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Public Statements

Progressive Caucus

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. WOOLSEY. I'd like to thank the chairman of the Progressive Caucus for bringing this together today to talk about what's so important to the people of the United States of America, our country, and in turn the world.

I want to say a few things about the Buffett rule just to fill out that discussion. There are some things we know: the Buffett rule is fiscally responsible. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Buffett rule could reduce the deficit by anywhere from $47 billion to $162 billion over the next decade. The Buffett rule is widely supported, as the chairman just said. The Buffett rule would restore the principled fairness of the Tax Code because it ensures that millionaires can't game the system to pay a lower rate than middle class families.

Overwhelming majorities of Americans across the political spectrum believe millionaires should pay their fair share. An overwhelming 76 percent of Americans support increasing the taxes paid by people who make more than $1 million per year, which includes 75 percent of Independents and 56 percent of Republicans.

The majority of millionaires themselves support the Buffett rule. In a recent poll of millionaires, an overwhelming 68 percent support the Buffett rule. Millionaires support the Buffett rule.

And remember, it's taxation above $1 million and it's stepped up. It isn't the minute you hit $1 million you're taxed at a much greater rate. It's over. From $1 million up, the taxes will go up.

Seven thousand millionaires paid no individual income taxes in the year 2011. Seven thousand millionaires didn't pay any personal taxes in 2011. According to the Tax Policy Center, 7,000 millionaires--it was that tax center that told us that.

The Republican budget would shower even more tax breaks on millionaires while putting more of the burden on the middle-class families. While Democrats are fighting to restore fairness in the Tax Code, the Republican budget offers extreme right-wing alternatives--that's my opinion--that would shower millionaires and billionaires with tax breaks at the expense of the middle class, and that would further skew the system in favor of the wealthiest Americans.

So we've got a lot of statistics. We know the facts. We're ready to support the Buffett rule. Millionaires, themselves, support it. So the question is: Why can't we get the people we work with in the U.S. Congress to support the Buffett rule?

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Ms. WOOLSEY. I want to add a couple of things about the Buffett rule. There is so much to talk about that, I'm sure, our C SPAN viewers and probably most of the Members of Congress really don't realize.

The 400 highest-earning Americans in 2008, who made an average each of $271 million, paid an average effective Federal tax rate of just 18.1 percent. At the same time, a married couple earning $70,000 a year paid a rate of 25 percent. Is that just unbelievable?

Mr. ELLISON. Amazing.

Ms. WOOLSEY. The Buffett rule seeks to restore balance to families, and the Tax Code would make sure that no millionaire would pay a lower tax rate than middle class Americans. In fact, the Buffett rule is targeted. The legislation will only impact taxpayers with a taxable income of over $1 million who are not paying a minimum tax rate of 30 percent. So realize that. Of the 144 million tax returns filed in 2010, fewer than 500,000 of them--0.1 percent of the taxpayers--had taxable incomes of over $1 million. Remember, these are taxable incomes because there are lots of write-offs.

Mr. ELLISON. So the people who have the kind of money you just described are actually a small part of the population, but I think they're punching above their weight because they have an inordinate influence in the political process.

Ms. WOOLSEY. You're right. They have an influence in the political process, and average working Americans don't realize that that's not them. The families who earn $70,000 a year are taxed on that at a rate of 25 percent.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. I would like to say, by caring about American workers, by caring about women and children, by caring about our seniors, by wanting to put food on the tables of all Americans and help them with clean air and good food and clean water, if that labels us, so be it. All that says to me is somebody is very frightened about the good things we do. I think we should move on now.

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Congresswoman, I agree.

I also want to point out that to label folks as Communists and Socialists just because they believe in fairness for the working people of this country is not true, and I think that it should be called out because, if it's left unaddressed, then some folks will think it's true.

With that, I certainly would love for us to get into a discussion about Citizens United, Congresswoman.

Ms. WOOLSEY. Thank you.

I believe that it's evermore important that we do something about the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which overturns nearly 100 years of campaign finance laws in this country which limit corporation involvement in political campaigns.

[Time: 15:00]
The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentlewoman will suspend.

Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 5, 2011, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Johnson) will control the remainder of the hour as the designee of the minority leader.

Ms. WOOLSEY. In that action by the Supreme Court, big business was given a louder voice than the individual in this country. If we want to protect our democracy, that's what we have to bring an end to, all that money coming into the political system without transparency and making the average citizen feel like their voice means nothing.

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Congresswoman, I believe that you have hit the nail on the head. This Citizens United ruling by the United States Supreme Court definitely puts corporations in a position of superiority over just the regular working people of this country. The reason why is because corporations have now been afforded the same rights that individuals have, to speak freely and with no regulation. Congress refuses to even consider any regulations on that speech for purposes of campaigning and affecting the outcome of campaigns.

This is a decision that is devastating to the working people of this country, the people who don't have a voice like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or like some unknown super PAC that is formed on the eve of an election, funded anonymously, and used to affect an election and used in such a way that you can't even mount a response to it because the cascade of money is in that PAC and you have the slightest ability to raise the requisite amount of money to match it. They control the outcome of these elections with the money, and that is a devastating blow to our democracy.

Ms. WOOLSEY. HANK, the entire time I've been in the Congress--I mean, I've been here for 20 years now, and we've had a Republican majority and we've had a Democrat majority. But when the Republicans have been in the majority, they use as part of their mantra that they are returning government to the people.

Excuse me. Citizens United takes government away from the people. I don't hear them trying to change that. They--the other side of the aisle, the party in the majority right now--seem to be defending Citizens United.

The other thing they are doing at this moment is they are trying to upend the Presidential campaign finance system. They want to drown out the voice of the people and give more power to the well-heeled special interests in the Presidential elections as well. Those elections go quite well with public financing. People choose on their tax form whether or not they want to give to the Presidential elections.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Congressman, the one beacon of light in the system is the public financing of Presidential campaigns. I have to remind everybody, that's voluntary. People volunteer $1 a year out of their tax return to support the public financing of the Presidential races. They have to opt to do that. They don't have to. It's served our country well, and it's a very limited expense. It needs updating. It doesn't need dismantling. We need more public financing of our Federal election, not less.

Actually, if I had my way, we would have public financing, we would have a much shorter campaign season, and we would also publicly finance advertising as well as set spending limits and not turn campaigns--it's an industry in this country now that certainly employs thousands and thousands of people. But it spends a lot of our time and individual money in order to get people elected.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Right. I have been so fortunate because I represent a district that I fit. You know I'm retiring, but I have represented this district for 20 years, and I have fit so well that I have not had to raise millions of dollars.

I have watched my colleagues who are in these districts that could go either way and where now Citizens United has brought this super-PAC money in against them, and I don't know how they do it. I mean, what a way to ruin our democracy, to have the people you elect to represent you spend much of their time raising money instead of raising consciousness, instead of raising issues, instead of fighting for what we know needs to be done in this country.

This corrupt campaign finance system we have, with the special interest money, is going to actually corrode our democracy. If we don't step up to it on both sides of the aisle, everybody is going to be affected by it, not just Democrats.

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Ms. WOOLSEY. Right. If everybody has a certain amount of time on air, they can spend it putting down their opponent, or they can spend that time letting their constituents know who they are. If they want to be negative, they can do it the way they want to, but they will probably find out it's much more wholesome and people will like them a lot better when they know them for who they are and not as put-down artists.

When you say there's folks from the other side of the aisle, and I'm sure there are, I think that it's our job now to pull together a core here in the Congress who are willing to limit the influence of contributors and who are willing to curb the power of political action committees and impose spending limits and not let corporate America have a bigger voice than the average voter.

Somehow or another, I think it's going to be possible, but it's going to take leaders like yourself, Hank, to make that happen, so I'll be cheering for you.

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Well, I believe you are right about that. But I will say, though, those moderates on the other side of the aisle who I am referring to are the prime targets of the interests that want to get rid of them and go to an extreme. So folks over here on the Republican side of the aisle are forced to comply with the party line or else they'll suffer the consequences.

Even when they follow the party line here, they think, okay, well, we don't trust this person over here because there's some new blood over here that talks much more extremely, and so we want to get rid of that person here and put this new person in.

Ms. WOOLSEY. Well, if we eliminate special interest money, if we have the Declaration for Democracy and have a constitutional change, the United States Constitution regarding this Citizens United action of the Supreme Court, I think we can help turn that around.

Mr. JOHNSON of Georgia. Well, you know, Congresswoman, you lead into the Declaration for Democracy, which I had the pleasure to sign yesterday, along with many of my other colleagues; and I am sure that the longer that this is around, the more that people will sign up. Have you had an opportunity to sign?

Ms. WOOLSEY. I signed the little card. I haven't signed that one, but I'm looking why aren't I on there. I mean, that's how much I support it.

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