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Public Statements

Tax Cuts And The Economy

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, this morning I read a little piece in the newspaper that a man named Jacob Carroll had died in Afghanistan, a U.S. soldier. He died in Afghanistan on the battlefield. I did not know Jacob Carroll, but he is one of 438 American soldiers who have died fighting in Afghanistan. He has not only joined in the 438 who have died in Afghanistan but also the over 4,400 who have died fighting in Iraq.

I think most Americans perhaps hear the news, see the news, and move on to what else is covered that day in the newspaper. I was thinking about that when I read something that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had said about the shared sacrifice and shared responsibilities of our country. We have been at war for 9 years in the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If you look around our country, and especially look around this Chamber, and evaluate what we have done and what we are preoccupied with, it is very hard to see that our country is at war.

Oh, there are some young men and women who are sent halfway around the world to strap on ceramic body armor in the morning, get shot at in the afternoon, and perhaps get killed. They are at war. They understand sacrifice. But I wonder if it is not too much business as usual in our country and has not been for some long while. I ask that in the context of the discussion I heard this weekend on the interview shows. I was not in town here this weekend, but I heard some of the discussion, and it was about: Well, how about the tax cuts? Who can get additional tax cuts at this moment? And who supports maximum tax cuts versus other tax cuts?

Well, we are at war. We have people dying who serve this country on the battlefield. We have a $13.6 trillion Federal debt. We have a $1.3 trillion budget deficit this year. And the issue is, who should get more tax cuts? That is almost unbelievable to me.

Let me read what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said so many decades ago.

He said:

Not all of us 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 ship yard, or on the farms or in the oil fields or 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, but to keep the economic structure of our country fortified and secure .....

I find it a little disheartening that we have so many people now who have decided that the biggest issue is additional tax cuts.

I travel a lot through Minneapolis to get to North Dakota on weekends, and occasionally at the Minneapolis Airport it will be cold. Yes, it will be 40 below, and the wind will be howling at 35, 40 miles an hour, and you will see a group of people huddled outside the door at the Minneapolis Airport smoking cigarettes because there is no smoking inside the terminal. I figure somebody who goes out to smoke when it is 40 below zero and the wind is blowing 45 miles per hour has pretty much given up their claim forever that they can quit anytime they want to quit. They have pretty much given up that claim.

I would say similarly that those of us in this Chamber who have talked to us about the danger of Federal debt and Federal budget deficits have pretty much given up their claim forever to say that they care about the economic policy and deficits and debt that overhang this country if they bring a satchel to the floor with them that says: My priority is to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans when we are at war and have a $13 trillion in debt. Don't tell me you have a claim about caring about Federal budget deficits if that is the agenda you are pushing.

Let me give just a little bit of history on this question of tax cuts. The first time in 30 years that this country had a Federal budget surplus was in the last year of President Clinton's 8 years. At that point, we had a Federal budget surplus. All of the economists and others estimated that we would have budget surpluses from that point throughout the following 10 years.

So the new President, President George W. Bush, said: If we are going to have surpluses, an estimated $5.6 trillion of Federal budget surpluses over the next 10 years, let's take aggressive and quick steps to give back the surpluses in the form of tax cuts.

I stood here on the floor of the Senate and said: Wait a second. Don't be quite so hasty. We don't have those surpluses yet. We have just had 1 year of surpluses, and the rest of them are just projections. Why don't we wait and be a little conservative.

The answer was: You know what, you don't understand economics. We are going to do this because we are going to have all of these surpluses.

So very large tax cuts were put in place--the largest for the wealthiest Americans--and at that point, we stopped seeing any surpluses at all. The tax cuts were for the purpose of giving back surpluses that were to exist when, in fact, none existed. Almost immediately, in 2001, we found out that we were in a recession. Very quickly, we found that there was an attack against our country on 9/11. Then we were at war in Afghanistan, then at war in Iraq, then a 9-year war against terrorists and all the security costs that attend to that. So there haven't been any budget surpluses.

The most unbelievable thing to me is that this country has asked men and women to go off to war and risk their lives, and some have given their lives, and this government has not paid for the cost of that war. We have paid for that war in blood and death--blood and death--no, not the blood of those who serve in this Chamber but blood and death for sure.

Now the question is, with a $13 trillion debt and a deep recession, the deepest since the Great Depression--having gone through and now starting to come out of that recession, the question is the extension of the tax cuts that were provided in 2001. In 2001, those tax cuts had a termination date, and that termination date was this December 31st. So the question, then, is, If tax cuts are to be extended, for whom shall they be extended? It will cost about $3 trillion to extend them for middle-income taxpayers and another $1 trillion in 10 years to extend them for upper income Americans. Let me tell my colleagues what I mean by that. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has said that if you extend them for those over $250,000 a year, it costs about nearly $1 trillion with interest over the 10 years, and in addition, those who make $1 million a year will get a tax cut of $104,000 a year--$104,000 a year.

So here is the question: A country that is deep, deep, deep in debt and projected to go deeper into debt, should this country borrow $1 trillion in order to give a tax cut of $104,000 a year to someone who makes $1 million a year or should we perhaps mind the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who says that perhaps that front in which every man, woman, and child can contribute at a time when a country is at war, that front is here at home in our daily lives. Here at home, everyone will have the privilege of making whatever self-denial is necessary, not only to supply our fighting men but to keep the economic structure of our country fortified and secure.

So a young man named Jacob Carroll dies today. He is from Clemmons, NC. I didn't know him, nor do I suspect anyone in this Chamber knows him, but he died fighting for his country. Are we to do less when we see people making the ultimate sacrifice? Are we to do less than at least ask for sacrifice by all Americans or are we going to continue to say: We will borrow money to continue to prosecute a war. We will send young men and women to risk their lives, but we will not pay for it. We will just add it to the debt. And when it comes time to answer the question--perhaps in a lameduck session at the end of this year--of who shall get the benefit of the extended tax cuts, we will also say--some would insist--that those who are fortunate enough to make $1 million a year in net income in this country--quite a blessing, I would say--those who are fortunate enough to make $1 million a year, we will say to them: You are fortunate enough to get another $104,000 tax reduction, another tax cut. Why? Because a lot of people here believe that is the way you promote economic progress. Not to me. You promote economic progress by demonstrating to the American people that you understand the kind of choking nature this debt and deficit have on future opportunities and future economic growth in this country.

We all grew up at a time when we almost always understood just viscerally--we didn't have to be told--that our children would have it better than we have it. We grew up in a time when it was almost inevitable and we didn't need to be told that we were the biggest, the strongest, the best; we could beat anybody in the world at almost anything with one hand tied behind our back. But it has changed. It has changed. Now this country needs some good decisions, some tough decisions, some decisions to do the right thing.

The question on these talk shows this weekend was, Will you compromise? The better question is, Will you do the right thing for a change? We all know--this country knows--you can't fight a war for 9 years and not pay for any of the costs of it and add it to the Federal debt, and deficit every single year. We know better than that. That is not the way you run a country, it is not the way you share sacrifice, and it is not the way you honor soldiers. You go to war, and we will charge the cost for blood and death. That is not the way to honor those who fight for our country.

Let me mention one final point. It is interesting to me that unless you believe all tax cuts that were enacted in 2001 and 2003 should now be extended in this circumstance, you are a ``liberal.'' So apparently the conservative approach is to borrow money and extend the tax cuts, add $1 trillion to the Federal debt in order to extend tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 a year or more. It doesn't seem to me as though that is a conservative approach; it seems to me that is a liberal approach if you want to add $1 trillion to the Federal debt in order to accomplish that.

I wish no one had to pay any taxes. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Sign me up to say that I wish no one had to pay taxes. But the cost of this country's governance, the

building of roads, the schools, yes, the Defense Department, the payment for soldiers and weapons and so on to protect this country--all of that needs to be paid for.

I hope those who decide to affix labels to various positions might well understand that to borrow a substantial portion of money to provide tax cuts when the country is up to its neck in debt is not a conservative position. It just is not. And to suggest we have fewer extensions of tax cuts for the upper income people so that we don't borrow money to add to the Federal debt, that is not a liberal position. It just is not.


Let me also mention one final point. It is the case this weekend, again, with the chattering class, that they describe President Obama's trip to South Korea as something less than a success because there was not a trade agreement negotiated and completed with South Korea. Well, that wasn't the President's fault. The fact is, the South Koreans were not willing to budge on the significant issue that divides our country and South Korea on international trade, and that is the bilateral trade on automobiles. I won't give a lot of statistics except to say this: 99 percent of the cars driven on the streets of South Korea are made in that country. Is that an accident? It is not an accident. That is exactly what they want in South Korea. Ninety-nine percent of the cars they drive on their roads are made there because they want South Korean jobs to make cars driving on their highways. South Korea ships us, depending on the year, anywhere between 600,000 and 800,000 cars a year that they make in their country to sell in our country. We are only allowed to sell about 6,000 cars a year in South Korea. Let me say that again: 600,000 to 800,000 cars being shipped this way and 6,000 cars from the United States being shipped to South Korea. That is exactly what the South Korean Government wants--jobs there, not here.

Well, you know what, the President should not have--and I applaud him for being unwilling to negotiate a trade agreement that is so fundamentally at odds with the issue of having jobs in this country. This country needs jobs. We are terribly short of jobs. We shouldn't be negotiating trade agreements that would fritter away those jobs. We at least ought to require fair trade agreements with countries such as South Korea--at least fair trade--and that has not been the case. So the President ought not be criticized for not bringing home a bad trade agreement. He was not willing to negotiate a bad trade agreement. Good for him. Everyone in this country who needs a job ought to stand up and say: Good for him. Good for standing up for this country's interests. No, it is not being protectionist to insist that if your products are open to our market, then you open your market to our products. That is called fair and reciprocal trade. If other countries don't want to do that, then they have to understand that there are consequences to that.

The President has not failed at all on this issue. When and if the South Korean Government decides it wants fair trade and reciprocal trade opportunities on bilateral automobile trade, I expect we will have a trade agreement. Until that time, I applaud the President for deciding not to sign a bad trade agreement. I want the President to negotiate trade agreements that lift this country up and say to people who are now jobless--and there are millions of them--that, I am fighting for your jobs. It is not protectionist to fight for and demand fair trade and reciprocal trading procedures with our trading partners.

Mr. President, I yield the floor and make a point of order that a quorum is not present.


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