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Schumer Floor Remarks on the January Negotiations

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the budget agreement and the legislative priorities that must be included.  Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Mr. President, yesterday the four congressional leaders had a positive and productive meeting with Budget Director Mulvaney and representatives from the White House, including Mr. Short.

It was a good first step, but there is still a lot of work to do. Ultimately, the budget agreement must lift the spending caps with parity between defense and urgent domestic priorities; and it must include disaster aid, a health care package, and an agreement to enshrine DACA protections alongside additional border security.

Like our Republican colleagues, Democrats want to make sure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to do their jobs. There is not an argument about that. We also want to make sure we make crucial investments in economic development and job creation here at home – programs that support the middle class and help it grow.                         

That includes a number of things. Opioids: life expectancy has gone down in America for the first time in years because of deaths from opioids. Young people, middle-aged people. Are we going to just shrug our shoulders at that? There is a lot more to do. And it affects rural areas, urban areas, suburban areas.

In 2016, 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses – those are deaths on the battlefield in a certain sense as well, and they are often the flower of our youth, prime of our America. So many in rural areas.. So many of them were just kids, full of potential. So many of them were veterans, dealing with the wounds of war, who served our country bravely but did not get the help they needed after they came home.

I had a father cry in my arms. His son had been grappling with opioids. Finally, they had persuaded the son to sign up for a treatment program, but the treatment program didn’t have the funding it needed so there was a long waiting list. The son died of an overdose while waiting on that waiting list. We can’t have that anymore.

What about veterans’ health care? These are people who risked their lives for us, we need to do it.

What about millions of hardworking Americans who need pensions? Pensions, retirement, is one of the things Americans are most worried about. For years they paid into these plans. They were told ‘you know when you retire, you’re not going to be rich, you’re not going to be able to buy luxuries, but at least you’ll have a life of dignity.’ And now those pensions have been robbed from so many people throughout the country. Are we going to shrug our shoulders?

So I hear the Majority Leader say that he is not for parity. Parity is not just a word. It is veterans. It is people who need opioid relief. It is middle-class folks and working people who need pensions. Are our Republican colleagues going to do what they just did in the tax bill and abandon the middle class? Are our Republican colleagues going to do what they tried to do with the health care bill and take away health care from millions of working people, people in the middle class?

Parity is a term we use around here. I’d rather call it defending middle-class America. And just as it is important, Mr. President, to defend America from foreign enemies which our soldiers do so bravely and proudly – all of our military does so bravely and proudly – we have to defend America here. And I would plead with Leader McConnell, not to abandon the middle class in this bill.

Defending the military, funding the military, is a worthy goal. So is helping the middle class. And for the past year, unfortunately, our Republican colleagues have been doing what the very wealthy people want and ignoring the middle class and working people. That is one of the reasons right now so many Americans say they would rather have a Democratic Senate than a Republican Senate. I’d rather have a Senate that helps the middle class, whatever the political outcome, but our colleagues don’t seem to be going for that.

And they cannot - I would say to Leader McConnell, my friend – you cannot let the hard right dictate what you want because the hard right, and their wealthy benefactors, is not where America is at. It’s not even where the Republican Party has always been.

Now in addition to parity – helping the middle class – we need to do other things.

We should pass a disaster aid package that treats all states and territories fairly, giving the necessary relief to Texas, California, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. And by the way, we need to make sure that we straighten out things in the West so the Forest Service isn’t robbed of funding they need to prevent future forest fires as they take the money for present forest fires. We have to do that.

I know that lots of Republican congressmen from the House want aid, even though many of them opposed aid when New York and New Jersey had the crisis. We are not going to play tit-for-tat, but we want a fair bill. And we want our priorities recognized as well.

And finally there are the Dreamers. This must be done now. Leader McConnell seems to think there is no urgency. We disagree, strongly. Respectfully, but strongly. There is an urgent need. We have hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Americans, who want America to be their country. Who were taken here through no fault of their own, who are working in our factories in offices, who are going to schools, who are serving in our military. Right now, every morning they wake up with a pit of fear in their heart that they will be deported, separated from their families. There is a very strong urgency there, very strong. And we have to get the Dreamers taken care of as well as these other needs.

So our language, our proposal on this budget deal: take care of the middle class in terms of pensions and opioids and veterans, take care of disaster relief, take care of the healthcare problems we face (we all know about CHIP and community health centers and health care extenders), and take care of both the border and the Dreamers. We can do it all, and we should do it all.             

It is no secret that in each of these areas right now there are sticking points, but there are also many potential points of agreement. Yesterday, all five parties continue to have discussion groups on these four circles of areas, and to do them concurrently and to come up with solutions quickly so we can meet that January 19 deadline. Because nobody wants sequestration to go into effect for the military or the non-military side of the budget.

Our goal should be to come to a global agreement on all these issues by January 19th. That’s the best way to resolve all of the issues we now face.