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Public Statements

Expiring Tax Cuts

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I will be mercifully brief. I wished to come to the floor to briefly speak about a couple issues.

First and foremost, the raging debate that is occurring in the country about the expiring tax cuts--the so-called Bush tax cuts that were enacted in the year 2001 that cut taxes across the board. They cut taxes more generously for the wealthiest Americans, but nonetheless they cut taxes for all Americans as well, and they were designed, in 2001, to expire this year.

I did not vote for them in 2001. I voted in 2001 against those tax cuts and not because I wouldn't want to provide tax cuts to the American people, but the proposition, I thought, was flawed. The President inherited the last year of President Clinton's fiscal policy, which produced the only budget surplus we had had in 30 years. From that budget surplus that year, the projection by economists was that we were going to have budget surpluses for the next decade. As a result of that, Mr. Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, had an apoplectic seizure. He said he couldn't sleep because he was worried we were going to pay down the debt too fast.

The Bush administration said: If we are going to have these surpluses, we must return surpluses to the American people. We have to do that through these tax cuts.

I stood on the floor, at my desk, and I said: Why don't we be conservative? Let's decide to wait and see what happens. If we do, in fact, have surpluses, let us provide some tax cuts. But all we have are 10 years of projections. We don't have the real surpluses; we just have projections.

The response was: No, we are not going to do that. We are not going to wait. We are going to have big tax cuts, with the biggest tax cuts going to the wealthiest Americans.

So they were enacted. I did not vote for them, but they were enacted nonetheless.

Almost immediately, we were in a recession. Almost immediately after that, our country was attacked, on 9/11, by terrorists. Then we were in a war in Afghanistan. Then we were at war in Iraq and a war against terrorism generally. We began sending soldiers overseas in harm's way, and thousands were killed and tens of thousands were injured in war. Still the question has always been and remains now, even while we are watching our soldiers walk into harm's way, when do I get my tax cut? Will I continue to get my tax cut next year?

Let me read something Franklin Delano Roosevelt said at a time of war. He said:

Not all of us can have the privilege of fighting our enemies in distant parts of the world. Not all of us can have the privilege of working in a munitions factory or a shipyard, or on the farms or in the oil fields or the mines, producing the weapons or raw materials that are needed by our Armed Forces. But there is one front and one battle where everyone in the United States--every man, woman and child--is in action. .....That front is right here at home, in our daily lives and in our daily tasks. Here at home everyone will have the privilege of making whatever self-denial is necessary, not only to supply our fighting men [and women], but to keep the economic structure of our country fortified and secure. .....

``Everyone will have the privilege of making whatever self-denial is necessary.'' We all know self-denial when we see it. We go to the events when the soldiers and National Guard organizations mobilize to leave our country, leave their families, leave their jobs, and go to Afghanistan to fight, go to Iraq to fight. In the morning, they strap on ceramic body armor, load their weapons, and go on their way. Yesterday, nine of them were killed in Afghanistan.

The question here at home is not are we going to pay for the costs of war, because we have not, never have in years. And President Bush, who pushed the tax cuts, said: You will not pay for them. Some of us stood on the Senate floor and said: If we are at war, how about paying for the costs of war? Why do we send soldiers to war and charge it and say to the solders: You come back and pay the bill.

We are still at war, we have a $13 trillion debt, not having paid for a penny of the war, having put all the debt on the shoulders of those who will come home, then, to assume this debt. And now the question is, Can we extend the tax cuts for everyone?

Here is what I think we should do. I understand this economy is weak. I am not going to give a speech about what caused that. I have done that many times. This economy is still weak. I understand the virtue of saying to those earning under $250,000: We will continue to extend that tax cut. I would extend it for 2 years. That is what I think we should do in terms of being able, 2 years from now, to take a look at what is happening in our country, what are our needs in order to lift our country's economy back up. We need to tighten our belt on spending. We need to cut some spending. We also are going to need some additional revenue.

The question is, for those who are making $1 million a year in income and getting an $80,000 tax cut from the 2001 tax bill that was passed by this Congress, should they continue to get that $80,000-a-year tax cut at a time when we have a $13 trillion debt and we are still sending men and women to war, when they are risking their lives and we are not paying for any of it? Should we still do that? The answer, in my judgment, is no.

The American people are waiting and watching for some semblance of seriousness here, some serious approaches that will begin to address what ails this country. I think what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said is dead-on accurate: Not all of us can have the privilege of fighting our enemy in distant parts of the world, but for most of us, the front is right here at home in our daily lives and daily tasks, and here at home everyone would have the privilege of whatever self-denial is necessary, not only to supply our fighting men but to keep the economic structure of our country fortified and secure.

Is anyone going to think about the economic fortunes of America or is it just about ourselves individually? Isn't there a higher calling and higher purpose here in terms of making judgments about these things?

I think it would be wonderful if no one had to pay any taxes. That would be wonderful. But that is not the case. Who is going to pay the costs of some of the things that make this a great country? Who is going to build the roads? Who is going to build the schools and maintain the schools? Who is going to pay for the Centers For Disease Control? How about the Department of Defense? How about the U.S. Forest Service? It goes on and on. We can tighten our belt. Yes, we can spend less in a number of areas. I support that. But we have to have a fiscal policy that is serious. How on Earth, at a time when we are at war, can we decide that our priority is to give an $80,000-a-year tax cut beyond next year--an $80,000-a-year tax cut to someone making $1 million a year? That makes no sense to me.

I think it is time for our country to understand that our national security is not just about our soldiers who are fighting in the field. It is a requirement that we support them, not just by saying we support them but by at least some semblance of self-denial, at least by those who are making millions of dollars a year. The proposition is only to ask that they pay at the same tax rate that they paid throughout the 1990s when the country was booming, sufficiently booming that we had a budget surplus. That is the tax rate the wealthiest in America paid back then. It did not diminish the economy; it lifted up the economy, the fact that we had a fiscal policy that was not moving us deeper into debt but a fiscal policy, rather, that was leading us toward a balanced budget and finally a budget surplus.

I think there is a higher purpose, and all of us need to be called to that higher purpose. It is not about, will we get our tax cut tonight, tomorrow, or next month? Will the wealthy get it? Will everybody get it? That is not what is of interest. What is of interest to everybody in this country, I hope, is, what kind of a future will our children have in the United States of America? Will we allow them to inherit a country that is growing and expanding and providing opportunity for our kids?

I think it is very disappointing that we end this year having done so little because so much has been blocked in the Senate.

I noticed yesterday that another billionaire died in America. Boy, let me make sure I say that when someone makes $1 billion in this country, in most cases I say: You know what, you are extraordinary. That is a pretty extraordinary thing. Many of them have great talents, and good for them. But when billionaires die today, they pay zero estate tax. Think about that. Five billionaires died this year, and this is the year the estate tax went to zero. Some said it is the ``Throw Mama From the Train'' year. This is the year in which there is no estate tax on the assets of billionaires who have never borne a tax. Some of the wealthiest people in this country who have billions of dollars of assets have it through growth appreciation of stock, and they have never borne a tax on that to help pay for a kid to go to school or build a road or help support our Department of Defense and our national security. What a disappointment.

This country deserves better from all of us, to get this done. Again, I believe the best approach at this point is to say, yes, let's go ahead and extend these tax cuts for middle-income workers up to $250,000 a year. Let's do it for 2 years, and then let's see where we are and let's see what the needs of this economy are in order to be sure we have the opportunity to lift this country going forward and provide some economic opportunity in the future.

I wanted to mention one other issue. That is something that I and Senator Bingaman, Senator Brownback, and others introduced yesterday. It deals with something called RES. That is not a foreign language, it is a renewable electricity standard. It is a policy that many other countries have and many of our States have. I believe there are 29 States and the District of Columbia that have

renewable electricity standards saying it is our policy that electricity shall be produced from renewable sources for a certain percentage of the electric load.

We proposed 15 percent. We passed that on a bipartisan basis out of the Energy Committee. Why is this important? Because if we are going to be less dependent on foreign oil, move to less dependency on oil from countries that do not like us very much in many cases, if we are going to be less dependent on that, we have to change our energy mix. That means we have to produce more energy from renewable sources. We have to gather energy from the wind and the Sun, where the wind blows and the Sun shines, put it on a wire, and move it to the load centers. That changes the energy mix in our country. The way to do that is the way other countries and the way many of our States have already done it: drive it with a 15-percent renewable electricity standard. I prefer 20, but 15 is what we passed out of that committee, the Energy Committee.

It appears to me that now we are not going to get a larger energy bill in this Congress. That is too bad because we passed a bipartisan bill that would provide greater energy security for our country out of the Energy Committee. At the very least, let's pass a renewable electricity standard that is bipartisan, that will drive the production of new capability in wind and solar and other renewable sources.

In the second quarter of this year, we had a 70-percent reduction in wind energy production--that is the production of facilities to build wind energy. From last year, a 70-percent reduction. The reason? Because we do not have a renewable electricity standard. There was an expectation that we would, and we do not.

Let's not leave this Congress this year with so much unfinished business that I believe is essential to this country.

While I am speaking about it, let me make one additional point, and that is on another piece of legislation that must pass by the end of this year. It rests now in the Senate Finance Committee and it reauthorizes the Special Diabetes Program in this country that is so unbelievably important. The Special Diabetes Program helps all Americans, but it is especially targeted at Native Americans, who in some cases have rates of diabetes that are 10 and 12 times the rate of the national average. We must reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program. If my colleagues could walk into a dialysis center and see the number of people--on Indian reservations especially--hooked up to a dialysis machine, in some cases with only one leg or having lost an arm--the ravages of diabetes are unbelievable, and the number of new cases of diabetes among children of this country is just startling.

I want to show one chart about this. This chart shows the number of people in America over the past 30 years who have been diagnosed with diabetes. This is a full-blown, full-scale, unbelievable epidemic.

The Special Diabetes Program that I and Senator Domenici and Senator Collins and so many others have worked so hard on for a long time has to be reauthorized. I hope very much my colleagues will understand that this is not optional. Go to an dialysis center. Go to an Indian reservation and go to a dialysis center and talk to the people hooked up to those machines and see the amputations and talk to the relatives of people who have died in circumstances where people, over 50 years old on average, 50 or 60 percent of them are affected by diabetes. Especially take a look at the rate of diabetes among children on Indian reservations--and children all across the country. Then say to yourself that this bill doesn't matter. You cannot possibly say that. We must address this issue.

This Congress has done some big things, some important things, and there are some things yet to be done. It is not the end of the year. We have some additional time. My hope is that our colleagues can attempt to give us the best of what both political parties have to offer rather than the worst of each. The American people expect more and deserve more from us.

I wonder sometimes how the majority leader is able to have the patience to try to find a way to steer almost anything through this Chamber. I said yesterday that even a Mother's Day resolution would likely engender a filibuster. It is very hard because we have people who see themselves as a set of human brake pads, whose only destiny is to try to stop everything. The problem is that there are a number of things that must get done for the economic health of this country and for the health of the American people.

I yield the floor.

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