Schumer Floor Remarks on the Bipartisan Healthcare Deal, the GOP Tax Plan, and the Need for Aid to Puerto Rico and Regions Affected by Wildfires

October 24, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor urging President Trump to assert publicly his support for the Murray-Alexander healthcare deal, the need to work across the aisle on tax reform, and the need for aid in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria as well as regions recently affected by wildfires. Below are his remarks:  

Before I get into everything, I’ve just seen that President Trump has resumed his twitter war with another member of this body: our friend from Tennessee.

It’s long past time for the President to quit his daily compulsion to engage in twitter feuds, and instead get to work for the American people.

We have a lot of serious issues to deal with in this country. Our challenges are too entrenched and complex to be solved if the President spends his time in a meaningless and endless war of words on Twitter, today with this person, tomorrow with that.

We need President Trump to roll up his sleeves and get to work, to stop tweeting and start leading. Let me repeat that. Maybe the President will hear it, for the good of America. We need our President to roll up his sleeves and get to work, to stop tweeting and start leading.

Concerning North Korea, instead of undermining his secretary of state and picking Twitter fights with Kim Jung Un that risk a war, he should formulate a serious strategy to put heat on China to pressure the North Koreans to resolve the crisis. China holds the cards here. They’ve done very little to help us.

On health care, President Trump should stop playing games with American’s healthcare and publicly declare his support for the Alexander-Murray compromise.

President Trump is meeting with the Senate Republicans at their caucus lunch today, with Senator Alexander and all other eleven cosponsors of the bill. Why not provide some clarity? Why not say, as he has said in the past, he supports Sen. Alexander’s work? I believe many more Republicans Senators want to sign their name to this bill but they’re waiting to hear definitively from the president before they announce their support. After all, nearly every Republican here voted to extend cost-sharing already – it was part of their first healthcare bill. Every Democrat supports cost-sharing. So the President has talked to me about wanting to be bipartisan on health care, best way to do it? Support Alexander-Murray.

It’s time the President catches up to the rest of us and supports this bill. Right now, he is the barrier. Leader McConnell has said if the President will sign it, he’ll put it on the floor of the Senate. It will get an overwhelming vote. It will then have to be put on the House floor, Speaker Ryan will have no choice, or the rise in premiums will be on his back and the backs of his members, who he seeks to protect.

And probably most of all, when we talk about the President to stop tweeting and start leading, taxes. Mr. President, it’s time to start really engaging with the substance of the tax plan that your staff and congressional Republicans have put together, because, Mr. President, your rhetoric does not match reality on the tax bill.

President Trump has been selling his tax plan as a boon for the middle class. He told a group of truckers earlier this month that his tax plan is “a middle-class bill.”

He said, “The biggest winners will be the everyday American workers.”

In his words, the Republican tax plan would bring about a “middle-class miracle.”

President Trump, I urge you to look closely at the tax plan your staff and congressional Republicans have put together. Ask the advisors around you, what about this tax plan benefits the middle class and the everyday American worker more than the wealthy and the powerful? Because, trickle-down, if that’s the only thing that benefits the middle class in your thinking? Doesn’t work. No one believes in trickle-down anymore, except a small group of very wealthy business people who have undue influence on the Republican Party, and I hope not on you, Mr. President.

Let’s look at this plan that is supposedly a middle class plan. It repeals the estate tax; that applies to a small number of families with estates over $5 million; it lowers the rate on pass-through entities; that benefits wealthy law firms and hedge fund managers, so they can pay less in taxes than the average citizen, and it lowers the top rate while raising the bottom one.

The cut in the corporate rate would hardly help the everyday American worker. This is trickle-down. Our Republican colleagues don’t really talk about trickle-down, because they know most of America doesn’t believe in it. Our corporations are flush with cash already. They’re flush with cash. Giving them more cash? That’s not going to change their behavior. What are they doing with this cash? Most of them, most of the large corporations are not creating jobs with that cash that they now have. Stock dividends, stock buybacks, dividends, increase in CEO salaries, that’s where it goes.

So, this bill is not a middle class bill. I believe the President believes it is. You’ve got to read it. No more tweeting. No more superficiality. Read the bill. Don’t let your advisors just walk in and say, ‘Mr. President, it’s a great middle class bill,’ and you just let them go by. It’s already been shown, not just by me but by many others, that Mnuchin and Cohn don’t tell the truth about this bill, and they know better.

The Tax Policy Center said that the top 1% of our country will reap 80% of the benefits from this plan. According to the Tax Policy Center, no one’s disputed it, nearly a third of all middle-class taxpayers will see their taxes go up.

Is that a “middle-class bill,” Mr. President? One in which taxes go up – not down – on nearly a third of middle-class taxpayers?

Now, if this is such a middle-class plan, then why do Republicans here on the Hill keep floating new middle-class deductions to cut? The very deductions the middle class depends on. First, it was the mortgage deduction, then the elimination of state and local deductibility – which even made it into the plan – and now they’re talking about capping pre-tax contributions to 401K plans. There are such huge tax breaks for the wealthy and such a huge deficit hole that the tax writers have no choice but to raise taxes on the middle class and cut deductions. Even the great doubling of the standard deduction, Mr. President, is undone by the elimination of the personal deduction. If you’re a family of three, you break even, if you’re a family of four, you lose money, even before they cut the other deductions.

Now, on state and local, in many Republican districts in the House, in many of our Republican colleagues’ states, over 30%, certainly 20%, the lowest number is seventeen, of taxpayers would use that deduction. Eliminating the state and local deduction is a dagger to the heart of the middle class, Mr. President. You should tell your tax writers here in the House and Senate, take it out of the bill.

And here’s what Pricewaterhouse Coopers just found out: home values would go down 10% if we eliminated the state and local deduction. Homes are the piece of the rock for the middle class. People wait and struggle and pay every month, so they can own their own home free and clear. And then that value declines? Because we eliminated state and local deductibility? Every homeowner is affected, even those who take the standard deduction.

And, if this is to be such a middle-class plan, I would say to the President, why wouldn’t Republicans on the Hill scrap the repeal of the estate tax, which only benefits the very rich, not one drop goes to the middle class, instead of looking for more middle-class deductions like the 401k to reduce or eliminate?

President Trump says he wants to do a middle-class bill, but if the only benefit to the middle class is this trickle-down theory, it’s not a middle class bill at all.

We Democrats have said all along that we want to update our tax code to provide middle-class tax relief. My caucus wants to provide tax relief to small businesses – not big corporations. They’re the ones who need money to create jobs, not the big corporations that are flush with money. Incidentally, AT&T, who’s leading the charge for this tax cut, their average tax rate over the last ten years was 8%, and they eliminated 80,000 jobs. So much for the idea that when you pay a low tax rate you’re creating jobs.

So we offer to the president: come work with Democrats on a real middle-class tax bill. The plan your advisors put together with Republicans on the Hill doesn’t do what you say it does. We can put together a tax bill in a bipartisan way that actually gets the job done for the middle class. That tells the rich corporate leaders and financiers that they shouldn’t be in control of the bill, which they are now. And you, Mr. President, are going along, wittingly or unwittingly, either way is not good for you, no good for your party, and no good, most of all, for America.

Now, one final word here on wildfires, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Frist, we cannot forget about the 3.5 million Americans citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who continue to suffer the terrible effects of Hurricane Maria, the strongest storm to hit the islands in a century.

It’s been more than one month since Maria, and 75 percent of Puerto Rico is still without electricity; only a third of the island’s cell sites are functional; and many with diseases, like those with diabetes and other diseases in need of dialysis, have been unable to receive their specialized treatments and medications. Nearly one million Americans in Puerto Rico are suffering without access to clean water. We’ve seen the pictures of them drinking sewage and water from superfund sites.

I’ve called on the White House to put a point person in charge of the recovery, and I repeat that request today. The Administration should appoint a “CEO of Response and Recovery” for Puerto Rico – someone with the ability to bring all the necessary federal agencies together, cut red tape on the public and private side, turn the lights back on, get clean water flowing and help bring recovery.

It’s a national tragedy that deserves the most organized and efficient response. A CEO of Response and Recovery with a direct line to the President in the White House would help get the house in order.

Now, at the same time, we cannot forget the devastation wrought by the wildfires out west. A group of Senators will be speaking on the floor today, my colleague from California is about to do just that, in support of swift passage of disaster aid for those regions, and I wholeheartedly support their effort.

As the number of forest fires and the cost of fighting these fires has risen dramatically, it has left forest service and the Dept. of Interior at a severe funding deficit. This has forced the forest service to take money from other accounts within the agency to cover the firefighting deficit in a process called fire borrowing.

Fire borrowing prevents the agency from carrying out its other missions, including investing in forest fire prevention. As we have seen the terrible forest fires rage across the West, hitting so hard the state of California, which my colleague is going to address, we must take action and provide the forest service with a long-term wildfire funding fix.

Some members want to bog this process down with environmental and forest management riders, but I stand with the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary Perdue and others who have called to simply fix the funding problem without riders to allow the agency to carry on its mission.