U.S. Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN.) says extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while failing to continue the unemployment insurance program is misguided, especially during the holiday season.
“The choice before us is clear this holiday season—lend a hand to those who simply can’t get by without the help, or give $100,000 in average tax cuts to people making over a million dollars,” said Sen. Franken Friday in his speech on the Senate Floor
M. President, I was presiding this Monday when one of my friends on the other side of the aisle was speaking on the floor on a very important topic. He said, “We need to do everything to see that the deficit does not increase.” Now, less than a week later, he is going to vote to increase the deficit by $700 billion. That’s an impressive reversal, don’t you think?
Now, many of my colleagues on the other side ran for reelection this fall saying that the deficit is a cancer. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to cut the deficit. Well, congratulations. Because one of your first votes back you’re going to vote to put over $9,300 more debt on the head of every child in America.
And what is that for? To give an average tax cut of a $100,000 to Americans making over $1 million a year.
Now my friends on the other side of the aisle have been saying to us, “Haven’t you learned the lesson of the election?” I don’t recall permanent tax cuts for millionaires being on any ballot. In fact, let’s take a look at the exit polls conducted by Edison Research, the exclusive provider of the National Election Exit Polls for all of the major TV networks and the Associated Press. And in their poll, they found that roughly sixty percent of Americans wanted to end tax cuts for those making over $250,000. And more recently, a Quinnipiac poll said that only 35 percent of Americans wanted the Bush tax cuts extended for those with incomes over $250,000.
And, of course the American people feel this way. They know what’s been happening over the last twenty years in this country.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, during the past 20 years, 56 percent of all income growth went to the top one percent of households. Even more unbelievable-a third of all income growth went to just the top tenth of one percent. The wealthy have done extremely well for themselves over the past twenty years. Unfortunately, this is while the middle class has done decidedly worse.
When you adjust for inflation, the median household income actually declined over the last decade. During those years, while the rich were getting richer, the rest of working America was struggling to keep up. We’ve been growing apart. And the American people know this. And now, working Americans are forced to listen to the Republicans as they demand “Everyone needs to share the pain. We’re all in this together.”
The IRS published a study analyzing the tax returns of the wealthiest 400 Americans. Together, in 2007, they brought in nearly $138 billion dollars. Want to take a guess at what their average effective tax rate was? Just over 16 and a half percent. Is that really sharing the pain? Are they really sharing in the pain just like everybody else?
Now frankly, I’m a little tired of being lectured by Republicans on the deficit. We all know that Bill Clinton inherited the largest deficit in history from George H. W. Bush and then handed George W. Bush the largest surplus in history. And George W. Bush nearly doubled the national debt. He also handed Barack Obama the largest deficit in history. And, of course, my friends on the other side of the aisle controlled the Congress for most of those Bush years.
Now today, we’re talking about how to get our economy going and keep deficits down at the same time. And what we’re discussing right now is whether to restore the Clinton marginal tax rate on the very wealthiest of Americans. Now I remember when he raised the tax rate on the top 2%. Republicans said that would kill the economy.
Newt Gingrich. Remember him? On August 5, 1993, he said, “I believe this will lead to a recession next year. This is the Democrat machine’s recession, and each one of them will be held personally accountable.”
Senator Phil Gramm. Remember him? He said, “The Clinton plan is a one-way ticket to recession. This plan does not reduce the deficit…but it raises IT and it puts people out of work.”
Governor-elect John Kasich said, “This plan will not work. If it was to work then I’d have to become a Democrat.” Congratulations, Ohio, on electing a Democratic governor.
22.7 milion jobs and a giant surplus later, George W. Bush waltzes into office and says, ‘Hey, we’re running a surplus. The people deserve a tax cut.’ Now let’s recall what he said about his tax cut. He said, over and over again, and I quote, “by far the vast majority of the help goes to those at the bottom end of the economic ladder.” Wow. That sounds like the bottom got a vast majority of the tax cuts.
They didn’t. Actually, the bottom 60 percent of Americans got just 14.7 percent of the Bush tax cuts. And the top one percent got 29.5 percent of the tax cuts. Exactly double. Let me repeat that. The top 1 percent got double of what the bottom 60 percent did.
The results of this new policy? Massive deficits. Only one million new jobs over the eight years of his presidency. One million.
And now my friends in the minority want to go back to that discredited economic philosophy.
The fig leaf here is small business. They attack us and say that not cutting taxes on the richest Americans will hurt small business. Well, it seems that to my friends on the other side of the aisle some small businesses are more important than others. Why did they block us for months from passing the Small Business Jobs Act, which gave tax cuts to small businesses and created a $30 billion line of credit for small businesses on Main Street? Why did they oppose the HIRE Act that gave large tax cuts to small businesses to encourage them to hire unemployed workers? Well, it seems that these aren’t the small businesses that my friends are so concerned about.
When you and I think about a small business, we picture the mom and pop grocer down the street, or maybe a hardware store, or a small precision manufacturing operation. We probably think of them as small businesses because they are, well, small. They probably have a few employees, one location, and make a modest but comfortable living doing it.
And Republicans are trying to scare us into believing that the grocer and hardware store owners will shutter their doors if we return the top two tax brackets to their previous levels. But that’s simply not the case.
In reality, only 3 percent of small businesses would be affected by this change. Yet, you’ll hear Republicans tout that those top 3 percent of businesses make up 50 percent of total small business income. And that tells you one important thing-that those 3 percent of small businesses aren’t really small businesses. Only under the broadest, most arbitrary of definitions are these businesses “small.”
When many of my friends on the other side of the aisle talk about small businesses, they’re including anybody who uses a flow-through business entity-so an S corp or a partnership. They’re not defining a small business by its size or profits or the number of people they employ. They’re defining it on a technicality.
Under their definition, Bechtel, the fifth largest company in the U.S., is a small business. The Koch brothers, who run a petroleum company with nearly $100 billion in annual revenue, they are considered a small business. They’re worth about $16 billion – each! Law firm partners and Wall Street bond traders are considered small businesses.
So really, Republicans are using the mom and pop grocery store to defend the continuation of these tax cuts, but in reality, the only people they’re really helping are the Bechtels and Kochs of the world, and maybe Derek Jeter, Inc. and Mel Gibson, Inc., other likely “small business” beneficiaries.
And at the same time that Republicans are demanding unpaid-for tax cuts for the Koch brothers, they’re insisting that we pay for a continuation of the emergency unemployment insurance program. They want to pay for it even though unemployment benefits have been shown to be an extremely effective stimulus – in fact, one of the most effective stimulus measures. Why? Because when unemployed workers gets their checks for a couple hundred dollars, they go to their local mom and pop grocery store and buy food. They spend that money, right away, in their communities. . . in real small businesses.
It’s the holidays. Can they afford to buy a small Christmas present for their kids? I’m worried there are those among us who would say “no, no presents.”
So Republicans say that these unemployment benefits are too expensive and will add to the deficit. They demand that these unemployment benefits must be paid for. Tax cuts for the richest people in America? No need to pay for those. Adding $700 billion to the deficit-or actually $830 billion when you factor in extra interest payments? No problem.
You know, I hear my friends on the other side say, we’re going to have to make some hard choices. I agree. The deficit is a problem, and getting it under control will take shared sacrifice.
There are a lot of Minnesotans who have to make hard choices now. Maybe it means giving up the second car. Maybe it means no summer camp for the kids. Some communities in Minnesota have had to go to a four day school week, because there just isn’t the money there.
Some Minnesotans have been hit even harder. Their unemployment insurance was cut off earlier this week, because of us. They’ve got a lot of hard choices right now. Where are they going to live if they can’t pay their mortgage or the rent? Food or medicine or heat? How do I give my kids anything resembling a Christmas? These are people who lost their jobs and desperately want to find work.
But we can’t pass unemployment insurance for them unless it’s paid for. But for the owners of Bechtel or Pricewaterhouse Coopers-yeah, they’re a small business too-the sky’s the limit.
You know, I’m Jewish. So I don’t know the New Testament all that well. But I know Matthew. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of my brethren, you did for me.” I went to a union hall not long ago. Building trades. A carpenter came up to me. Big strong guy. Rough, calloused hands. Tears in his eyes. He had gotten just a little bit of work here and there in the last 18 months. He said to me, “I never took unemployment before. I hate it. But if it weren’t for my unemployment insurance, I wouldn’t be in my house.”
Making tough choices means doing one thing and not another. And right now, we’re faced with that choice. If we can’t agree to help people like that carpenter by continuing emergency unemployment benefits, how can we live with ourselves? How can we think that we’re doing our jobs? The choice before us is clear this holiday season-lend a hand to those who simply can’t get by without the help, or give $100,000 in average tax cuts to people making over a million dollars.
Where are our values? What are we doing here? It’s almost Christmas. We’ll be leaving here to go spend time with our families. We’ve got jobs, we’ve got great jobs. I think this is the greatest job, trying to make people’s lives better back in Minnesota. So I ask again, what are we doing here?