Schumer Floor Remarks on Tax Reform, Healthcare and the DREAM Act

September 13, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the Democratic caucus demands on tax reform, the Cassidy-Graham bill to be released today, the Administration’s decision not to include border wall funding with legislation for Dreamers, and the need to vote on the DREAM Act. Below are his remarks:

First, as we continue to work on the NDAA, we Democrats are committed to working with our Republican colleagues in a constructive and productive way to finish the legislation. The Senator from Arizona, the Chairman of the Committee and the Ranking Member, the Senator from Rhode Island have an outstanding working relationship that serves the body and the country well.

Now, I’d like to spend a moment talking about tax reform.

We Democrats want to actually achieve tax reform in this country, but in a way that gives some relief to middle-class families. We don’t want to give big tax breaks to those at the very top while working families are struggling to make ends meet. And we don’t want a reform to balloon the debt, because we know that, down the road, many Republicans will use the debt as an excuse to come after Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid.

Our caucus is united on that front.

But the President this morning tweeted that “with Irma and Harvey devastation, tax cuts and tax reform is needed more than ever before.”

With all due respect to the President, a tax cut – particularly one for the very wealthy – is not going to help Florida or Texas rebuild from these storms.

And the President has it exactly backwards in another way. We’re about to add billions to the deficit to rebuild parts of our country, something we absolutely should do because it’s an emergency. But that makes it even more important that tax reform be fiscally responsible and deficit neutral – not “tax cuts” as the President tweeted.

We’d be wise to remember the Bush era, when Congress passed a massive tax cut AND put two wars on the national credit card. It exploded the deficit and debt. Ever since, many Republicans have been pointing at the size of the debt as a reason to cut back on earned benefits like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

So particularly after all of this emergency spending for Harvey and Irma -- which we absolutely must do -- we shouldn’t pile hundreds of billions, maybe trillions more, on top of the debt. Tax reform should be deficit neutral.

So we’re willing to work with our Republican colleagues on tax reform…so far as they’re working on tax reform that’s deficit neutral and provides middle class tax relief. I think that point was made by my Democratic colleagues who went to the White House last night. We will not go along with a tax scheme to lavish the wealthy with lower rates or even more carve-outs or a plan that explodes the debt and the deficit.

Unfortunately, what we’ve heard of the Republican plan so far reveals that they are designing a tax plan that does exactly that – helps the wealthy, above all.                                                                                              

Case in point: Last week in North Dakota, President Trump said the estate tax was a “tremendous burden for the family farmer” and it was crushing the American Dream.

Does everyone here know what estate tax repeal is? It’s a tax cut. It’s been reformed. It’s been changed several years ago. It is now a tax cut for about the 5,000 of the richest families in America, approximately 0.2 percent of all the estate owners in the country. The estate tax only kicks in when couples with estates of nearly 11 million dollars transfer their wealth to their family. For families that have less than 11 million dollars, they don’t pay a penny.

This is a tax cut that would primarily benefit people like the President and members of his Cabinet, several of whom have net worth in the millions and billions.

My friend Senator Sanders has pointed out that the estate tax could give a potentially $53 billion break to the Walton family – heirs to the Walmart fortune, hardly family farmers.

And to boot, the estate tax would cost 269 billion dollars over ten years, going to a very rarified small number of very wealthy people, not anybody else. Not exactly the deficit reducing kind of policy Republicans have been talking about for years.

And yet, Chairman Brady of the House Ways and Means Committee said yesterday that we Democrats shouldn’t jump the gun and criticize the estate tax. He implied that nothing is decided and maybe the estate tax won’t be a part of tax discussions.

Well, I hope he’s right, but I’d remind him that Republicans have been in lock-step on estate tax repeal for years, and that he himself carried legislation in the House to repeal the estate tax, as recently as 2015. As recently as August 11th of THIS year, Chairman Brady was asked on Fox Business News if he was looking to get rid of the estate tax. He replied, “I am.” So this idea that we shouldn’t criticize this idea because Republicans aren’t for it is ridiculous. Just ridiculous.

Every time now – and here’s what Chairman Brady did yesterday – he didn’t even call it Estate Tax repeal. He said ‘job creating.’ Now this is a game we’re going to hear a lot about in the next few months. Our Republican colleagues are afraid to talk exactly about what they’re going to be doing when it comes to tax reform. I’d like them to be honest and say they believe that tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans is the thing that creates jobs. Most Americans don’t believe that. So they hide it by saying ‘we’re job creating! We’re doing job-creating taxes!’ This is the same problem they had with health care – talk about one thing, but it’s really another, and the American people caught on, and that’s why healthcare didn’t succeed. The same thing will happen with tax reform if the persist in not being able, and actually being embarrassed by what they’re doing so they can’t talk about it frankly. They can’t talk about it freely.

Our Republican friends want to hide the fact that they’re giving a massive tax cut to the rich by calling it “job creating” or “pro-growth.” If they want to argue explicitly that tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is the best way to grow America, I welcome the argument. But say what you’re doing, don’t just hide it under sort of false talk. To say that the Estate Tax is about family farmers is a statement that is just flat, plain wrong. Deceptive! The estate tax shows how ridiculous and egregious the canard is.

Cutting the estate tax is not going to create jobs. If Chairman Brady has a discussion, a detailed discussion of how cutting the Walton’s $53 billion is going to create jobs, that it’ll create jobs better than training people, building infrastructure, tax breaks for the middle class, I welcome it. Let’s hear the discussion.

We’re not going to let the Republicans hide their agenda – tax cuts for the rich – by shrouding it in terms like “pro-growth” and “job creating.” If they believe that giving a massive tax cut to the 5,000 wealthiest estates in America is going to create jobs, they have to show us how.

And one final point. I saw my dear friend Senator Toomey say on television this morning – I was in the gym trying to exercise, as I try to do – I was in the gym, and there he was on TV saying, ‘Well it’s clear Democrats don’t want to work with us!’ Well, I walked faster on that treadmill. I spun the bike faster when I heard that. 45 of 48 Democrats signed a letter saying “Don’t do reconciliation, work with us on tax reform.” Is Senator Toomey saying we don’t want to work with him because part of that letter said that we don’t want to give tax cuts to the top 1%? Well, if that’s what he wants to do, it’ll be hard to work together. But we want to work with him. We want to work with you, but we want to do tax cuts for the middle class, not for the wealthy. So please don’t say when 45 Democrats have signed a letter saying, ‘Don’t do reconciliation, work with us,’ that we don’t want to work with you. It’s not fair and it doesn’t set a bipartisan tone that we are trying to set here. We have our strong views, we’re willing to debate your strong views, but we want to work together.

Finally on healthcare, and I see my good friend from Arizona waiting, I’ll just be a minute more. On health care, on the Graham-Cassidy bill:

Now, Mr. President, I’ve heard that a few Senate Republicans will be releasing a new health care bill today.

No one has seen the exact print of Cassidy-Graham, - both good men - but according to most reporting, it would take away even more benefits, and hurt average Americans even more than the previous bills that were defeated.

Republican Governors like John Kasich have said that they’re not for this bill. He said, “trying to pass something through here in the 11th hour – I don’t get it…I’m not for it...I’m for stabilizing the insurance markets.”

Republican Governor Baker said the Graham-Cassidy bill would “dramatically, negatively affect the commonwealth of Massachusetts. We're talking billions and billions of dollars over the course of the next four or five years [coming out of the health care system].”

So I hope that our Republicans, instead of trying to repeal the ACA again with the Graham-Cassidy bill, they’ll work with us to make it better. I hope they’ll heed the good words of my dear friend from Arizona, “go through regular order.” That’s the crucible. That’s what this NDAA bill is doing, instead of trying to jam something through at the last minute. That won’t work.

We need to start working together, in a bipartisan way, to improve the existing health care law: and it starts with guaranteeing the cost sharing program. Senators Alexander and Murray are genuinely working on a compromise proposal, which we hope will be ready very soon.

Finally, I’d like to end on a positive note.  

Yesterday, the Administration said that the topic of the border wall would NOT be a part of the discussion between our two parties about the path forward for the Dreamers.

This a very good thing. The border wall is expensive, unnecessary, completely ineffective, not being paid for by Mexico as promised, and it would have been a major sticking point in those discussions.  I made these arguments to the President repeatedly over the last week and I’m glad the Administration has taken that position. It’s a sign of good faith.

I continue to urge my friend the Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House to put a clean DREAM Act on the floor – and I’d urge President Trump to support that as well.