Motion to Instruct Conferees on H.R. 3630, Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011

Floor Speech

By:  Greg Walden
Date: Feb. 8, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WALDEN. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, we've seen this motion to instruct before; and it calls on the conferees, of which I'm a member, to act, and to do so by February 17, I believe is the date that's been suggested. We would like to act. In fact, we await an alternative from the Senate. The conference committee has met and, led by our very capable chairman, Dave Camp of Michigan, we've held, I believe, three or four open joint House-Senate Republican-Democrat conference discussions, meetings which hadn't happened around here. Certainly in the last Congress I don't think it ever happened. And we're doing it in the broad daylight, and we've had four of those, and our staffs are having some discussions.
But you've got to go back and understand that the House, under Republican leadership, actually passed a 1-year extension of the unemployment benefits. The House, Republican led, passed a 2-year doc fix, which meant for seniors who are on Medicare that the physicians they rely so much on for their health care, those physicians would continue to be able to afford to see them and not face a 27.4 percent cut in the reimbursement rates.

Now, here's the deal. We passed that, and we funded it, and we did it for 2 years, not 2 months--2 years. We did the payroll tax, as it's called by my friends on the other side of the aisle, payroll tax, middle class tax, working-American tax cut for a full year.

Now, there's a debate about whether that should be offset or not, because our party has said, you know, when we reduce the tax burden on hardworking middle class Americans, families and job creators, we shouldn't have to go raise somebody else's taxes to do that.

Now, the difference on this, if we're talking about Social Security taxes, this is about reducing the amount of money that you and I, Mr. Speaker, you and I pay into Social Security and every working American that pays into Social Security. We're saying, you get to reduce how much you pay into Social Security by this 2 percent.

Now, those of us on this side of the aisle believe that the Social Security trust fund has been raided once too many times by both parties over time, but that should stop. And so if we're going to reduce how much goes into Social Security, we should offset that somehow so that the fund is not drained, and that can be done in a multitude of ways.

But it should be done because otherwise it's less money going into the Social Security trust fund. And I think we'd all have to admit, as the actuaries do, that at the end of the day, the Social Security trust fund is not the best funded trust fund on the planet, and we are going to need to do some work to secure the retirement of future generations in Social Security.

So back to the point here, the House passed all of that. We did a 1-year payroll tax reduction so that hardworking middle class Americans would have tax relief. They'd have that extra money in the pocket, and Lord knows they need it, especially when you see what's happened under this President with energy costs.

I think gasoline was $1.86 a gallon when President Obama took office, and we now go to the pump and it's somewhere between $3-something or $4 and pushing over $4 depending on where you are in America. You've got to have a little extra money just to try and keep up and take your kids to soccer and go to school and go to work. It's hard out there.

So we passed that, a year extension of that, and a full year extension of unemployment for those who have struggled in this horrible economy. There have been 11 recessions since World War II. This is the worst in terms of a recovery from a recession.

When Ronald Reagan was President, we had a horrible recession in the early eighties. We came out of that recession, and if it were at the same pace now as then, you'd create something like 15 million, 16 million new jobs, which means virtually everybody who's unemployed and still uncounted, because a lot of people who have fallen off the unemployment rolls aren't counted, all of them would have jobs if we were growing at the same pace we did when President Reagan was in office and we came out of that recession.

But we're not. The policies really haven't worked. The so-called stimulus that the American taxpayers were told if it would just pass, somehow unemployment would never get above 8 percent. Now, a trillion-plus dollars later with interest, payments that the next generation will get to pay back, we're somehow supposed to celebrate unemployment that's dropped to 8.3.

I'm glad to see the improvement. I'm glad to see the job gains in the private sector. For goodness sakes, my wife and I have been small business owners since 1986 in Oregon. I understand what it's like to sign the front of a payroll check and the back and to grow a business and to deal in good times and in bad.

But the long and short of this is this is a horrible recession, so coming out of this we need that bridge. We put some reforms in unemployment to help people, to lift them up, to give them incentive when they're out there for a year, year and a half, 2 years that maybe we could help them get a better education, encourage that, allow States to encourage that, to help them get a GED, because all of the data shows that if you have a high school diploma, if you have a GED, the odds of you getting hired are much higher.

Then we gave the States the opportunity to do drug screening.

I've heard from a lot of employers in my district out in rural Oregon that say, We do drug tests, and Congressman, you'd be shocked at how many people apply for the job and can't pass the drug test. Well, if you can't pass the drug test, then maybe you really aren't actively seeking work in a way that's legitimate because you can't get hired and yet you're on unemployment, so why don't we do some sort of screen, figure out that problem that you have, and help you then get treatment.

So we said to States, we're going to do away with a Federal decision that's, I don't know, 20, 30, 40 years old that said States don't have this authority. I think States could actually manage this pretty well. That was in the bill the House passed.

So we did all of these things: A 1-year reduction in the taxes people pay into Social Security, the payroll tax deduction, a 2-year fix for your physicians who treat our families on Medicare. Both of my parents, they're gone now, they were on Medicare. My wife's parents, who've also passed away, they were on Medicare. This is an incredibly valuable program. But we passed a 2-year fix for them.

The 1-year for unemployment and the 1-year for the middle class tax cut. All of that went over to the Senate. And this is probably something maybe we can agree on here. What we got back from the other Chamber was a 2-month extension of those things.

Now, some of us stayed around here when the House said, Really? A 2-month, when this is a 1-year and 2-year problem? Why don't you appoint some negotiators? So the Speaker of the House, Mr. Boehner, appointed the negotiators through the House side. We hoped that the Senate would appoint negotiators. They didn't. They didn't appoint anybody. In fact, they left town.

Eventually, when nobody showed up after we'd been here for a week, trying to see if we couldn't bring both sides, the House and the Senate together, Republicans and Democrats, work out something more than a 2-month deal, they wouldn't show. And we ended up passing a 2-month extension. Which by the way, Mr. Speaker, puts us right back where we are right now. Which is why we have this motion to instruct from my friends on the other side of the aisle calling on the conference committee to get its work done by the 17th.

So we have worked for that. In fact, the last time this was voted on here it was overwhelming. I think there were only 16 ``no'' votes in the House. So we want to get this done, too.

Now, the Republican conferees have met today, as we've done over the last week or two. The Democrat Senate conferees, by the way, they had a retreat today down at the Nationals ballpark in some meeting room. There was a planning retreat. Both parties have had these in the House. But it just sort of caused a pause in the effort because the Democrats were all off at a policy retreat today from the Senate, so we weren't able to accomplish much today.

But we hope to get something from the Senate because, you see, they go into the conference and they had this 2-month effort against our 1-year. So we can't negotiate against ourselves. So we're waiting for a proposal back from the Senate, which we hope to get soon. If we do, tomorrow we'll meet at 10 o'clock. Republicans, Democrats, House and Senate to try and work this through. We want to get this done. The American people deserve to have us get this done. We're working on a way to do that.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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