Schumer Floor Remarks on Republican Refusal to Honor the Blue Slip Tradition, Rising Health Care Costs in Maryland and Virginia, and the Increase in Stock Buybacks as a Result of the GOP Tax Law

May 7, 2018

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Republican refusal to honor the blue slip tradition, rising health care costs in Maryland and Virginia, and the increase in stock buybacks as a result of the GOP tax law. Below are his remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Thank you, Mr. President. Now first, we recently we got some terribly sad news. Michael Beaver, an assistant Parliamentarian here in the Senate, passed away unexpectedly last week. His death, at the young age of 39, is shocking in its suddenness and tragic for the family, friends, his children, and coworkers he left behind.

Michael was incredibly bright, unfailingly honest, and had a quick wit, and a dry sense of humor. I know that as an assistant Parliamentarian, he was a member of a small but crucial team of behind-the-scenes staffers without whom the Senate couldn’t function.

Our thoughts are with his family today, especially his wife Gilda and his two young boys, who will remember him as a loving and devoted father. In the words of the Scripture, “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Now, on another matter, as the Senate returns to work after the recess, we are scheduled to process six circuit court judges over the next few weeks.

Some of these judges are noncontroversial, and receive support from their home state Democratic senators, and we will work with the Majority to confirm them. But Michael Brennan, second in line this week, will receive a cloture vote on the floor of the Senate even though one of his home-state senators, Senator Baldwin, has not returned a blue slip for his nomination.

When you hear the facts here, they’re appalling, not just his ideology -- although Mr. Brennan is a very conservative nominee who failed to earn the recommendation of a functioning bipartisan commission that was setup by Senator Baldwin, a Democrat, and Senator Johnson, a Republican, to recommend federal judicial nominees. That’s how people want us to do things in a bipartisan way? I’ve been able to work out judge nominations in a bipartisan way in the Senate when we had a Republican president, a Republican governor, but that was overrun. This is now the second time that Chairman Grassley has ignored the blue slip tradition this Congress, but here’s the part that really burns me, and I think many others who are fair-minded in the Senate and in this country.

The seat Mr. Brennan would fill on the 7th Circuit was held open for six years – six years -- via blue slips. Senator Johnson did not turn in a blue slip, and the seat stayed vacant. Now, that blue slip of Senator Baldwin – when we have a Republican president, is being ignored. What a double standard. What hypocrisy. When people ask are we [Democrats] being obstructionist, let the shoe fit as to what happened to this seat on the 7th Circuit. That was obstruction, yet Senator Leahy faithfully observed the blue slip tradition, and kept this circuit seat vacant for six years.

Listen to this. During those six years, none other than Mr. Brennan himself, the nominee, wrote an op-ed defending Sen. Johnson’s right to refuse to return a blue slip for the 7th Circuit vacancy. Of course, irony of ironies, it is now Mr. Brennan who is up for confirmation over the objection of one of his home-state Senators. Where is the defense of Senatorial courtesy today?

Making matters worse is the fact that the hard, hard right is pushing conservative nominees, way out of the mainstream, and the pressure on my friend, and he is my friend, the Republican leader, to ignore all of the traditions, the blue slip above all, and create this double standard to me is really galling. Now, on Wednesday of this week, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Ryan Bounds, he’s also a nominee for a circuit court, this one the 9th Circuit seat in Oregon. He has not received a blue slip from either senator, Senators Wyden and Merkley. It will be the first time – the first time – the Judiciary Chairman has allowed a nominee to proceed who lacks the support of BOTH home-state senators. And it will be the third time in this Congress Chairman Grassley -- who showed himself a statesman when he moved the bipartisan bill on the special counsel last week, but in this case there’s no statesmanship showing -- it’s the third time he has ignored the century-old blue slip tradition.

When Democrats held the majority, we respected the blue slip tradition, not just because it was some esoteric custom, but because blue slips are a way to force consultation and consensus on nominees, you don’t get many nominees with a blue slip that are far right or far left, and those judges tend to want to make the law, not interpret it. We want all our judicial nominees, whether they’re nominated by a Republican or Democratic president, to be qualified and to have demonstrated excellence in their careers. Blue slips were a way to encourage the Senate to come together around qualified nominees.

I assume that’s why 41 Republican Senators – a few years back, 2009 -- wrote to President Obama to say: “we, as a conference, expect [Senatorial courtesy – the blue slip tradition] to be observed, even-handedly, and regardless of party affiliation.” Let me read that again. This is what Senator McConnell and Senator Grassley signed. “We, as a conference, expect [Senatorial courtesy – the blue slip tradition] to be observed, even-handedly, and regardless of party affiliation.”

Majority Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley both signed that letter. Today, they’re singing a different tune. So while we want to work with our Republican colleagues to confirm nominees expeditiously, we are very disappointed in the way they have trampled the blue slip tradition, and when my colleagues come to me and say, “What about comity? What about working together?” It goes both ways. It goes both ways. It’s appalling, it’s unfair, it’s wrong, and it’s another degradation of how the Senate has always functioned.

Now, on the subject of health care. Late last week, insurance companies in the state of Virginia announced that health insurance premiums would be much higher this coming year. More than 100,000 Virginians who rely on these plans are staring at a proposed 2019 premium that will be 15 percent or 27 percent or 64 percent higher depending on which insurer they use.

In filing their rates, the health insurers are pointing to the actions of the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans as major reasons for the premium increases. The Trump administration and our Republican friends in Congress are the reason – are the reason – these premiums are going up, according to insurers. They suggest this is one of the reasons.

Remember, President Trump canceled payments for the cost-sharing program, which reduces premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for low-income Americans.

Republicans in Congress repealed the health care coverage requirement, which the CBO itself predicted would raise premiums by 10% more each year than they would otherwise be, and result in millions of more people without insurance. And sometimes our Republican colleagues make a mistake and speak the truth, and admit that they are to blame in good part for these premium increases. Here’s what former HHS Secretary Tom Price – HHS secretary -- said quote, “believes that [repealing the individual mandate] will actually harm the pool in the exchange market…and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks…” This is not Chuck Schumer, or a Democrat. This is the Republican former Congress, the Republican appointed HHS secretary saying that Republican acts are causing premiums to go up.

And the sabotage doesn’t end there. As we speak, the Trump Administration is finalizing a rule that would expand the availability of junk insurance plans that would force higher premiums on people with pre-existing conditions, impose an “age tax” on older Americans, and once again could subject Americans to the devastating effects of medical bankruptcy.

Make no mistake: all of this sabotage by Republicans has consequences. Trumpcare is already heralding double-digit premium increases in states across the country. The rates in Virginia were bad, the rates in Maryland may be worse. Maryland insurance companies are announcing 2019 rates today and one PPO plan is asking for a 91% increase. 91%. For the sake of a political vendetta -- again the hard right: “Repeal Obamacare! Show it doesn’t work” -- Republicans are taking it out on millions of American families by making the rates higher to prove a political point? So that Donald Trump can do a few more tweets? It’s not going to stick, it’s not going to work. The American people know who’s in charge. Republicans have the presidency, the House, the Senate. The buck stops there when the rates go up.

President Trump and Republicans promised Americans a better, cheaper health care system. Remember, President Trump said he was going to “take care of everybody;” those are his words, and deliver “health care that is far less expensive and far better.” President Trump simply has not delivered. President Trump talked and talked and talked, as he ran and while he was president, about making health care better and cheaper, but in every respect he has failed to deliver and in every respect he’s made the problem worse. Simply put: President Trump has dropped the ball on health care, and the public knows it.

Finally, a word on the Republican tax bill. From the very beginning of our debate on taxes, Republicans insisted that their bill was about helping the American worker. Even though the GOP tax bill directs 83% of its benefits to the top 1% -- President Trump and the Republicans said it would be “a middle-class miracle.”

Their theory was give the big corporations and the wealthy a massive tax cut, and the benefits would trickle down to everyone else – even though that theory has been debunked over, and over, and over again.

Still, President Trump repeatedly promised that workers would see a raise of $4,000 or more as a result of the Republican tax bill. I’d like to ask most Americans if they’ve gotten a $4,000 raise as the White House promised…because, according to the April jobs report, hourly earnings have not increased significantly and are actually up just 2.6% over the past twelve months. Last month, average hourly earnings increased by just four cents, hardly $4,000. No matter how you look at it, the Republican tax bill has failed to deliver anywhere close to the wage growth that was promised.

The harsh fact of the matter is corporations aren’t using the bulk of their tax savings to boost worker pay, or provide additional benefits, or hire more workers, or buy more equipment.

They’re using the predominance of the tax savings on something called stock buybacks. The CEO says, “Let’s buy back the stock.” His shares go up, the shareholders’ shares go up, and the American worker is left holding the bag.

According to a recent analysis by Just Capital, only 6% of the capital allocated by companies from the tax bill’s savings has gone to employees, while nearly 60% -- ten times as much -- has gone to shareholders. More than $390 billion has been authorized this year on corporate buybacks – something we used to prohibit, or make very difficult -- while only $6.7 billion has been spent on one-time bonuses and wage hikes.

So, another Republican truth teller is not getting pummeled a little for it but I respect him, Republican Senator Marco Rubio – here’s what he had to say last week: “There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they’re going to take the money they’re saving and reinvest it in American workers. In fact…” – these are his words, sound like mine – “…they bought back shares; a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.” Let me repeat that. This is Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida: “there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker.” Mr. President, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

President Trump and the Republicans promised a middle-class miracle with tremendous raises for workers, but they once again haven’t delivered. Instead, the American people have been saddled with higher deficits and a larger debt while corporations reward wealthy executives and shareholders. Even Republican Senators are starting to admit it.

So, I’ve heard some commentators say, “Well, maybe the public says ‘we don’t like the president’s tweeting, we don’t like that he changes his story, we don’t like prevaricating, but at least he’s delivering.’” Not with the tax bill, because so much of the wealth is going to the top. Not on healthcare, where premiums are going up, and the American people will have the right to protest come November, which I believe they will.

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