Schumer Floor Remarks on NDAA, DACA Agreement and Tax Reform

September 14, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding NDAA, his and House Democratic Leader Pelosi’s meeting with President Trump on Dreamers, and reforming our tax code so that it doesn’t solely benefit the wealthy. Below are his remarks:

As we continue to work on the NDAA, the Democratic side is committed to working with the Republican side in good faith to finish this very important legislation. I'm pleased that the managers have been able, already to include more than 100 amendments in the substitute.  I hope we can do another package today.  Senators McCain and Reed are managing this bill with their usual great skill, and I very much appreciate their hard work. I particularly know how important this legislation is to Senator McCain and he wants to see it through, and see it through as soon as possible, and we’re going to help in that regard, of course.

Now, Mr. President, last night, Leader Pelosi and I had a constructive meeting with President Trump and several members of his cabinet.

One of our most productive discussions was about the DACA program, in which we all agreed on a framework to pass DACA protections and additional border security measures, excluding a border wall.

We agreed that the President would support enshrining DACA protections into law. In fact, it’s something he’s stated for a while that needs to be done. And the President would also encourage the House and Senate to act. What remains to be negotiated are the details of border security, with a mutual goal of finalizing all details as soon as possible.

While both sides agreed that the wall would not be any part of this agreement, the President made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time, and we made clear we would continue to oppose it.

If you listened to the President’s comments this morning - Director Mulvaney’s comments this morning, it is clear that what Leader Pelosi and I put out last night was exactly accurate, confirmed again this morning by our statement, by the President’s statement before he got on the helicopter this morning to go to Florida, and Director Mulvaney’s comments. We have an understanding on this issue. We have to work out details and we can work together on a border security package with the White House, and get DACA on the floor quickly.

Let me talk for a minute about border security.

We Democrats are for border security. We passed a robust border security package as a part of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, as you, Mr. President, know better than anybody else. We’re not for the wall, and will never be for the wall – it’s expensive, it’s ineffective, it involves a lot of difficult eminent domain taking people’s property, and it’s apparently NOT being paid for by Mexico

In fact, I was listening to Fox News this morning – I’m starting to do that to see what’s going on over there – and they keep saying the President promised a wall in the campaign. Yeah! He also promised that Mexico would pay for it! Where’s Mexico? They’ve said 12 times that they’re not paying for it. That’s not the promise he made.  And finally on the wall, it sends a terrible symbol to the world about the U.S. – about who we are, about what kind of country we are. For decades, since the 1880’s, a beautiful statue in the harbor of the city in which I live has been the symbol to the world of America. That great torch symbolizes what a noble land we are. Can you imagine if in future decades that symbol was replaced by a big, foreboding wall? That’s not who America is, was, or hopefully will be.

Now, we’re for sensible border security, as I mentioned, and there are lot more effective ways of securing the border than the wall. A wall can be scaled over. I’m sure those who love the wall, I’m sure they’ve heard of ladders. A wall can be tunneled under. I’m sure those who support the wall have heard of shovels. It is a medieval solution for a modern problem; a Game-of-Thrones idea for a world that is a lot closer to ‘Star Wars.’

And the thing is, we have new modern solutions using our best technology, and we discussed some of them at the White House, last night. Drones – these drones can spot the difference from a deer to a human being crossing the border. We have great sensory equipment. Our military has specialized in this kind of stuff. A lot of it is made in Syracuse, New York, I’m proud to say. We can rebuild roads along the border. Talk to the people on the border patrol and they’ll say a lot of places don’t have roads, so if they see someone crossing the border, they can’t get to them. And of course, there’s the bipartisan McCaul-Thompson bill – McCaul a Republican, Thompson a Democrat – in the House that has brought bipartisan support that sets certain standards.  Every one of these ideas would provide better, more effective border security than a medieval wall.

So, there is still much work to be done to put meat on the bones of this agreement. The details will matter. But it was a very, very positive step for the President to commit to DACA protections without insisting on the inclusion of, or even a debate about, the border wall.

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Finally, Mr. President, a word on taxes.

Last night at the White House, President Trump said that he didn’t want his tax plan to benefit the very wealthy. That’s a good thing. We Democrats agree. 45 of the 48 of us signed a letter that no tax breaks should go to the top 1%. They’re doing great – God bless them, I’m glad they’re doing well. They don’t need a tax break, middle class people do.

But the devil, when the President says that, is always in the details. And we haven’t seen any details. We haven’t seen anything resembling a plan yet. We hear it’s being written in a backroom by the so-called ‘Big 6’, all Republican, but I haven’t seen it, Ranking Member Wyden hasn’t seen it, no Democrat in the Senate has seen it.

I can tell you one thing: if the President’s tax plan repeals or rolls back the estate tax, it’ll be clear that a lot of his plan benefits the very rich, contrary to all his words.

I’d remind everyone that only 5,200 of the 2.7 million estates in this country will pay any taxes this year. The estate tax only kicks in when couples with estates of nearly 11 million dollars transfer their wealth. Go to North Dakota, and I know you have nice family farms out there. Ask how many of you have an estate worth 11 million dollars, and if they do, I’m willing to exempt a family farm that’s over that, from the estate tax. But almost no one does.

A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has shown that of those 5,200 estates –here – of the 5,200 estates, we have 2.7 million estates. Only 5,200 qualify for the estate tax, because they’re worth $11 million, and of those, 50 are small farms or businesses. 50. Let’s exempt those 50. Let’s make all these other guys pay.

So when President Trump says the estate tax is a burden on the “family farmer,” I honestly don’t know what he’s talking about. There may be a few, they may make a lot of noise, God bless them, that’s their right as Americans. There are very few. Very, very few. And, that’s not what the facts say. Of 2.7 million taxable estates, just 50 are farms and small businesses that would benefit from the repeal of the estate tax. 2.7 million… 50. 

Now, there was an amazing moment, Mr. President, last night at the meeting we held in the White House when the Estate Tax came up, and a few of the President’s advisors said ‘oh, no one even pays the estate tax.’  There have even been news reports that Gary Cohn has told Members of Congress that ‘only morons pay the estate tax.’

What they mean of course, is that people rich enough to be levied estate taxes can find ways around paying them – they can afford all of those lawyers and estate planners.

Well, first, they’re wrong. Repealing the estate tax would add $269 billion to the deficit over 10 years. $269 billion. So, there are a lot of people paying the estate tax. Maybe they’re morons, as Gary Cohn once called them, maybe they’re not. There’s a lot of money out there that comes in from these very wealthy in the estate tax.

But second, Mr. Cohn and others who say this bring up an important point. The right thing to do is not to repeal the estate tax, but close the loopholes. If you have an estate worth that much, you should be paying the estate tax, not finding clever ways to avoid your tax obligation.

So, Mr. President, Democrats want to participate in reforming our tax code. There are lots of good things we can agree on—closing loopholes like this one, cutting taxes for the middle class, helping small businesses and bringing offshore deferred income back to the United States.

We have laid out three principles: no reconciliation, that means do it together. Not how you did health care, which didn’t end up with a great result. Second, no tax cuts for the top one percent (who are doing just fine, god bless them) and fiscal responsibility. We should not increase the deficit as we cut taxes, particularly now as we’re going to have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to help the beleaguered states of Texas and Florida. Some Republicans have characterized those three principles as lines in the sand that show Democrats aren’t serious about tax reform.

So, I’d ask my Republican colleagues, which of those three do you not agree with? Do you think we should cut taxes on the top

1%? Do you think we should create deficits by cutting taxes on the wealthy? And do you think you should just go at this alone? If you agree with those, fine. Say it, but don’t say these are lines in the sand. We’re giving you some policy guidance that has virtually unanimous support in our caucus.

It seems to me – these by the way, these three principles guided the way in the 1986 tax reform, which was the most successful tax reform we’ve had in decades. So, it seems to me it isn’t Democrats who have moved the goal post on tax reform here, but some Republicans who no longer want to play by the same rules.