The Fiscal Cliff

Floor Speech

By:  Debbie Stabenow
Date: Dec. 4, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise to bring attention to a critically important piece of legislation the Senate has passed and the House needs to pass immediately. It passed the Senate with bipartisan support. There are those on both sides of the aisle in the House of Representatives who support passing it. I am here to urge, in the strongest terms possible, that the Speaker bring up this bill before the House and get it passed.

Many people, because of my speaking in the past, may think I am referring to the farm bill, which I also believe we need to have the House take up and pass because of our bipartisan work. But I actually am referring to the fact that we have only 27 days until we go over the fiscal cliff. For middle-class families what this means is 27 days before their taxes go up on average $2,200.

What we are talking about is the fact that we passed a bill. We did not just pass a bill, we passed a bill in July. July 25 of this year the Senate passed a bill to extend tax cuts on all income up to $250,000. That is for anyone. It is now sitting in the House and everybody agrees middle-class families should not get a tax increase. Yet they have not taken it up. This needs to be taken up and passed before the end of the year so we can make sure middle-class families do not get caught in what we are talking about, which is the fiscal cliff.

For a family on a budget, $2,200 more in taxes means a lot of things. It means a lot of things as families are trying to figure out how to pay for Christmas this year. It is not an accident that we are seeing layaway becoming very popular again as families are trying to figure out how to make sure their children have the Christmas they want to give them, yet juggle their cash flow situation in trying to figure out how to pay for it and pay the bills. That $2,200 will make a huge difference to millions of families. It is the difference between just paying the regular bills--utility bills, the mortgage, the rent, the car payment.

There is absolutely no reason families should find themselves in this situation right now when they are worried about this, absolutely none. As I said before, we passed a bill on July 25--not August, not September, not October, July 25--to get this issue off the table. We know there are broader issues on which we have to come together. There has to be a balanced approach, we know that, on long-term deficit reduction. But we said in the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, we do not want middle-class families caught in the middle of that. We do not want them being held hostage in order to get an additional tax break for multimillionaires.

It has been 132 days since the House Republican leadership got that bill. For 132 days they have been refusing to take it up. I commend the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, for now bringing forward a discharge petition to bring that directly to the floor. I think it is widely believed--I certainly believe--that there are enough votes on the floor of the House to pass this, to make sure middle-class families do not see an additional $2,200 coming out of their paychecks starting in January.

For 132 days families have been waiting for their own economic certainty. Yet it still has not been taken up in the House. Christmas is 3 weeks from today. This is the worst possible time to create uncertainty for families across America. We also know this is about hurting the economy. It is a drag on consumer spending not to continue the tax cuts--consumer spending which makes up about 70 percent of the economy. So there is a direct relationship between what happens in growing the economy and what happens for middle-class families. Now we have 27 days for the House to get this done. There are 27 days to stop holding middle-class families hostage while we work out a larger agreement on what needs to be done on deficit reduction. All we need to do is to pass the Senate bill.

Let me repeat. By extending this particular bill, every American will get a tax cut on their first 250,000 in income. The good news is that involves tax cuts for 98 percent of American families; 98 percent of American families will be protected from seeing any kind of a tax increase--and 97 percent of small businesses, by the way. So if someone has $1 over $250,000, they would not be protected from a tax increase. They would get the first $250,000 in tax cuts, but they would not get additional bonus tax cuts on top of that. This makes sure 98 percent of the American people do not see their taxes go up, and those who benefited the most by the tax cuts in the last decade will be able to step up and be part of the solution on deficit reduction, which the vast majority of people in this country agree is fair.

People in Michigan are worried about what is going to happen. They come to me in the grocery store. I received many e-mails and calls to my office and meetings, on Facebook and Twitter. People in Michigan understand that $2,200 more coming out of their pockets next year can be devastating.

Terri from Lansing told me she unexpectedly lost her job when her company went out of business and had to struggle in foreclosure, similar to many people, and used her Roth IRA to get by. ``I am part of the baby boomer generation and now I live paycheck to paycheck, just barely surviving.''

Two thousand dollars makes a huge difference.

Zelda from Washington writes that $2,200 is our groceries for 4 months; 4 months of groceries for Zelda's family. That is what we are talking about if the Senate bill does not get passed by the House.

Carol from Michigan writes:

I am a retired grandmother getting a State pension and Social Security. I also have three teenage grandchildren living with me.

That is not a new story for many people--``three teenage grandchildren living with me.''

Any increase in anything might break me.

Thomas from Grand Rapids writes:

I will most likely have to find a job to make ends meet. So much for being retired.

Again, so many families, so many individuals find themselves in this situation. They think they have planned for their retirement and now cannot count on what they thought would be there. They watch this and the fact that we have a choice to make sure tax cuts continue for 98 percent of the American families, middle-class families, that everybody gets a tax cut up to $250,000 a year. Yet the House Republicans will not even bring it up for a vote because they want extra tax cuts for multimillionaires? They look at that and they say: What, are you crazy? This makes absolutely no sense.

President Obama ran on a plan to end the tax breaks for millionaires; basically, that plan that passed the Senate, by the way, on a bipartisan vote. He ran on a plan that would say those savings would then be applied to deficit reduction. We know that is so critical.

We saw what people thought about that. He was reelected by a wide margin. The American people want us to come together, to work together in a bipartisan way to reduce the deficit, and they support the approach that starts by making sure middle-class families are not once again asked to pay for the full burden of what needs to be done. They support an effort that says extend tax cuts for middle-class families and ask those at the very top who have gotten extra tax cuts to forgo those and chip in to be part of the larger deficit reduction solution.

Unfortunately, yesterday Speaker Boehner ignored this when he offered a Republican counterproposal to the President's proposal that would essentially raise taxes on middle-class families and cut Medicare for our senior citizens. As Senator Reid said yesterday, ``It flunks the test of balance.''

To get the kind of revenue to reduce the deficit that is needed, that we all agree has to be done, their plan does some radical things. Their idea of revenue is to continue the tax cuts for any income above $250,000 for multimillionaires and, instead, to get rid of tax deductions used by middle-class families. So middle-class families might not have a mortgage deduction on their home that millions of people rely on; the student loan deduction for middle-class families that is allowing college to be more affordable; the charitable giving deduction that middle-class families rely on when they donate to churches and other nonprofits; the marriage penalty; the child credit; the mortgage tax relief deduction I offered to make sure if someone has to do a short sale at the bank, they do not pay extra taxes.

That is important for everyone to understand; that we--and I am speaking now as a Senate majority--are not going to balance the budget on the backs of middle-class families. We are not going to balance the budget, reduce the deficit by asking middle-class families who had the biggest hit of anybody with everything that has happened in the recession--and I certainly can speak for Michigan on this--we are not going to put the burden on middle-class families one more time. That is not what this is about.

On election day 60 percent of voters said they wanted to end the extra tax breaks for people making over $250,000--for income over $250,500. Yet the House Republican leadership wants to welcome middle-class families into the new year by having their taxes go up on average $2,200. As Zelda from Michigan said, that is 4 months of groceries. No way. There is no way I am going to support letting that happen.

Thankfully, we do have Republican colleagues who join us wanting to get this passed. We did in the Senate and those speaking out in the House and I commend them. Congressman Tom Cole from Oklahoma stated the obvious last week--and I encourage and congratulate him for speaking out. He said Republicans should immediately extend the tax cuts for families making under $250,000 a year. That is what he said. I agree with that. His Oklahoma constituents praised him. His constituents praised him. Unfortunately, his leadership dismissed him. The Washington Post reported that 70 percent of the calls to Congressman Cole's Washington, DC, office are positive and that 90 percent of his calls back home in Oklahoma--90 percent--have supported his position.

Congressman Cole knows he should be listening to his constituents, and he is. If we all listened to the people we represent and if the House leadership listens to the people of this country and those they represent, they will pass the bill we sent to them in July.

If taxes go up for middle-class families on January 1, people are going to know who is responsible for letting that happen. I urge House Republican leadership to take up S. 3412, the Middle-Class Tax Cut Act, pass it now, so the overwhelming number of families in this country have certainty going into this important holiday season and into the new year, so they can enjoy the season without knowing that their taxes are going to be going up on January 1.

As of today we have 27 days before the vast majority of people in America--98 percent--see tax increases occur. It makes no sense, there is no reason for it to happen, and we have already passed a bill. If the House passes a bill, that is step one. Step one very clearly says we are all together on supporting the middle class continuing their tax cuts. We know there is more to do. We are fully prepared to do that. But step one is to make sure the middle class is not held hostage while the debate goes on about what should happen for the wealthiest few in this country.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.