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Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I am very proud to follow Chairman Conrad on the floor at this time. There is no person in the U.S. Senate who has worked harder on a budget compromise than Senator Conrad has. There is no person who has put out the hand of bipartisan friendship and cooperation more than Senator Conrad has. There is no person who has experienced more frustration of having that hand rejected and slapped away than Senator Conrad has, and there is no person who has contained that frustration and continued to work forward and seek resolution in a dignified way than Senator Conrad has.

The Senate Republicans who took to the floor this morning to criticize Democrats for failing to pass a budget and deal with the impending sequester and tax cuts expiration failed to note that Senate Democrats have, in fact, passed a budget law and a bill that extends the tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses. It is to protect the 2 percent and the 3 percent at the top of the income level that Republicans have refused to allow that bill protecting 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses from tax increases from going forward.

Senate Democrats also support a balanced approach to replacing the sequester and reducing the deficit. What they didn't talk much about but which is very important in this discussion is the Republican Ryan plan for the budget.

This past May, 41 of our Senate Republican colleagues voted in favor of a radical transformation of the America we know. And the Republican-controlled House passed this budget--a budget that would devastate the middle class. The plan would end Medicare as we know it for future retirees. It would reopen the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole that we closed for current retirees. It would slash investments that America's children depend on, from Head Start to Federal college aid; and it would give the average million-dollar earner a new additional tax cut of, on average, $285,000 each in that million-dollar-plus earner cohort.

The blockade here that is preventing moving beyond the sequester is by Republicans, particularly in the House, refusing to proceed in any reasonable way and, instead, demanding these damaging radical cuts for the middle class.

Let's look a little bit behind the curtain of campaign rhetoric and examine the harm--the personal real-life, real-person harm--that the Ryan budget would inflict on millions of middle-class families and retirees.

In what is one of the extraordinary examples of ``say one thing, but do another'' rhetoric, Mr. Ryan, in his recent nomination acceptance speech, said that ``the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.''

His budget, of course, visibly does exactly the opposite. It slashes taxes for the most well off, while decimating the programs on which struggling families and retirees rely.

Do not take my word for it. Following the House passage of this Ryan budget, the Conference of Catholic Bishops said:

Congress faces a difficult task to balance needs and resources and allocate burdens and sacrifices.

Just solutions, however--

The bishops said--

must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs. The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.

That is what the Conference of Catholic Bishops said. I will state again: ``The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.''

That is not me speaking. That is the Conference of America's Catholic Bishops.

So let's start our look behind the curtain, the curtain of the budget that fails this moral test--that Governor Romney said was ``marvelous,'' to use his word--let's start with the budget's tax theories.

The Ryan budget would lower the top tax rates for both corporations and the highest earning individuals from 35 percent to 25 percent.

According to a Joint Economic Committee analysis, this would result in an average tax cut of $285,000 for Americans earning $1 million a year and more. At the same time, middle-income taxpayers making between $50,000 and $100,000 would see their taxes go up--go up--by $1,300 because middle-class deductions are stripped away to pay for the high-end cuts.

RYAN would also shift, at the corporate level, to a so-called territorial tax system, which would mean that companies that ship jobs and operations overseas would no longer have to pay any U.S. taxes on their overseas profits.

Democrats have tried repeatedly to offer tax incentives to companies that bring jobs home to the United States. And nobody in this body has worked harder on bringing jobs home to the United States than the Presiding Officer, the Senator from Ohio, Mr. Brown.

Well, the Ryan plan would do exactly the opposite. It would tell big corporations that if they move their business operations overseas, they will never pay taxes on those again. The Ryan plan is really a jobs bill for China, for India, for Korea, not for America. It is an offshoring rewards act.

In addition to those upside down tax changes that harm the middle class and raise their taxes to cut taxes for the highest earners in this country, in addition to its inducements to offshore more jobs instead of bringing them home, the Ryan budget would slash $2.9 trillion from our health care programs. Beginning for workers who retire in 2023, Mr. Ryan would convert Medicare to a voucher system, which, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would ultimately add an estimated $6,000 in annual out-of-pocket costs that our retirees, our seniors would have to fork over.

It is hard to imagine how future seniors living on a fixed Social Security income will be able to maintain health care coverage with these substantial increases in out-of-pocket costs that Mr. Ryan's budget envisions.

If the Republicans are saying they will not make the deal that spares us the sequester unless that deal puts an end to Medicare as we know it, holding Medicare hostage, well, it then takes some ``brass''--to use President Clinton's phrase--to say: We are for the sequester.

The Ryan budget does not stop there. It would repeal the Affordable Care Act and take away access to affordable health insurance for millions of Americans of all ages. And, of course, repealing the Affordable Care Act hits seniors again by reopening that dreaded Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole that we worked so hard to close and that is closed over time in the Affordable Care Act.

In 2011 alone, the Affordable Care Act helped nearly 15,000 people in my home State of Rhode Island save an average of $554 by beginning to close the doughnut hole--millions of dollars out of the pockets of Rhode Island seniors.

That made a big difference for people such as Olive, who wrote to me from Woonsocket. Her husband fell into the doughnut hole last July. Thanks to the new law, Olive and her husband received a discount on their prescription drugs. They saved $2,400. If the Ryan budget passed, they would be stuck paying that full cost again: $2,400 right out of the pockets of Olive and her husband and into the pockets of the drug companies. Gee, who would be for that around here?

In fact, under the Ryan budget, the average senior would be stuck with
$4,200 in additional out-of-pocket prescription costs--a huge transfer of wealth from America's seniors to the big drug companies.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act would not just harm seniors, it would also mean that insurance plans would no longer have to cover young adults up to age 26 on their parents' plans. This moves over 3 million young Americans--just getting out of college, still looking for that first job that has health insurance coverage--back on to the rolls of the uninsured.

The radical Ryan budget would also hurt young people by slashing Pell grants, making college less affordable. Students and graduates are already struggling to pay a record trillion dollars that Americans now owe in outstanding student loans, and the Ryan plan would force students to take on even greater debt burdens.

On top of these specific cuts, the Ryan budget takes an additional $1 trillion in unspecified discretionary spending cuts. Domestic discretionary funding is the money that is used to keep the government operating each year--FBI agents investigating cases, Border Patrol agents working our borders, doctors and nurses treating veterans at the VA, employees mailing out Social Security checks, and many other important programs and functions.

It is already at its lowest level as a share of GDP since the 1950s. It is hard to imagine any Federal investment--whether it is education or housing or highways or law enforcement, you name it--not being jeopardized by such Draconian cuts.

That is why President Reagan's--President Reagan's--former economic adviser said about this Ryan budget plan:

The Ryan plan is a monstrosity.

Ronald Reagan's economic advisor said: ``The Ryan plan is a monstrosity.''

The rich would receive huge tax cuts while the social safety net would be shredded to pay for it. ..... It is less of a wish list than a fairy tale utterly disconnected from the real world, backed up by make-believe numbers and unreasonable assumptions.

If that is what Ronald Reagan's economic advisor thought about it, think what regular people might think about it.

Ryan's plan isn't even an act of courage; it's just pandering to the Tea Party.

But that is what is being held hostage on this sequester.

I hope when the election season is over, no matter who wins, that Republicans will work with us--without insisting on a monstrosity, without insisting on the end of Medicare--on a balanced and reasonable plan to reduce the deficit. With a record national debt, now is no time for more tax giveaways to billionaires, as Mr. Ryan proposes, but, rather, it is the time to ensure an America where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone pitches in their fair share, and we go forward as a country together, as we always have in our best days.

I thank the Chair and I yield the floor.


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