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

October 5, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need for action on gun safety legislation following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the need for aid to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Republicans’ tax proposal. Below are his remarks:

Now, as we continue to grieve with the people of Las Vegas, the families of the injured and the deceased - and I think of the pictures I see of those beautiful young people, who had the best of life ahead of them – you ache for them. But our thoughts must turn to action so this doesn’t happen again. 

What can we do as a nation to change? Because surely, when there are more mass shootings this year than there are the number of days this year; when we average more than one mass shooting per day, something has to change.

I’m sure if you asked the grieving families, do they want the laws to change so this might not happen again, the overwhelming majority would say yes. They would want us to do something. If we could talk to those brave souls who were killed and are now in Heaven, they would say, do something. They wouldn’t say let’s wait. They wouldn’t say leave things alone. The fact that they were killed, the fact that there were so many injured, they wouldn’t think that it is political to try and save their lives or prevent somebody else from dying the way they did. 

So when folks say: “don’t bring politics into this, it’s inappropriate.” And I am sure that the families of the loved ones who were lost would agree with me, that it is appropriate and important and necessary. Politics is where we are supposed to come together and debate the great problems of our time in order to find solutions to them. Politics is how we’re supposed to make our country a better, safer, more prosperous place to live. And there is no more appropriate time than now to talk about the issue of gun violence.

Yesterday, President Trump visited Las Vegas. I’m glad he went to show our solidarity and remind everyone there they have the full support of the nation.

But he didn’t talk about guns. There is a huge opportunity that he missed to lead this nation in a reasonable, moderate debate on gun safety. 

The President still has that opportunity. All eyes are on the president to see if he will grasp the opportunity and lead the nation to do something reasonable and moderate about guns and gun safety.

President Trump, are you going to wait to hear what the NRA says first? Are you going to wait for the NRA to give you the green light? 

You ran your campaign saying you were beholden to no one. You fashioned yourself as a strong man. Well, are you going to show that you are not beholden to anyone now? Are you going to show your strength now? Are you going to be the first Republican president in a generation to buck the NRA?

Mr. President, you know what the right thing to do is. I say to President Trump: come out and say that you support and would sign a law to ban bump stocks, the modification used by the Las Vegas gunman to make his weapons automatic. That’s small, and it’s the right thing to do. Don’t wait for the NRA to make up their mind. Do it. 

Of course, bump stocks can’t be our only response. It’s hardly enough even though we should do whatever we can in this body. We must do more. Abandoning efforts to deregulate silencers would be a next step. The police were able to figure out where the gunman was because of the noise from his gun in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Let’s forget about the issue of national concealed carry reciprocity. My police officers in Times Square don’t want to let someone who has had no check, who might have a mental derangement like Paddock, come to Times Square and they can’t do anything about it. That’s what that law would do. Any other heavily populated place…downtowns of many of our big cities, and even medium-sized cities. Disneyworld. Baseball game. Football stadium. If this concealed carry reciprocity passed, crazy people could carry weapons concealed into any football stadium in America, and the police couldn’t check on them. Couldn’t see if they had a gun. So we have to do these things, and the most important and attainable thing to do - if you look at the thing that would be most effective and stopping all this gun violence, the daily gun violence – that’s doable, would be adopting universal background checks. It’s commonsense, it’s measured, it’s prudent, and would be really effective.

The bill that Senator Murphy introduced yesterday is one that I have been involved with for a long time and we should see if we can get enough support to pass it. 

And we can and should talk about these issues and more. It requires only a modicum of moral and political courage. President Trump and Republicans in Congress ought to show that moral and political courage now, by bucking the NRA and engaging in a reasonable debate about commonsense gun safety laws.

Fully automatic weapons are already illegal, made so by a law signed by President Reagan. 1986. Banning bump stocks, is entirely consistent with the law already on the books. Senator Feinstein introduced a reasonable proposal here. What are we waiting for? The NRA to give us the green light? That is so wrong. 

If the President and Congress are so beholden to the NRA that they can’t do the very bare minimum; banning a device that allowed a shooter to kill 58 Americans with ease; a device whose ban would in no way infringe upon the legitimate rights of gun owners…then our politics – our means of making this country a better, safer place – will have once again failed us.

Now, Mr. President, returning to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands once again. 

Yesterday, the Congress received a request from the Administration for a supplemental aid package that will go to help Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and other states hit by storms that also includes some money for the western states beset by wildfires.

It’s a good first step, but it is just the start of a long recovery and relief effort that will require additional aid from this Congress. While aid and resources are necessary now, these islands are just starting to assess the damage and once they’ve been able to determine how devastating these storms actually were, we need to respond immediately to provide additional support and funds to assist their recovery and rebuilding. Just as we’ve done for past storms and disasters. 

On this package, I have three points.

First, I am urging my colleagues to add additional and vital flexible funding for recovery, like the Community Development Block Grants, We gave CDBG to help Texas after Hurricane Harvey, we can’t deprive Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands of this money. 

Second, I am warning my colleagues on the other side, particularly those in the House, not to attach any extraneous, ideological policy riders to this urgent aid package. Ideological policy changes to the flood insurance program and forest management policy, should come nowhere near this bill. They tried to do it last week in the FAA bill and we had to send it back because of joint opposition on both sides of the aisle. Let’s not go through that again. And I thank our Chairman of our Banking Committee for helping in that regard.

Third, it has become clear that Puerto Rico’s recovery will be further hindered by its ongoing debt crisis. That crisis coupled with the devastation from hurricane Maria has led to growing concerns that the Island will soon face a liquidity crisis. Simply put, the Island is running out of money to pay for essential services, like first responders, not to mention funds for rebuilding and recovery. The funds we hope to include in the disaster package are critical but we have to make sure the Island has enough cash to start the process. Because in FEMA local governments often have to lay out the money first and then they get repaid. But Puerto Rico doesn’t have the money to lay out so we’ve got to deal with that issue to make it effective. 

With these things in mind, we should act quickly on this supplemental, but it is just the beginning of Congress’ aid.

Finally, Mr. President, on the Republican tax plan. I have so much to say about this plan. It is so awful in so many ways. Huge tax cuts for the wealthy and the powerful. Raising tax cuts on middle-class people which I am going to talk about in a minute. Blowing a huge hole in our deficit. And to fund the tax cuts for the rich, cutting Medicare and Medicaid by close to 1.5 trillion dollars. 

So we are all in favor of a serious tax reform debate. We’ve mentioned our guidelines: no tax cuts for the 1%, no increase in the deficit and do it in a bipartisan way.

The Republican plan does just the opposite. And that’s why Democrats are so opposed. It lavishes tax breaks on the rich, pays for it by cutting Medicare and Medicaid, and leaves everyone out in the cold except for the very wealthy.

But today I want to focus on one provision in the GOP Tax plan: the repeal of the state and local tax deduction.

The Republican plan in one way actually raises taxes on millions of middle-class families across the country by repealing the state and local deduction.                                                                 

44 million Americans – take that deduction. A third of all taxpayers take the deduction, almost one in three, and they don’t just get a few pennies back, they get several thousand dollars off their taxes each year. And it isn’t just a rarefied group in states like Massachusetts and New York and California. The reason it brings in 1.3 trillion dollars is because it affects so many people throughout the entire country.

Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers, look at these charts: 

I am posting here, and I hope people will see the percentages for each state. 46% of the people in Maryland get an average deduction of $12,900. Connecticut 41, New Jersey. Virginia. Virginia I showed one of my colleagues is higher than New York. 37% get an $11,000 deduction. Massachusetts, Oregon. 

Utah, to my colleagues from Utah, 35% of Utah taxpayers get an average deduction of $12,954. And in Utah they say “well the standard deduction makes up for it.” With most families, the standard deduction won’t because you’re taking away the standard exemption. So it’s a wash if you’re a family of three. Let’s keep going. Minnesota, New York. 

I want to show my Republican colleagues how it would affect some of their states. So let’s take Georgia. A third of all taxpayers get an average break of $9,000. Ok, look at these numbers, my colleagues. Look how it affects your state. 

Iowa. 29% of all people get a $10,000 break on average. Pennsylvania, 29%, an $11,000 break. Arizona, 28%, a $7,000 break. My friend from Idaho – I didn’t know he would be here, but his number is on the chart. 28% of Idahoans get an average of $8,800 break. You want to take that away from them? And the standard deduction doesn’t make up for it if you have one child or more. 

Nebraska, 28%, $11,000 deduction. By the way, these numbers come from a group called the Government Finance Officers Association, who compiled the numbers from the IRS. These are IRS numbers. 

South Carolina, 27%, $8,000. Missouri, 26%, $9,800. Ohio, 26%, $10,000. Kentucky, my dear friend, the Republican Leader. In his state, 26% of the people – one out of four – get that state and local property deduction, averaging $9,995. You want to take that away? Alabama, where our dear friend the President of the Senate for the moment sits. 26% - one out of four of your constituents – get an average break of $5,900. Kansas, 25%, get an average break of $9,400. 

I’m saying these numbers because our friends, the hard-right which just wants to lower their own taxes, is telling everybody, ‘oh this is just in four states.’ Massachusetts, New York, California, New Jersey. No. It’s across America.

Oklahoma, 24%, $8,000 break. Mississippi. 23%, $6,300 break. Louisiana, 23% - close to one out of four - $6,700. Texas, the great state of Texas, where our Majority Whip comes from. 23% - close to one out of four Texans – gets a $7,800 break. Indiana, 23% get an $8,700 break. Florida, 22% get a $7,300 break. Wyoming. Some say, ‘wouldn’t affect Wyoming, it’s a rural state.’ 22% get a $6,300 break. 

The state that is least affected is still very affected. South Dakota and West Virginia, only 17% of the people get a $9,000 break in West Virginia, and a $6,000 break in South Dakota. North Dakota, Tennessee, and Alaska – 21%, 19%, and 18%, breaks between $4,900 and $6,800. 

Ok, folks. The Achilles heel of this bill, there are many, is state and local deductibility. It kills the middle class and the upper-middle income people. It doesn’t really affect the rich. They don’t pay a lot of property taxes which is the bulk of these deductions. They make their money in high-income places. They have a lot of stocks and a lot of bonds. It’s the middle class and the upper-middle class that get clobbered by this tax break. 

And the standard deduction does not undo it because you lose the standard exemption. So even if you’re just a husband and wife without kids, I’m going to ask unanimous consent that the debate be delayed a few minutes. And I know my colleagues are…well I just need to finish my remarks, we are almost done. 

Ok, so, the benefits of state and local deductibility touch every state, every city, every town, every municipality and goes deep into the middle-class and the working-class. 

And one other point I have to make, Mr. President. Now realizing this, some of our Republican colleagues are saying “well we will modify it.” Folks, there is no real way to modify the provision to eliminate state and local deductibility. 

Some reports are saying they might change their plan to allow taxpayers to choose between taking the mortgage interest deduction and the standard deduction.

You want to give a choice? That won’t work. Because for middle-class taxpayers, it is only the combination of their itemized deductions: state and local, mortgage and others, that would make it worth it for them to itemize. And if you have to choose between the mortgage deduction and your property tax deduction, it’s a loser. So they say “well we will just do this for the very rich.” But as I mentioned, that’s not where the money is.

Some others are talking about capping the state and local deduction.

Where are you going to cap it? It is mostly a middle class deduction. So if you cap it at, say, for people whose income is at $500,000 or 1 million, you don’t bring in much money. So it’s a loser, you can’t fix it, get rid of it. You can’t fix it. The plans that are being done still continue to hurt the middle class dramatically.

So the Republican plan to repeal the state and local deduction can’t be fixed, modified, or tweaked around the edges. Each of the proposals doesn’t work. It must be scrapped.

The state and local deduction affects everyone - even almost one in five taxpayers in the lowest states, where it affects the fewest people - it is just one of the many flaws in this broken, broken framework. Let’s start over. Don’t just do a Republican plan that appeals to a handful of very wealthy corporations and very wealthy individuals. Work with us on a fair plan that helps the middle class, not the very wealthy. 

We are ready. But if you do the same thing you did on healthcare, and try to do it by yourselves, I think you will meet with the same fate that the healthcare bill did.