Schumer Floor Remarks Calling on Administrator Pruitt to Resign, New Deficit Projections from CBOApril 9, 2018
Mr. President, let me welcome back my fellow senators after a productive state work period. And let me also welcome our newest senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Junior Senator from Mississippi. She is the first woman to represent the state of Mississippi, and I welcome her warmly to this chamber.
Over the past weeks that we’ve been away, we’ve heard of the passing of two of our senators, Zell Miller and Danny Akaka. I’d like to say a few words on Danny Akaka who was a good friend of mine. In everything he did, as a soldier, teacher, and statesman, he embodied the spirit of Hawaii. He was so sincere in his beliefs and such a kind and gentle man that senators went out of their way to help him, and of course he fought so hard for his state. He taught us so much in his modesty, his persistence, and his love for his constituents. So for all he taught us, for his service and for his friendship, we say mahalo one final time. Now, it was Tammy Duckworth who first informed me of Senator Akaka’s passing, and it shows God’s rhythms of life—the passing of Danny Akaka after a long time of service and wonderful life. And now, we just learned of the birth of Senator Tammy Duckworth’s child. It’s a milestone: a few hours ago, Sen. Tammy Duckworth became the first senator to give birth while in office. We’re all very glad to hear that she and her newborn daughter are happy and healthy.
Now, like all of my colleagues, I spent the past few weeks crisscrossing my state and meeting with constituents. I’m always struck by how common their concerns are.
Folks want to be able to afford quality healthcare. That’s probably their greatest worry. They know that healthcare is so vital to them and their families, and they know the costs keep going up and they’re worried about premiums especially after this Republican Congress has done so much to sabotage our healthcare system. They’re talking about tearing down the healthcare system but never building it up in any way. Folks want a good job with decent benefits and higher wages, but they’re not seeing much of that in the wake of the Republican tax bill. In fact they’re disappointed, many of them, that they’re not receiving more. They’re seeing corporations buy back a lot of their stock, which boosts compensation for executives and shareholders, but they don't see much of a bump in their paychecks. Bottom line, they’re saying, “why are the wealthy getting so much more in the tax break than we are?” I’ve heard that from one end of my state to the other. Another problem, folks want to be able to send their kids to school and know they’ll be safe. I talked to one mom whose daughter just doesn’t want to go to school after what happened in Parkland. She’s afraid; she’s seven years old. A few weeks ago, I marched with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in the March for our Lives. Their energy, and optimism, and dedication gives me hope that the time has finally come for Congress to take meaningful action on gun safety. Another example of where our Republican colleagues, who run this Senate, haven’t done enough – not nearly enough – on the issue of gun safety.
On these issues and more, the Republican majority has done very little. What it has done has been on behalf of the entrenched, special interests. Tax cuts for corporations and the super wealthy. Gutting healthcare to pay for more tax cuts. Holding back on commonsense gun safety laws like universal background checks, because the NRA opposes them.
The American people are fed up with the large, special, and powerful interests getting their way while average folks get left behind. That’s what I heard traveling my state. And in November, the American people will have a chance to move this country in a dramatically different direction – away from the corporate, special-interest-driven politics, away from the swamp—we’ll talk more about that later but President Trump has made it worse, despite claims that he’s making it better—and towards a politics that works for the middle class and those struggling to get there.
The enthusiasm among so many Americans, not just Democrats but others, of going to the polls and making their voices heard, because they want a change of direction in this country, is heartening and strengthening to me. The Democratic minority is working to get away from special interest politics. That’s what the Democratic majority will do if elected in November.
This week, the Senate will consider several nominations, including the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Deputy Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. Wheeler—not atypical of this administration, not atypical of the dense swamp that they’ve made a whole lot worse—is a former industry lobbyist who has worked on behalf of big polluters and climate change deniers. He has spent years working to undermine or lobby against the environmental protections he may soon oversee. As a lobbyist, he helped raise money for a few Republican Senators who sit on the committee that recently approved his nomination.
Swamp? President Trump? You’re creating it. You’re making it a lot worse. His nomination fits with a pattern in the Trump administration of nominating industry lobbyists to lead agencies that are supposed to be a watchdog over those very industries.
The nerve it takes for President Trump and his allies to preach “DRAIN THE SWAMP” after all that the president has done to fill up the swamp since coming to Washington! His cabinet is full of multi-millionaires, hedge fund managers, corporate executives, and former lobbyists with sprawling conflicts of interest. Mr. Wheeler is only the latest in a long line of swamp nominees, and I will be opposing his nomination.
Mr. Wheeler’s nomination sheds even more light on the current storm around EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. If there was ever somebody who characterizes the swamp, it is Scott Pruitt. And all Americans should believe that —regardless of your views on the environment or whether you believe wind, or solar, or natural gas, or oil, or coal is the right form of energy — what Pruitt is doing is just incredible. In his relatively brief tenure at the EPA, Administrator Pruitt has amassed an embarrassing list of scandals. He’s ordered the construction of an expensive soundproof office at the EPA, for reasons unknown, when none of his predecessors--Republican or Democrat--saw any need for such a facility. He’s typically flown coach when paying for travel out of his own pocket, but elected to fly first-class when the taxpayers were footing the bill. And after moving to Washington, Administrator Pruitt rented an apartment for a cut-rate price from an energy lobbyist and former campaign donor who represents multiple clients with business before the EPA during Pruitt's tenure.
The level of hypocrisy in this administration is staggering. President Trump says he’s going to drain the swamp. Pruitt characterizes the swamp in just about all of his actions. And yet, President Trump has stood by him. If you want to drain the swamp, Mr. President, get rid of Mr. Pruitt. But unfortunately, President Trump has stood by Administrator Pruitt despite these obvious abuses of the taxpayer’s money and trust. Why? Because he likes what he’s doing to unwind critical environmental protections on behalf of powerful industries. But the bottom line is simple, Mr. President.
President Trump is so beholden to the special interests that supported Administrator Pruitt and his extreme, anti-green, industry-driven agenda that he’s willing to turn a blind eye to his serious ethical problems. If Big Oil and Big Gas are happy with the EPA Administrator, so, it seems, is President Trump.
In supporting Administrator Pruitt, President Trump is lowering the bar for government ethics and accountability to the floor. What abuse of the American’s people trust will President Trump not tolerate if Administrator Pruitt is allowed to continue in his position despite flagrant graft? How can the president, with a straight face, say he aims to drain the swamp when he allows a man like Pruitt to stay? How much will President Trump let the standards for ethical conduct in his Administration deteriorate?
I’d say to President Trump: the corruption and incompetence of this Administration has reached a fever pitch. If you truly mean to drain the swamp – and it doesn’t seem that you do – you ought to fire Administrator Pruitt or accept his resignation, let him leave, which alone will clean up Washington in a way that Pruitt has not cleaned up our environment.
Today, the CBO came out with a report that revised its projections of the deficit; saying they’ve “increased markedly” since the Republican tax bill added about $1.9 trillion to the deficit. By 2020, the annual deficit will surpass $1 trillion.
It is a reminder of just how wrong the predictions were that the Republican tax bill would somehow pay for itself. It is also a reminder of how unserious the current Republican Party is about deficits.
When it comes to tax cuts for big corporations and the rich, deficits are no impediment. But now that those tax cuts are in place, I predict that deficits will once again morph into a dire problem – a scourge upon the nation -- an excuse for Republicans to target Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security for cuts.
That’s been the playbook since the Bush-era – explode the deficit with tax cuts for the rich and powerful, then use the deficit they created as a reason to cut Social Security and Medicare. Lo and behold, this week, the Republican majority in the House will vote on a balanced budget amendment -- a way for Republicans to force cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. It’s hard to believe they can say it with a straight face, but you’ll hear Republican congressmembers say this week that Washington needs to get its fiscal house in order…only a few months after they added $1.5 trillion to the deficit—through tax cuts that mainly benefitted the wealthy and the powerful. It’s the very height of hypocrisy.
The American people deserve better than this patronizing Kabuki theatre; they deserve a Congress squarely focused on helping the middle class—not the powerful, not the special interests, not those at the very top of the economic ladder. So far, this Republican Congress has shown that it’s not up to the job. And every day, more and more Americans realize that.