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Schumer Floor Remarks on the GOP Tax Plan and EPA Assistant Administrator Nominee William Wehrum

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding Republicans’ tax plan and the need for bipartisanship on tax reform as well as the nomination of William Wehrum to be Assistant Administrator of the EPA. Below are his remarks:  

Later today, the Senate Republicans will release their version of a tax bill.

This bill will not include the ideas of a single Democrat in the Senate. Not a single Democrat has had any input into this bill. It was constructed entirely behind closed doors by the majority party, who have no intention of negotiating with Democrats because they’ve locked themselves into a partisan process that only requires a majority vote. And they’re going to try to rush it through this chamber with reckless speed.

Why? Because my friends on the other side know that the longer their bill is out there for the public to see, the less they’ll like it. Their only hopes of passing it are to rush it through before anyone can grapple with the stunning hypocrisy at the center of their plan.

The Republican majority has repeatedly promised a middle-class tax bill, but instead, they’ve concocted a tax bill grounded in tax cuts for big corporations and the very rich. They actually hurt middle-class people because they need to give those big breaks for the wealthiest.

While promising that their plan gives “everyone a tax cut,” as Speaker Ryan said again today, multiple independent analyses conclude that the House Republican tax plan would increase taxes on millions of middle-class families. Contrary to what Republicans promised, what Donald Trump has promised. They said no middle-class people will get an increase, this is aimed at helping the middle class. But the vast majority of the help goes to the wealthiest and biggest corporations. 

A New York Times analysis found that next year, the House Republican tax plan would cause taxes to go up on one-third of all middle-class families. By 2026, taxes would go up on nearly half of all middle-class families. So even if you come from a state with a lower tax rate, a red state, it’s probably a good bet that a quarter of middle-class families will get a tax increase. I think the lowest I saw was 17% for West Virginia.

This hurts middle-class people, and it hurts certain middle-class people much worse than others. People who have student loans, people who have high medical expenses, people who come from states where there are large property taxes, people who have big mortgages. These are middle-class people. They should not get a tax increase.

As Mark Mazer, the director of the independent Tax Policy Center recently said, “You could create a plan that just cut taxes for middle-class people. That’s not what this is.” That’s him, not me. But it is what Republicans promised people. It is what Republicans promised people.

We’ll see what the Senate comes up with today. But several Republican Senators have already confirmed that the Senate bill has the same basic structure of the House bill. In at least one way, we know the Senate bill will be even worse for middle-class families than the House bill. The House bill would reduce the value of the state and local deductions by 70% while the Senate bill will eliminate it entirely.

My friend from Ohio, Senator Portman, confirmed that a few days ago on Fox Business.

This should be a three-alarm fire for every House Republican in California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and Illinois, Colorado, and Minnesota.

Senate Republicans are telling House Republicans that there will be no compromise on state and local deductibility. It’s full repeal or bust because Senate Republicans need the revenue raised by ending this popular middle-class deduction. There are several deficit hawks in the Senate, and we have stricter budget rules for reconciliation. If the Senate tax plan includes cuts to the corporate rate, the pass-through rate, and on upper tax brackets – which dramatically increase the deficit -- they’ll need the revenue from the full repeal of state and local to make the numbers work.

So I say to every one of my Republican colleagues in the House who comes from a suburban district: this bill could be your political doom. Don’t let the special interests, don’t let the party leadership, push you into doing something that is so bad for many of your constituents. You will pay a price.

House Republicans have to kill the tax bill now if they have any hope of stopping the full repeal of the state and local deduction. They can’t hide behind the so-called “compromise” in the House bill. It is nothing more than a temporary fig leaf for full and permanent repeal.

If House Republicans don’t kill it now, it will come back to haunt them. The overwhelming Democratic turnout in suburban districts in Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania should send shivers down the spines of House Republicans who represent those districts. Voting to repeal the state and local deduction, which wallops the middle-class and upper-middle-class suburbs, would be political suicide, all to bow down to the special, wealthy, big interests of large corporations.

Even under the House compromise, the numbers are devastating. Representative MacArthur said he was shown information that said the compromise is good for his district, and he went from a “No” to a “Lean Yes,” according to Politico. Representative MacArthur, go look at the real numbers. 43% of taxpayers in Representative MacArthur’s district take the state and local deduction for an average of $11,987 per deduction. Over half of the value of these deductions is not the property tax at all, it is state and local income-- which will be taken away completely under their plan -- and a large number, according to IRS data, are property taxes over $10,000.

So I would not, if I were Representative MacArthur, listen to the numbers that the Republican leadership has given him. I would do my own independent analysis, because I believe he would find them to be a lot worse than what the leadership is telling him. And I say to my other Republican colleagues: don’t fall for those quick numbers, go do your own looking at this. It is a lot worse than your leadership is telling you.

And yet, for some reason, the conventional wisdom on the Republican side is that because of the stunning depth of their losses in the recent elections, there is an even greater need to pass their tax plan. “We have to do this or we will fall apart,” they say.

It makes no sense. They are misreading the public. Ed Gillespie, for all of his divisive ads, still ran a traditional, establishment Republican campaign. The linchpin of his campaign was a $1,000 tax cut for everybody. It got him nowhere.

The exit polls from the Virginia elections also showed that the number one issue on voters’ minds was healthcare, and they voted overwhelmingly Democratic. And yet, Republicans may repeal the individual mandate as a part of their tax bill. How do they think that is going to fly?

Despite the spin from Republican leaders, passing this tax plan won’t help Republicans climb out from the hole they’re in, it will bury them in deeper. Maybe if they pass the bill, they won’t say they are in disarray for the moment, but already this bill has had a miserable rollout. When a party rolls out their number one legislative plan, there should be trumpets and bands.

But the public knows already that the bill favors the wealthy. The public knows that middle-class people get a tax increase. So at best, the rollout of this bill has been mixed. I say it has been negative, and the American people agree because many more people are against this bill than are for it, according to polls.

Passing a partisan tax plan that favors the rich and raises taxes on millions of middle-class and upper-middle-class families in the suburbs is no political cure, it’s political poison.

The real way to win back the esteem of the American people would be to put partisanship aside, put a giant tax cut for the rich back on the shelf, and come work with Democrats on real, bipartisan tax reform.

Finally, a word on the pending nomination, Mr. Werhum, to the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, an agency charged with protecting the public from air pollution and the ongoing effects of climate change.

I have grave concerns about Mr. Wehrum’s dedication to the mission of this important office.While working in senior roles at the Office of Air and Radiation during the Bush Administration, Mr. Wehrum led efforts to weaken clean air protections. During Mr. Wehrum’s tenure at the EPA, courts ruled that the agency violated the Clean Air Act 30 times. And since 2008, while working in the private sector, Mr. Wehrum has represented industry clients against the EPA 31 times.

That’s why when Mr. Wehrum was nominated to this same position back in 2006, the White House ultimately withdrew his nomination because the Senate wouldn’t confirm him. His qualifications have not improved in the last decade; if anything, we now have a larger body of evidence to recommend his disqualification.

Mr. Wehrum’s track record—both working at the EPA and on behalf of industry—demonstrate that he puts the interests of industry before the interests of average citizens, sacrificing public health and the environment.

For these reasons, I will vote no on the nomination and urge my colleagues to do the same.