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Mr. BURRIS. I thank the distinguished Senator from Montana. I hope I can do my brief remarks in 6 minutes.
It is tax day, I say to the Senator. I hope your taxes are filed.
Madam President, as my colleagues and the American people are undoubtedly well aware, today is tax day.
Across the country, hundreds of millions of people are filing their returns, paying what they owe or calculating the refunds they will receive.
Now, even in the best of times, paying taxes is not something most Americans look forward to.
In fact, in the wise words of George Washington, ``no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant.''
But even Washington and the other Founding Fathers recognized that taxation is a necessity--and that paying taxes is every American's patriotic duty.
When they are levied--not by some tyrannical monarch across the ocean, but by a representative government--taxes are ``the price we pay for a civilized society,'' in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes.
It is the only way a modern government can function.
We are each asked to contribute a percentage of our income, and in return we expect our government to provide certain essential benefits:
A strong, highly-capable national defense. Adequate roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Quality schools.
Emergency responders, so there is someone to answer the phone when you call 911.
Basic regulation and consumer protections, so you can buy food and other
products without fear of getting sick or suffering injury.
A safety net to help you get back on your feet in tough economic times.
All of these programs and services are supported by our tax dollars.
They serve functions we cannot perform for ourselves--and it is appropriate that the government steps in to fulfill this role.
That is why my Democratic colleagues and I are fighting Republican obstructionism to extend unemployment insurance and other benefits people desperately need.
And that is why I am proud to report that, this year, roughly 70 percent of Americans will get a tax refund.
But even so--my colleagues and I are all painfully aware that, especially in difficult economic times, taxes can be a burden.
They can be hard on families that are already stretched to the breaking point--struggling to make ends meet in the face of pay cuts, reduced hours, or even unemployment.
That is why my Democratic colleagues and I have been working hard to ease the burden on these families.
We have committed ourselves to fight for the interests of working Americans.
Our economic recovery remains fragile.
The national unemployment rate stands just under 10 percent--and in my home State of Illinois, it exceeds 11 percent.
And among minority communities, it is much higher.
Roughly 16 percent of African Americans are currently unemployed, along with 12 percent of Hispanics.
That is why my Democratic colleagues and I have taken action. We passed a sweeping stimulus package that brought us back from the edge of economic disaster.
While Republicans filibuster unemployment benefits, my colleagues and I are fighting to extend them. While they drag their feet on COBRA, we are fighting to increase access to this important program.
And, while they talk about enacting responsible tax policies, Democrats are actually getting it done. We are working hard to make sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes--but no one is asked to contribute more than they can afford.
This is an issue that has defined our party for many years, especially under recent Democratic administrations:
From the middle-class tax relief provided by President Clinton, to the largest tax cut in American history, which was proposed by President Obama and ratified by my Democratic colleagues and I just last year--time and again, we have proven our commitment to commonsense tax policies.
We have passed fair, targeted reforms and responsible tax cuts for those who need it most. We have stood squarely on the side of the American people, despite what some of my Republican friends might claim. And in fact, when you examine their record--when you look at the truth behind the Republican rhetoric--it is quite different from what many of them would have you believe.
For decades, Republicans have claimed to be both fair and responsible when it comes to tax policy. But the reality is that they have consistently failed to deliver for the American people.
Since the days of President Reagan, Republicans have slashed tax rates for corporations and the super-rich, while squeezing the middle class for everything they are worth.
This is a country that has always encouraged personal initiative and respected success in the business world. But my friends on the other side are making it harder and harder for ordinary folks to attain prosperity and realize their dreams. It has never been harder to get rich in America--but it has never been easier to stay rich, as long as you can arrange a seven-figure bonus or a golden parachute every time the economy starts to look bad.
But for those of us who can't, Republican tax policies have brought nothing but headaches.
Under President George W. Bush, Republicans passed a massive tax break for the top 1 percent of wage earners, and did little or nothing to help the vast majority of Americans. In fact, this massive tax cut was not even paid for--every penny of it was added directly to the deficit.
So let's cut through the political rhetoric and talk about what this really means.
My Republican friends exploded the deficit by more than a trillion dollars, so they could give tax breaks to the richest of the rich. Now they are expecting us to pay down the deficit using the tax dollars of regular, middle class Americans.
These are folks who did not benefit from the original tax cut--but now Republicans expect them to foot the bill?
Not on my watch.
These tax policies are irresponsible. They are outrageous. And the American people have had enough. Even now, my friends on the other side think we should spend even more money we don't have, on people who don't need it.
My Democratic colleagues and I strongly disagree. We believe significant tax breaks should be targeted to middle-class Americans who need help, and that is why we passed legislation that accomplished exactly that.
We believe in responsible tax policy, which asks each and every American to pay their fair share without placing an unfair burden on any segment of the population.
My Republican friends will try to tell you they believe in the same values. So I would urge the American people to ask them: If that is the case, why did every single one of them vote against the largest tax cut in history?
The Democratic record is clear. We believe in American prosperity on Main Street, not just Wall Street.
So I urge my Republican friends to join us in standing up for ordinary folks, not just Wall Street bankers and the richest of the rich.
Unfortunately, taxes will always be necessary, and they will never be pleasant. But if we embrace commonsense tax policies and fight for the principles that have guided Democrats for many years, we can make these tough times just a little bit easier for ordinary folks.
Pay your taxes, enjoy America, and let's make sure that everyone pays their fair share.
I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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