ECONOMIC STIMULUS -- (Senate - January 31, 2008)
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Mr. GRASSLEY. Madam President, I will speak on the stimulus package. Before I give a general overview of it, I want to say something about one of the several mistakes, or oversights, that is in the House bill. I don't mean to imply that these were known as oversights at the time. But one stands out so strongly you wonder whether the House is consistent in its approach to the issue of illegal aliens. I will speak from the standpoint of my experience with the children's health insurance bill.
You may be familiar with this phrase: ``Where you stand depends upon where you sit.'' Nothing better illustrates that point than this debate and the issue of rebates for illegal immigrants. We are told we must pass the House bill and that changes are unnecessary. In other words, somehow you assume the House of Representatives passed the perfect bill and we ought to rubberstamp it. I disagree. I think the House bill makes it too easy in several areas, but especially in the area of illegal immigrants, to get rebate checks. According to Numbers USA, the House bill could allow as many as 3 million illegal immigrants to receive rebate checks. The House minority leader's spokesman was quoted in the press as saying:
There is no language in the measure that would enable illegal immigrants to receive a tax rebate.
There is no language whatsoever in the House bill that would prevent an illegal immigrant from receiving one of these tax rebate checks. My colleagues on the other side of the Rotunda should be quite familiar with this line of reasoning, because they devoted countless times on the House floor last fall trying to convince people that because the SCHIP bill didn't explicitly prevent States from covering children up to 400 percent of poverty, it must mean States can cover kids up to 400 percent of poverty.
The same folks who want us to believe the House bill is fine said we hadn't done enough to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving benefits in SCHIP, even though the SCHIP bill had this very language:
Nothing in this Act allows Federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents. Titles 11, 19, and 21 of the Social Security Act provide for the disallowance of Federal financial participation for erroneous expenditures under Medicaid and under SCHIP respectively.
That was in our bill that passed last year. It is amazing how the standard has changed. The same people who said the language I just read wasn't good enough when we took up the children's health insurance program are now saying no language whatsoever is fine.
The simple fact is the House bill allows illegal immigrants to get rebate checks, plain and simple. It is important for us to fix that, and I believe we will before the bill leaves the Senate. We should not give rebate checks to people who have come to this country illegally, and we should give the House of Representatives an opportunity to fix this huge mistake that is in the bill they sent to us. I cannot imagine why anyone on the House side would complain about our doing that after all the uprising we had last fall about the Senate even considering the language I read--didn't do enough to prevent people here illegally--meaning illegal immigrants--from getting children's health insurance program. My recent experience in negotiating with the House on the issue of illegal immigrants and public benefits taught me that certain folks seem to care quite a lot about that issue, except somehow it was an oversight in this tax rebate bill.
I will quote from the debate on the SCHIP bill in the House of Representatives of October 25 of last year. I will not actually quote the Members by name. You can find it in the Congressional Record if you want to know who said it, but it doesn't matter who said it. It was an overwhelming opinion of people in that body--particularly Republicans. One Member alleged that the SCHIP bill tried ``to give benefits to illegal immigrants while we still have Americans unserved.'' He went on to say, ``that is not right. This is not fair. This is not democratic.''
Suppose I put ``tax rebates'' in there in place of ``benefits,'' and paraphrase it this way, with the same quote: ``To give [tax rebates] to illegal immigrants while we still have Americans unserved. That is not right. This is not fair. This is not democratic.''
Well, let's go on. If it weren't right there in the SCHIP bill, it is surely not right here in this tax bill. It is also not fair. We should not leave some Americans unserved when it comes to rebates, such as seniors and disabled veterans, as they did in the House of Representatives, while we are going to let illegal immigrants get rebate checks.
I want to give you another quote. This is also from the same day, October 25:
I don't think our constituents want us to vote for a bill that makes it easier for illegal immigrants to get tax-paid health care.
That is the SCHIP bill.
I think this bill does that.
So if that were the case, then I would think that Member of the House would not want to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get tax-paid rebate checks.
Finally, here is a quote from September 25, 1 month before that, in debate on the SCHIP program in the other body, from a Member who used to chair one of the committees of jurisdiction over there:
What that means is that they want illegal residents of the United States of America to get these benefits. This is what the objection means. So for that reason alone, I would ask that we vote against this bill.
``For that reason alone,'' he said--regardless of what else is good about the bill, including the language the Senate put in, which was meant not to give the SCHIP program money to illegal aliens. It still wasn't enough. Yet now that tax rebate bill comes over from that very same body and would let illegal immigrants get rebate checks.
So I say, for that reason alone, it is a reason for this body to defy people in that body who said we should not have changed the Senate bill one iota. To my colleagues on the House side, the shoe is now on the other foot. The same principle that applied then should apply now. If you felt strongly enough to stop the SCHIP bill over your concerns about illegal immigrants receiving public benefits, then you certainly should not object to the Senate repairing a bill you sent us that would allow illegal immigrants to get a rebate check. You cared about it then; you should care about it now. You said it wasn't right then. Well, it is not right now. You said it wasn't fair then. Well, it is not fair now. The Senate will fix it. It was a mistake that the Senate will fix.
Let's get back to some history about the purpose of the Senate. For anybody to think a bill would come over here from the other body without fair consideration by this body, I have used this example before, and I don't know whether George Washington actually said this, but it has been in the history books so long that it is fact as far as I am concerned. He was trying to demonstrate to people then about the new Constitution and the purpose of the House and the Senate. He had a cup of coffee on a saucer. The cup with the coffee in it was the House and the saucer was the Senate. The hot coffee in the cup was a piece of legislation, I assume. So what he did to explain the difference between the House and Senate is say this is the House of Representatives writing a bill. Then he poured out the hot coffee into the saucer. I don't know whether we do it anymore or not--I don't do it, but I have seen it demonstrated that you can pour it out to cool so you don't burn your tongue. He explained that the Senate's role was to give deep consideration, to let the pressure that comes upon a body that is elected for a 2-year period of time--a body that might be more responsible to the transient will of the majority, that that transient will of the majority needed to have a body to kind of rethink things, maybe verify that what the House did was absolutely right, or maybe verify that everything they did was absolutely wrong, or that a few changes might be made. And then, after that, the Senate passes the bill and it goes on its merry way to the President of the United States.
But I believe that people I have heard from lately, including, I guess, even our own President of the United States, have said that somehow the Senate ought to automatically take what the House did and forget all about the historical purpose of the Senate, and be on our way, with these mistakes in it--that a person who is illegally in this country could get a rebate check, when I doubt, if we are taking the needs of all of the people, that can help us revitalize this economy, through rebate checks and through enhanced investment.
Madam President, I also came to the floor to discuss this bill generally. I will start by thanking Chairman Baucus for his courtesy, hard work, and patience in this legislative effort. As we have in the past, we wanted to process the economic stimulus issue through the committee. That process started shortly after this session of Congress opened. We talked substance and process. We had discussions with the administration, especially Secretary Paulson. We had discussions with our leaders. We had two private meetings and took input from our committee members. We had two hearings on an economic stimulus.
Our goal in the Finance Committee was a bipartisan economic stimulus package. We both wanted a bipartisan economic stimulus package that responded to the needs of Americans and business and would provide a much needed boost for the economy. During this same period, the President sent a strong message that Congress must act, and Congress ought to act quickly to design a fiscal stimulus package aimed at boosting the economy. The President said such a plan would provide a ``shot in the arm'' to keep the economy healthy.
Last week, the bipartisan, bicameral congressional leadership met with the President. At that meeting, the Senate leaders more or less yielded the legislative process and the substance of this important question to the House and the Senate. In other words, Senate leaders agreed that whatever package the House leadership and White House agreed on would be treated as a fait accompli in the Senate. The Senate leadership's sudden shift in direction caught Chairman Baucus and me by surprise and, as I noted above, we had already engaged in the committee process for several weeks.
We were fully engaged on a member and staff level. Many of our members and staff brought to the table the experience from three stimulus bills earlier this decade.
I respect the role of leaders here. My guess is Chairman Baucus and two-thirds of the committee members who supported the bill yesterday also respect the role of our leaders. Many in the leadership on my side of the aisle worried about the problem that might arise if the Senate had no role other than to rubberstamp the House bill. They are rightly concerned about the Senate processing a bill, dragging it out, and loading up the bill. Certainly, that is a reasonable concern. Certainly, that is something we find happening often in the Senate. But is that concern in itself so great that the Senate should abdicate all of its legislative responsibility? Is that concern so great that the Finance Committee members should have no say over legislation falling within its jurisdiction?
In my almost quarter century of service on the Finance Committee, I am not aware of any precedent such as this. I am also not aware of any precedent on the House side. At the end of last session, some in the House side might have complained about the outcome of legislation favoring the Senate position. I am not, however, aware of a situation where House leaders on either side virtually ceded their role in legislating on a tax bill this important. As I said, I respect the concerns of leaders about timing.
It comes down to this: The leaders' concerns with timing might weigh against the question of the quality of the House bill. In other words, is a ``take it or leave it'' House bill which passes quickly better than a Senate bill which allows the Senate to work its will?
I have laid out the leaders' concern about timing. Now we question the adequacy of the House bill. That is the other side of the balance we need to strike. I know other members on both sides have asked themselves the same questions, including Chairman Baucus. Chairman Baucus makes the ultimate call. Even if I had decided the importance of quick action outweighed the benefits of going through the committee process, the chairman would have made the ultimate call to go ahead. That was the call the chairman made back in 2002, and it was the call he made this time.
In 2002, I disagreed on the substance, and we had a party line markup, but the committee did process the stimulus bill. So to anyone on my side who says my opposition would have stopped the chairman from going forward, check the history books. It did not stop the committee in 2002, and it will not stop it now.
The same outcome occurred in 2003, when I was chairman of the committee and Senator Baucus was the ranking member. We went forward in 2003. This time we were able to proceed in a bipartisan manner, and what did the committee process yield? Let's examine this side of the question. Asked another way: Did the committee process improve the House bill with Senate amendments?
One thing I heard loudly and clearly from Republicans was concerns about suffocating income limits. The chairman heard me out and agreed to eliminate them. Unfortunately, the support from the Republican side of the aisle did not line up with the principle I heard from them that they wanted included in the bill as a correction to the House bill.
On the chairman's side of the aisle, meaning the Democratic side of the aisle, there was great controversy over taking those limits off. We heard the uncapped proposal over and over defined as something specifically benefiting Bill and Melinda Gates.
To those on the left, let me tell you there must be a lot of Bill and Melinda Gateses out there. The reason I say that is $12 billion of rebate checks is involved in going back to the House income caps. With the amount of checks capped, it means there are millions of families, not a few millionaires, who are being affected.
As I said, those facts did not move many on my side away from the House bill that contains those caps, so I revisited the issue with the chairman. The caps are back, but at a much higher level. They begin to phase out at $150,000 for single taxpayers and $300,000 for married taxpayers.
So we include a few more middle-income people. That is double the House income limits, helping more middle-income people.
It is safe to say the higher income limits will aid a lot of alternative minimum tax-paying families we hear about. From my perspective, this is a big improvement over the House bill. So if you support the Finance Committee bill, you are recognizing the burden these taxpayers' families bear through the AMT. I don't want to hear any more demagoguery about Bill and Melinda Gates getting checks because there is not going to be any more billionaires getting checks, no millionaires getting checks, no ``half millionaires'' getting checks. But a lot of upper middle-income families who will not get a check under the House bill will get a check under the Finance Committee amendments.
Most on my side would consider these higher income caps an improvement of the House bill. I particularly credit Senators CRAPO and KYL for bringing up this point in our Finance Committee meetings.
Some on the other side, especially those from high-income, high-tax blue States, will quietly support this change as well but not echo it because they don't want to face the chagrin of Members who think that nobody on the Democratic side ought to be concerned about anybody who has a little higher income.
At the other end of the income scale are 20 million low-income seniors. I underscore that point, 20 million low-income seniors. The House bill leaves them out entirely. The chairman's mark in the Senate corrects that situation.
In the House bill, you will not find seniors with Social Security income covered in this bill. You will find them covered in the Senate bill.
Since we do not have the bill text yet--I am holding up the chairman's mark--we made this happen by including Social Security benefits as a qualifying income in the chairman's mark, and here is what that mark says on page 3:
All eligible individuals are entitled ..... if they satisfy at least two of the following criteria: The sum of an individual's: earned income ..... and (2) Social Security benefits must be at least $3,000.
That language is not in the House bill. Because that language is not in the House bill, 20 million seniors would not have gotten checks--if that House bill had been rubberstamped by the Senate.
During our committee process, many members discussed this defect in the House bill. As a result of careful Finance Committee member deliberations, we were able to improve the House bill.
Many disabled veterans do not get checks under the House bill. Here again, the House bill does not cover disabled veterans. Under the Senate bill, disabled veterans will be covered.
On page 2, the Finance Committee document says these words:
The provision modifies the chairman's mark to expand the rebate benefit to disabled veterans.
During careful Finance Committee deliberations, Senators LINCOLN and SNOWE filed an amendment to ensure that disabled veterans would be covered. The chairman incorporated that amendment into his modified mark. Does anyone think this is an inappropriate improvement in the House bill? I ask that of those who insist we rubberstamp this House bill, if they do not have guts enough to tell CHUCK GRASSLEY that be included, at least in their own mind, I hope they know they are wrong by not including the disabled veterans by saying we ought to rubberstamp the House bill. So the House bill, which some are insisting cannot be improved by the Finance Committee, excludes 20 million seniors and disabled veterans.
The House bill could also send checks to illegal aliens. That is right. As I said before, I spent a great deal of time on this point, for those who maybe missed the beginning. The House bill, which some are saying is the best bill we can get and ought to be rubberstamped in the Senate, is going to allow illegal aliens to get checks before we take care of all the people.
Do my colleagues understand the House of Representatives passed a bill to give rebate checks to stimulate the economy, making it possible for illegal aliens to get checks but not 20 million seniors and disabled people in this country who are here legally?
I wish to be specific on the modifications in the chairman's mark, and here is again the document to which I am referring. On page 2, this is what the document says:
The provision denies the basic credit and the qualifying child credit to individuals if they do not include on their tax return a valid taxpayer identification number for: (1) themselves (and if they are married, their spouse) and (2) any children for whom the qualifying child tax credit is claimed. For these purposes, a valid taxpayer identification number is defined as a Social Security number.
Continuing the quote:
If an individual fails to provide a correct taxpayer identification number, such omission will be treated as a mathematical or clerical error. As under present law, the Internal Revenue Service may summarily assess additional tax dues as a result of a mathematical or clerical error without sending the taxpayer a notice of deficiency and giving the taxpayer an opportunity to petition the Tax Court. Where the IRS uses the summary assessment procedure for mathematical and clerical errors, the taxpayer must be given an explanation of the asserted error and given 60 days to request that the IRS abate the assessment.
This provision uses current IRS verification techniques. It ensures that the taxpayer getting the check is identified by the tax system.
During Finance Committee deliberations, Senator Ensign and his staff raised this important issue. Senator Ensign filed an amendment that was addressed in the modified chairman's mark.
The House bill has no such provision. Again--I am not going to keep holding up these bills--we have the House bill without this provision; the Senate bill with that provision. There is no language in the House bill to address a problem Senator Ensign properly raised in the committee. The committee bill improves the House bill by making sure illegal aliens do not get a check.
The Finance Committee amendment also beefs up the business stimulus package by adding additional years to the current law net operating loss carryback rules. The Finance Committee bill adds extension of unemployment insurance benefits. I know this was a big sticking point in the negotiations between the House and the White House. In this respect, I favor the House bill. My personal preference would be to eliminate this provision. It, however, was a key issue for all the Democrats. So in compromise--and we do not get anything done in the Senate if we do not have some compromise; nothing is strictly Democratic or strictly Republican, nothing can pass here except under a process of reconciliation. So in compromise, the chairman has it worked out, and it was essential that it be worked out.
I pushed hard for investment energy incentives, and the chairman agreed with me in that respect. So the last piece of this compromise is an expansion of investment incentives to seamlessly extend investment incentives for wind, biomass, and other renewable energy projects. In committee, these provisions caught some criticism, and I expect we will hear more of the same during this debate. I will respond in detail when those criticisms are given.
I compliment committee members on finding a bipartisan middle ground. The committee stimulus package raises the caps on rebate checks, expanding the benefits to more middle-class Americans, Social Security recipients, and disabled veterans. It makes sure illegal immigrants do not get checks. It also expands some of the business relief, and it addresses unemployment. The energy investment incentives round out the package.
I ask Members to go back to the basic question of balancing quick action on a House bill--and that House bill being imperfect as I pointed out in this debate--versus improvements that were made by the Finance Committee. The House bill could be passed quickly without improvement or we could finish the process in the Senate and add improvements made by the Finance Committee.
I would challenge anyone to argue that none of the improvements made by the committee process are important enough to finish the job in the Senate. I hope nobody comes over and tells us that, for instance, it is OK to give rebate checks to people who are here illegally.
Having made that point, Madam President, we could prove our leaders right if we load up the bill in the Senate. So we ought to keep our eye on the ball and not load it up because we want to get a stimulus package passed. We don't want that to sink. Christmas is over, so let's not make this the traditional Christmas tree that sometimes legislation becomes.
Madam President, I yield the floor.
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