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Mr. BLUNT. Madam President, I am glad to join Senator Thune in proposing these two important amendments and also to join him on the overall point on which we ought to be focused, which is economic opportunity and economic growth.
How do we get people onto the pathway of more opportunity for them and their families? Private sector job creation should be the No. 1 domestic goal of America today. Frankly, it should be the No. 1 domestic goal of everything we do.
When we are dealing with a budget or an appropriations bill that deals with any kind of domestic policy, we ought to be thinking about how this would impact private sector job creation. How does this impact economic growth? How does this impact opportunity? What do we do to change our society for the better and not the other way around?
Clearly, I think we all appreciate the fact that Americans are more generous in giving to religious organizations and charities than anybody else in the world. My belief is that there is no country that comes anywhere close in charitable giving. It is not just the top earners in America who give money to charitable organizations, sometimes it is given by families who have to stretch the dollar to make the contribution they want to make to their church that Sunday or to make the contribution they want to make to the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts activities or the YMCA or YWCA in their community. Nobody does this the way we do it.
I am proud to join Senator Thune as he works on these issues. We have worked together for a long time, and Senator Thune has always been a critical advocate for our charities as well as for families who work hard and create a small business or a family farm or ranch so they are able to pass it along to the next generation.
Let me first talk a little bit more about charities. The ability to voluntarily come together and do things is provided in the first amendment. It is not just an amendment that protects speech and religion, but it protects association, it protects people who make things happen in their community that otherwise would not happen.
Americans give like nobody else in the world. Every day our religious institutions, charities, hospitals, museums, and others come together to take private resources and meet a number of community needs which are met in the best possible way by people who are doing that through a charitable effort. They help to feed the hungry, care for the sick, serve the poor, and contribute to all kinds of educational institutions.
Americans help by undertaking critical research and giving money that goes to either help operate or actually support museums and parks. This is a small example of what Americans do because they give to charity, which is often done better than government bureaucracies; it is cheaper, more effective, more reasonable, and we need to do everything we can to continue to do that.
In 2011 Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes, and 75 percent of that giving was done by individuals. Of the 41 million American households who itemize on their taxes--where they can specifically see what they did--86 percent of those households take advantage of the charitable contribution as they calculate their taxes.
The vast majority of people don't give to charities for tax breaks. I was the president of a southern baptist university for 4 years before I came to Congress. Every university president I know knows a little bit about raising money, and every one of them knows that not every contributor is motivated by the Tax Code, but the Tax Code has an impact on whether they meet their goals. However, some contributors are concerned, and the size of that contribution matters as it relates to how they can leverage, frankly, the Tax Code in a way that makes it easier for them to give more to help take care of the things they care about.
We want to be sure we are doing what we can as we try to grow the economy, and an awful lot of our economy comes from the private sector. About 1 out of 10 jobs is in the charitable sector--1 out of 10 jobs is in the charitable sector. When we restrict that charitable sector, we restrict people from doing what they would do otherwise.
Senator Thune mentioned $9 billion. Now, $9 billion of $300 billion, does that sound like a lot? It sounds like a lot to the kid who got the last scholarship. It sounds like a lot for the park that doesn't get the new playground equipment because the local Kiwanis club could not get to their goal so they could help their community. If we add up charitable contributions that anyone here gives to, in all likelihood, collectively it would amount to less than $9 billion. So of course it makes a difference, and it is a difference in whether or not they get there. The nonprofit sector employs 1 out of 10 U.S. workers and provides almost 14 million jobs and paid almost $600 billion in wages and benefits. It is about exactly the same in our State.
This is a part of who we are that we don't want to discourage. There is a reason Americans give more generously to charitable causes than anybody else in the world. Let's not walk away from that.
This amendment will ensure that the limits on charitable giving that are in place in the budget of the majority don't go toward just more government spending. If we want to have a discussion about how we might cut tax rates and encourage the economy, that is one thing, but if the discussion is to discourage people from giving to charities so there will be more money for government to spend, I just say that is the wrong discussion to have.
We should not increase government spending at the expense of America's churches and charities. And, of course, the death tax, small businesses, family farms, ranches have all paid taxes on everything they have. Lots of times they pay taxes on everything they have, such as the income tax and the annual property tax.
Everybody can think of 1 example, if not 100, of the family who works side by side. Frankly, by the time parents leave this Earth, it is really hard to determine who created the wealth. Was it Mom and Dad or was it the son or daughter who was standing right there beside them in the grocery store every day or working with them on the family farm or ranch?
In our State of Missouri, we have more than 100,000 individual farms. It is the second highest number of farms in America. We do not have the biggest farms and ranches in America, but we have more of them than any other State but for one. Those individuals and families have done what they could to try to create opportunity and a livelihood, and they would like to pass that along. What is wrong with that?
Clearly, the point we are at right now with the tax at the time of death is better than it has been in a while--I suppose not better than the 1 year there was no death tax. For 1 year we had no death tax, and that is the ideal that government should try to achieve again.
I am pleased to join Senator Thune in this effort. I hope we will do what we can to encourage families who have businesses that they can pass along without having death as a taxable event. There are plenty of taxable events in life without having death as a taxable event.
I again thank Senator Thune for his long advocacy of eliminating this unfairness in our Tax Code. I have been glad to join him in debate after debate over the years on this issue. Let's not move toward thinking we are doing the right thing by doing the wrong thing as it relates to family farms and business.
I also want to say as I conclude that I am going to be offering an amendment on the carbon tax as well. We should not have a carbon tax because the carbon tax that is anticipated in some of the language of this budget raises utility bills. Who is impacted most by a higher utility bill? It is the most vulnerable among us. It is the family who is the last family to get the new refrigerator, it is the family who is the last family to get the better insulated windows, it is the family who is the last family to get more insulation in their ceiling. All of the things we do that raise utility bills have a real impact on them just like whenever we are doing anything that raises costs, such as gasoline prices. The last person or family to get the fuel-efficient car is the one who can least afford to see what happens to their utility bill or their gasoline costs. I am opposed to this kind of tax being passed along to people who have a hard enough time paying their utility bill.
So whether it is the carbon tax or the death tax or a tax on charitable giving, let's not do the wrong thing for the sake of more government spending. Let's do the right thing for jobs and American families.
I ask through the Chair if Senator Thune has anything he wants to say in conclusion on these amendments.
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Mr. BLUNT. Madam President, I thank my colleagues for recognizing me to make a few comments.
I agree with everything that has been said. I believe this is the fair thing to do. I think it is wrong for government to penalize some businesses over others. I think it is wrong, frankly, to have laws on the books that we know aren't being enforced. To have laws on the books that you know create law violators is the wrong thing to do. And frankly, in almost every State where--as Senator Durbin pointed out, in his State and my State, which is next door to his State, you are supposed to pay this tax. People just don't do it. I think last year in Missouri we had about 300 people pay this tax in the entire State. I would bet, more than the collective tax they paid, that more than 300 people bought something over the Internet in the State of Missouri last year. So this is a tax that is on the books, it needs to be collected, and we ought to see what we can do to make that happen.
States that don't have a sales tax don't have to collect it. States that don't want to participate don't have to participate. But with all of the technology now available, with the $1 million exemption for businesses that want to sell a few things over the Internet--or maybe they want to sell everything over the Internet, they just don't sell very much--I think the objections that are reasonable to this have been more than met.
I saw in a publication just last week on this topic three pretty well known conservatives, one talking about the Internet at its inception when William F. Buckley said:
If the advantage of tax-free Internet commerce marginally closes out local industry, reforms are required.
This was at a time when nobody was buying things over the Internet, when it was just getting started, when we didn't want to have a unique tax for the Internet. But in all of those discussions, I never heard a serious discussion that if you are on the Internet, you should avoid taxes that are required to be paid. And William F. Buckley at the time was saying that whenever this becomes a problem, something should be done about it, and that is what this bill would do.
One of my former colleagues when I was in the House, now the Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, said:
I don't think Congress should be in the business of picking winners and losers. Inaction by Congress today results in a system today that does pick winners and losers.
He is talking about this system.
Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said:
There is no more glaring example of misguided government power that when taxes or regulations affect two similar businesses completely differently. Over time, the company that has to comply with a tax or a regulation will lose market share to its competitor who is carved out from this government interference.
That is what this is about.
I had a news conference on this in St. Louis a year or so ago, and as soon as the camera was turned off, the person interviewing me said: You know, one of my wife's friends has a wedding dress shop, and she sees people come in all the time who are clearly there to try on a wedding dress, get the number off the wedding dress, and order it on the Internet. And if the only difference in the cost of that wedding dress--I guess there are lots of variations but, say, 8 or 10 percent--if the only difference is the sales tax, that is not a fair competition.
And the person who went in the store to try on the wedding dress paid their local property taxes, they helped pay for the police protection, they helped pay for the sidewalk and the parking place, and then ordered the wedding dress from somebody who had contributed to none of that.
So I join my colleagues in saying this is the right thing to do. I hope we can get it done. And frankly, if we don't get it done, the States that say this tax needs to be voluntarily paid and know that is not happening should just get that law off the books. Having a law on the books that you know people violate is not the right thing to do.
Madam President, I would give back to Mr. Enzi or Mr. Alexander whatever time I haven't used, and I look forward to hearing others talk on this issue.
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