people I know, I knew one of them before he ever got to Washington. But I have to make this point, because what I heard them say over the weekend just turned my stomach, it was astounding, it was awful. Over the weekend, we heard some pretty extraordinary claims from Republican legislators and Cabinet officials about what the GOP Tax plan was all about.

But Gary Cohn and Secretary Steve Mnuchin deserve special admonition. 

Chief White House Economic Advisor Gary Cohn actually said that “the wealthy are not getting a tax cut under our plan.”

That’s not a surmise of what he said, that’s a direct quote, “the wealthy are not getting a tax cut under our plan.”

Comments like that should make everyone’s heads spin.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent would reap 80 percent of the benefits of the GOP tax plan.  The top .1 percent -- folks who make more than 5 million dollars a year -- would get a break of more than a million dollars a year. Now some might argue that’ll cause economic growth, well I don’t think it does, but at least make your real argument, don’t hide it. Because you know the American people don’t agree with you, that’s why you hide it. 

So only in Wonderland, where down is up and up is down, could Gary Cohn’s comment be believed.

It’s like something out of the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984. Cut the top tax rate by 4 percent, repeal the estate tax. Yup! No tax cuts for the wealthy! Bunk!

That why the Washington Post gave Gary Cohn Four Pinocchio’s for his statement. If they allowed more Pinocchios in their scale, I’m sure they would have given them.

Now, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, his lack of credibility resembles Gary Cohn’s. He said that he believes the GOP tax plan would reduce deficits by a trillion dollars. “We think there’ll be two trillion dollars of growth, so we think this tax plan will cut the deficit by a trillion dollars.”

Sec. Mnuchin’s claim is fake math at its worst.

As the Washington Post said, “No serious economist believes that a tax cut boosts economic growth so much that the tax cut pays for itself”…let alone adds a trillion dollars in revenue, as Sec. Mnuchin claimed.

Four Pinocchios from the Washington Post. I’m sure he too would have gotten more Pinocchios, Steve Mnuchin.

Gary Cohn and Secretary Mnuchin claim to be economic experts and used to work at Goldman Sachs. If they use this kind of math at Goldman Sachs, they would have been shown the door a long time ago. As I said before, they should know better, and they do know better. They ought to stop deliberately misleading the American people. It demeans them, it demeans the administration, it demeans the debate in this country.