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Public Statements

Middle Class Tax Cut--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LIEBERMAN. I thank the Chair.

Mr. President, I suppose Senator McConnell, the leader, has given a preface as to what I want to say. I think the American people should know where we stand on these important questions. That is why I come to the floor, to indicate that I will vote in favor of proceeding to debate on S. 3412, Senator Reid's proposal to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. But if the matter does come to a full discussion and debate on the floor, as I hope it will, I will not vote for it in its current form, and I want to explain why.

I feel strongly that the first thing the American people want us to do is get the economy going again so that the economy is creating jobs. I am convinced the best thing Congress can do to restore economic growth and job creation is to enact a comprehensive, bipartisan plan to balance our budget along the lines of the Bowles-Simpson Commission recommendations.

Unfortunately, S. 3412, which is the so-called middle-class tax cut--which would extend the existing reduced tax rates on couples making less than $250,000, but would raise taxes on others making more than that--does not represent such a plan. In other words, it is not a bipartisan plan to balance our budget in a way that will create job growth.

Its enactment at this time, in my opinion, would only serve to preclude debate and action on exactly the broader type of reforms we need to fix our broken Federal Government fiscal system. Just imposing across-the-board tax increases for individuals and small businesses that make over $250,000 a year is neither tax reform nor the balanced deficit reduction agreement our country needs right now.

I do not hesitate, and I will not hesitate, as part of this kind of balanced, bipartisan debt reduction--hopefully, debt elimination--plan to vote to increase the amount of taxes that the wealthiest Americans are paying. But I will not do that as part of a scatter-shot approach. It has to be part of a program that reduces spending, that reforms spending on our entitlement programs--which are the fastest growing element of our Federal budget--and that reforms our tax system. The bill before us is not such a plan.

I have said over and over that there is plenty of time this year to get a bipartisan, balanced budget program passed in Congress, and that I would vote against both the President's partial repeal of the so-called Bush tax cuts and the Republican plan to extend all the cuts for another year. I think we can do better this year, and I think we must do better. I know that is exactly what our constituents want us to do.

We can cut spending, adopt tax reform, and entitlement reform. While that hope is alive, I am going to vote against both partial measures and proposals to put off the tough decisions about our economic future that our constituents elected us to make. I think both the Democratic plan, which is the subject before us right now in this motion to proceed, and Senator Hatch's plan do not make it. They are partial, and they basically kick the can down the road again without solving our economic problems. Giving the private sector the confidence about our future to invest the trillions of dollars in cash they are sitting on now--which is the only thing that will get our economy growing and creating more jobs; and the private sector businesses will not do that today because they do not know where this government of ours is going--they do not have a sense of certainty and confidence.

So as I said, if for some reason the process that the Senate is facing today changes, and both the Democratic plan to raise taxes on people over $250,000 comes up for a vote and Senator Hatch's Tax Hike Prevention Act, which extends all the tax cuts for another year, comes up, I will vote against both of them because I do not think they do what our country needs to be done.

There is plenty of time, as I said, left this year to do what we have to do.

Why am I going to vote to proceed to debate on either or both of these if I am opposed to each of them as they are drafted? It is because I think there is nothing more important we could do in this Congress than to begin to confront and debate the challenge of our time, which is to get our Federal Government back in balance, to make the tough decisions that will do that, and thereby get our economy going and creating jobs again.

Debate, yes. Let's not hide from debate. Let's confront it and deal with it as quickly as we can. But these two proposals, in my opinion, do not do what our economy needs to be done.

I will say a final word about the deep hole we are in and about the idea of raising taxes on everybody making more than $250,000, but raising no taxes on people making less than $250,000. The truth is we are in a deep hole in this country. We are heading toward what has now begun to be popularly called the fiscal cliff. The challenge to our government is whether we are going to have the courage, the honesty, the leadership qualities to come together across party lines and protect our economy and our country before we begin to go over the fiscal cliff.

I know that requires us to make difficult decisions. Maybe it is easier for me to say because I am not running for reelection this year, but I honestly believe what the American people would most like us to do is to do what we think is right, to do something that does not seem like conventional politics, to have the guts to enact tax reform, entitlement reform, and cut spending. That is really what they want us to do because that is what they know the country needs us to do.

Let me come back to this $250,000. I know it is politically appealing, but the truth is to balance our budget again we are going to have to ask most every American to give a little something so our country will grow and everybody will benefit. Sure, the people who are making the most should pay more in revenue, but I think we are at a point where we cannot simply say to what we generally describe as the middle class that they do not have to give anything else. I think that would be wrong. That is not consistent with the revenue system we have now, which is a progressive and fair system. I want to build on that, reform it in some ways to make it more constructive and make it more likely to incentivize growth in our economy. But let's not take anything off the table. Our economy, as precarious as it is, as it faces very uncertain effects from economic troubles in Europe and even in China now, I think we have to be very careful about raising anybody's taxes in the short run; that is, next year.

What we need is a long-term balanced debt reduction program for America. So that is why I will vote to proceed to vote for debate on these subjects we desperately need, but neither the Democratic or Republican approaches do what this country needs. Therefore, if they come to the floor and we have a debate, I will try to amend them with something like the Bowles-Simpson recommendations. If that fails, I will vote against them because we can do better than that, and the American people have a right to expect that we will.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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