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Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, shortly, we hopefully will be voting on a budget agreement for this fiscal year, and that will start the process of the debate on the next fiscal year. What we are about to do is more than pass a budget agreement; we are about to define a vision of America. We are about to make choices now and in the coming weeks that will reflect our values and our principles as a people and as a nation.
The real question before us, in my mind, is not simply about the numbers, it is about competing visions of America, whether we choose a vision of America where the air and water are clean, where food and prescription drugs are safe, where roads and bridges and transportation systems are modern, well maintained, and fuel prosperity for the future, an America that puts a premium on education and invests in jobs and the middle-class, an America where a mother who wakes up in the middle of the night with a sick child doesn't have to wonder if she can afford to take that child to the doctor or if her insurance will cover the costs, an America in which seniors have a reliable Medicare system they can count on, not just a voucher that doesn't even cover the cost of a plan in the private marketplace. That is an ugly vision of America we have seen before, and it is why we passed Medicare in the first place.
Let's be clear. This is not about the numbers. This is not just simply about the details of deficit reduction. This is about two competing views of this Nation, one in which we embrace the concept of community, each of us working together for the betterment of all of us--all of us sharing in the burden of balancing the budget and reducing the deficit.
The other is a tea party vision, in which no government is good government and the notion of an American community is a myth, and we are simply a nation of competing individuals, each of us working for what we can get on our own. Tea partiers see an America in which the burden of balancing the budget should be borne by senior citizens, students, and middle-class families, while protecting subsidies to big oil companies and giving even more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.
We see an America of shared prosperity and shared responsibility that reduces the deficit and balances the budget, knowing that millionaires and billionaires can be just as patriotic and willing to pay their fair share as a soldier in Afghanistan whose family is living on an Army paycheck.
Our friends on the other side tell us tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires create jobs and benefit middle-class families. They told us, when we passed the Bush tax cuts a little over a decade ago, it would create millions of jobs for every American, and what happened? Jobs were eliminated or sent overseas, and the wage gap increased. This tax policy may benefit some, but it doesn't create jobs and it doesn't reduce our deficit.
For some reason, we seem to think the wealthiest Americans are clamoring for more tax cuts, but I find no basis in fact for that. I have spoken to many CEOs and leading corporate executives in my State and around the country, and never have I heard a word about how badly they need another tax cut. I believe the wealthiest Americans are as patriotic as any one of us and are willing to step up to the plate and pay their fair share if we simply ask them to support a rational tax reform program that emphasizes shared fiscal responsibility and shared prosperity.
In my view, tax cuts for millionaires are nothing more than a political sleight of hand, a smoke-and-mirrors vision of America, in which there is no shared responsibility, no sense of community but a misguided belief that only if the rich had more money, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the middle-class families struggling to make ends meet, the disabled child on Medicaid who needs round-the-clock care, we would somehow be better off.
We have been there before, and it hasn't worked. It is a smoke-and-mirror vision of America to believe that if there were no environmental protections, that polluters would protect our air and keep the water clean and safe because it is the right thing to do. Again, we have seen that vision of America, and it came in a poisonous cloud of smog that lingered over America's cities, which is why Richard Nixon, a Republican President, created the Environmental Protection Agency in the first place.
If we are serious about reducing the deficit, we at least should be looking, for example, at subsidies for big oil. The top five oil companies earned nearly $1 trillion--$1 trillion--over the last decade. Passing my bill to repeal oil subsidies would save taxpayers $33 billion over the next 10 years. We can safely assume oil profits will be much greater in the decade to come with higher oil prices, but let's assume that the top five oil companies only get another $1 trillion in profits over the next decade. Taking back $33 billion in government handouts would only shave about 3 percent of those profits. Let's
not forget that much of these profits are in Federal waters and on Federal lands, so they are making these profits on America's own soil.
If we were serious about reducing the deficit, we would also be seriously looking, for example, at big oil subsidies and tax breaks. According to the data, the cost of exploration, development, and production of natural oil and gas in the United States averaged about $33.76 per barrel of oil. Oil is trading at $107 a barrel. That means big oil companies are enjoying a profit of over $750 per barrel of oil they extract. Why in the world would they ever need subsidies from the U.S. taxpayer in such conditions?
No, handing out money and reducing regulatory burdens on big oil companies and on the wealthiest Americans is not about balancing the budget or reducing the deficit; it is about a vision of America that favors the rich and would rather dismantle Medicare, cut Social Security, cut Medicaid for seniors, and the poorest among us in nursing homes who have no other place to go, rather than to solve our long-term deficit problems.
I am deeply disturbed at what is being proposed as we move forward in the next debate of the next fiscal year and the so-called push for balancing the budget by shifting $4 trillion from the promise of America to protect this Nation and to create prosperity for its people, to the wealthiest Americans in a tax cut that actually does absolutely nothing to solve the deficit problem. I am disturbed when I see those on the other side lining up to resist any compromise, any effort for a reasonable chance at a workable solution.
Before the President was even done speaking yesterday, the tea party and many Republicans had already made up their minds that there was nothing to talk about, no room for compromise; that there is no other view than their own.
When I first arrived in the other body, we may have had very clear and fundamental differences, but we understood we were there to govern. Now our Republican colleagues seem to have stopped governing in order to score political points and hope they can win an election. The extreme wing of the Republican Party is driving the legislative process and the Republican Party to the darkest reaches of the political spectrum, fundamentally threatening the very notion of democracy. They want what they want, and they want it all. They will accept nothing less than everything. But let's not forget it was Republican policies that got us here in the first place.
It wasn't long ago, not long after the last Republican government shutdown during another Democratic administration, when we had budget surpluses--surpluses--as far as the eye could see. The day Bill Clinton left office, he handed President Bush a $236 billion surplus, with a projected surplus of $5.6 trillion over the next 10 years. When the Bush administration left office and President Obama was sworn in after 8 years of Republican economic policies that they are espousing, again, including tax cuts to the wealthiest, two wars waged unpaid for, turning a blind eye to the excesses of Wall Street--the new President faced an economy that was at the abyss of a new depression. The Republicans had turned a $236 billion budget surplus into a $1.3 trillion budget deficit and projected shortfalls of $8 trillion over the next decade.
Now they want to give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, losing $700 billion on the revenue side over the next 10 years by extending the Bush tax cuts and trillions more by slashing tax rates for corporations and millionaires without offsetting tax expenditures. Those making more than $1 million a year would see tax cuts of $125,000 each from the tax cuts and tens of thousands of dollars more from the proposed tax cuts, while people in my State would lose $34 billion in health benefits and 400,000 New Jerseyans end up without health coverage at all. They want to shift the balance to millionaires and billionaires while making Draconian cuts to make up for the deficits they create--cuts that do not reflect our values as a people and as a nation.
So let me conclude by saying we all agree we must do more to rein in spending and get back to the kind of surpluses Democrats created in the 1990s, but we can only get there through a reasonable framework that emphasizes shared prosperity and shared fiscal responsibility to achieve our common goal. The way we get there is through negotiation and compromise, not from smoke and mirrors, not through trickle-down theories that have not worked, and strictly adhering to an ideological political agenda that fundamentally starts the clock all over again on the battles for basic American protections that were fought and won in the last century.
Let's not go back. Let's protect American values and keep America moving forward and working. As I have said, you show me your budget and I will show you your values.
The Republican vision of this Nation, as defined in H.R. 1, does not represent this Senator's values. It is not the fulfillment of the American promise, idea and ideal, and I do not believe it is who we are as a people and what we want our Nation to represent.
With that, I yield the floor.
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