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Mrs. BOXER. Madam President, I think we are trying to make the case here today that there is a very easy way for us to climb down from this fiscal cliff. The Senate already passed a bill that would extend tax cuts to 98 percent of the American people and the House will not take it up. This will mean, over 10 years, about $1 trillion in savings, and it won't hurt the millionaires and billionaires. They have told us that over and over.
This is when the Senate passed the middle-class tax cuts, July 25, 2012. The Republicans over in the House have been sitting on it. They didn't do anything in July, August, September, October, November, and December. Here we are 6 months later and they refuse to allow a vote on this for reasons that go to their internal disputes.
It is time for them to put country over party. It is time for them to put country over their ideological battles. That was a mouthful. I am going to try it again. It is time for them to put country over their ideological battles. It is time for them to make a decision that favors the American people.
I served in the House for 10 proud years. It was wonderful, fascinating, interesting. I served there when Tip O'Neill was the Speaker of the House. Tip O'Neill understood the magic of 218.
What do I mean by that? The magic of 218 was finding 218 votes to get something done. Tip didn't care if he got it from a liberal, from a conservative, from a moderate, from an independent, from a whacko. It didn't matter. He didn't care who you were, what you were, if you thought you were great or bright or not. He had to put together 218 for the good of the country, and he did it when Ronald Reagan was President. He did it when there was a President who had different views from his own, and they worked together for the good of the country.
I look over at the House, and I don't know what I see. There are a few brave voices there speaking out and saying let us do this, let us extend the middle-class tax cuts. But let me tell you, we have 27 days left to do this before people start facing higher taxes. On average, it is $2,200 a family, and that is a lot of money for a middle-class family.
I want to be completely honest here and bring up an issue, which is that I never voted for the Bush-era tax cuts--I was one of the few in the minority--because I worried that it would destroy our fiscal responsibility. I hate to say it now: I was right. I was right.
There were surpluses that Bill Clinton left us. But because George W. Bush went in front of the microphone and said, I have political capital, I am going to cut everybody's taxes, he then put two wars on the credit card, and that was the end of surpluses. We went into deficits, deficits as far as the eye could see, deeper and deeper in debt. So you might ask then, Senator Boxer, why are you now supporting those tax cuts being renewed for 98 percent of the people? The answer is it is a different time and a different place. We are getting out of a recession. We can make up the monies we need to balance this budget by going just to the top rate, going to the people over $250,000.
Remember, this plan that we passed in July gives a tax break on the first $250,000 of income, in essence giving everybody a break on that first $250,000. It is only after that that the taxes go back to the Clinton era. Because this is a different time and place, I support giving a tax break, continuing it, for 98 percent, but asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share for the greatest country on the face of this Earth.
My father was born into dire poverty. He was the only one of nine children born in America. He was the only one of nine children to go to college at night in your great State, City College, at night, while he supported a family by day. He became a CPA. After he got his bachelor's, he went at night to a place called Brooklyn Law School, where he got his law degree in 5 years. I was about 10. This is America. He was able to do that.
When he was a CPA, he would oversee everybody's taxes in the family. I was a kid and I got my first job working for a long time when I was a telephone operator for Hilton Hotels one summer. I will never forget it. I was not good at it. I kept putting those wires into the wrong places, but I managed to get through. When I got my first paycheck, I went to my dad, as I was earning minimum wage--I think it was 75 cents an hour, I don't know. I know I am dating myself here. It is okay. I said, ``Dad, why is it I have to pay a whole bunch of money somewhere else, to the government?'' He said, ``Well, we all, when we earn money, pay taxes. If at the end of the year we pay too much, we get a refund.''
But he said, ``Honey, I want to tell you something. You are so fortunate and blessed to be a citizen of the United States of America. I know people will laugh at you when you say this, but people who live here, who work here and have the privilege of that freedom and the privilege to grab the dream, they should kiss the ground of this country every time they pay taxes.''
I once said that on the campaign trail, and I got booed. They said, She is telling us to kiss the ground of America when we pay taxes? That was how my father felt.
Clearly, he also believed in a progressive tax system. He was a smart man, and he believed that those at the bottom end shouldn't pay anything at all and, as you go up, you pay a little more.
That is what President Obama ran on. We had a huge election for the Senate where the Democrats picked up seats. A race for the Presidency that was supposed to be Governor Romney's, according to his people, was President Obama's. This was mainly because President Obama stood up for the middle class and said, When it comes to taxes, we all have to pay our fair share, no more, no less.
When you tell your friends the President wants to give a tax cut, tell them also it is being held up by the Republicans in Congress who are sitting on a bill that passed the Senate on July 25, 2012, where 98 percent of the American people will get their tax break continued and only income over $250,000 will be taxed at the same rate when Bill Clinton was President.
Let's take a look back at those days. Were they harsh for people? No. We had more millionaires created, I remember in those days, than we had in generations. You know why? Because the middle class is strong--and President Clinton invested in the middle class; he invested in our people--they get good jobs, they pay enough taxes, they go to the mall, they take a trip across the country to see all the great landmarks, and people across this country who have businesses do well also. That is why we see so many businesspeople, including small businesspeople, standing at President Obama's side saying it is good for business to give the middle class their tax breaks.
What are these Republicans thinking over there? If we are having an argument, and I tell you I will give you 98 percent of what you want and you walk away from me, I say you are unreasonable. Who gets 98 percent of what they want? No one. In an argument, usually we meet each other halfway--50-50. We are giving the Republicans 98 percent of what they want on the tax cuts, but they are holding the 98 percent hostage for their friends, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson--the billionaires. That is wrong, and we had an election about it.
This is a country of, by, and for the people, not of, by, and for the billionaires. I am going to say to my Republican friends--and they are my friends; I have served with them for a long time, I have worked with them--what are you thinking? What are you doing?
Let me talk about one of the things they offered in their package. This is outrageous. They want to raise the eligibility age of Medicare by 2 years. I cannot tell you how many people come up to me--and it shocks me when I hear it--and say: I am praying for my 65th birthday so I can get on Medicare because I have no insurance. There is a huge number of people uninsured between the ages of 55 and 65. So this is their Christmas present? This is the happy holiday gift from Speaker Boehner?
In the Speaker's tax package, not only is he giving the tax break to the wealthiest, he is even cutting their taxes further but paying for it by raising the Medicare age. What does that do? It is surprising just how bad it is. When we raise the age of Medicare from 65 to 67, ipso facto, 300,000 senior citizens go uninsured. Merry Christmas to all. It would increase the cost to businesses by $4.5 billion because they have to keep people on their plans. Merry Christmas to you, too, businesspeople. It will increase the out-of-pocket costs for those between 65 and 66 by $3.7 billion. It would increase costs to the States by $700 million, and millions--millions--would pay an average of $2,200 more for their health care.
I will use every tool at my disposal to prevent the destruction of Medicare. What kind of counterproposal is that? It takes my breath away the pain that would be felt if this went through. I can't help remembering--and I am sure the Chair remembers as well--the attack leveled by Representative Paul Ryan, who was the Republican nominee for Vice President--he is chairman of the House Budget Committee--against President Obama for ``cutting'' $700 billion out of Medicare, when, in fact, the President got savings from people who were cheaters--the providers who were ripping off Medicare--and then put it back into Medicare and extended the life of the program by 8 years.
These are the same people who ran ads against Democrats--maybe they did it to the Chair as well, I don't know--all across the country saying Democrats voted to cut Medicare. These same people who were crying these bitter tears are now suggesting destroying Medicare as we know it. I can't believe it. I truly can't believe it. I wonder whom they fight for? That is the basic question. Why are they here? Whom do they fight for? Do they fight for the middle class? I believe we do on our side of the aisle. I believe President Obama does.
I believe, if we look at the tax package that came over from Speaker Boehner and all the cuts to Medicare--and by the way, the Presiding Officer is a leader in protecting children--we will see there are cuts to child nutrition in there, major cuts. I have to say: Why do they have to cut food to poor kids? Why do they have to kick people out of Medicare? Their answer is, if they were honest, to protect the billionaires and the millionaires. Because that is what it is about. We know it. It is a fact in evidence.
I believe we owe more to the American people. We need to find a way back to the fiscal responsibility and the economic growth we had when Bill Clinton was President. I have served with five Presidents already--it is amazing--in my time in this Congress, and I have seen people come together in moments of crisis, such as when Social Security needed to be strengthened, when Medicare needed to be strengthened, when we had deficits as far as the eye could see and we had to resolve that. I have seen all that happen. We have 27 days left to see something good happen about this fiscal cliff.
When people say, oh, it is very complicated, don't believe it. Don't believe it. It is not complicated. There are several parts to this fiscal cliff. The biggest one is the Bush-era tax cuts that are expiring on 100
percent of the people, and if they expire, it means people will have to pay more in taxes at a time when we don't want them to have to struggle. We want them to have disposable income because it is good for their families, it is good for the economy, it is good for business, and it is good for economic growth. The Bush-era tax cuts are expiring on December 31. Why don't we find the common ground, get rid of that issue, get those tax cuts to 98 percent of the middle class who need them and fight about the millionaires and the billionaires later? They are OK. They are fine.
We need to do that simple step. The House must pass the Senate's bill which we passed on July 25. We did it. It is done. We don't have to worry about it. We did our job over here. We got the votes. So the House needs to pick it up and pass it over there.
I understand that Democratic Leader Pelosi has done something very interesting. She has taken this bill, the same exact bill, and put it at the desk in the House and started what they call a discharge petition. What that means is, since Speaker Boehner will not bring up this bill, if 218 people sign the discharge petition, there will be an immediate vote on the floor. I wish to urge Republicans and Democrats and Independents over in the House to sign the discharge petition to have a vote. We have a few days left until the end of the year--27--to get this done.
Then we can talk about the automatic spending cuts, and there are ways to stop those. People are upset about those. Personally, I think we have to make spending cuts, but I think we can soften the blow of those spending cuts by bringing home the money from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to this country. That would soften the blow of those cuts. We also need to be making some more investments in infrastructure, which we desperately need after superstorm Sandy hit New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland. We now see our infrastructure has to be what we call hardened, made stronger. We can do that if we invest in our people.
The President has offered a very clear plan that is fair that takes us off the fiscal cliff. We have 27 days to do the right thing. The Senate already passed the tax cuts for 98 percent of the people. All we are asking is for the House to do that, to match us, and then we can get back to the table and figure out a way to soften the blow of the automatic spending cuts. We can look at tax reform.
Let me just say this about tax reform. When our colleagues complain about tax rates and say: We would rather close loopholes, watch out. In order to raise the kind of funds needed to lower this deficit, we would be looking at the two of the biggest ``deductions.'' One is for your mortgage and one is for charitable contributions. I would ask rhetorically: What billionaire do you know who has a mortgage? I don't, frankly, know any. They own their own homes. They are not hurt by that. But who does get hurt? The middle class.
So let's do the right thing. We passed the right thing on July 25, 2012. We have 27 days left before taxes on the middle class go up. I know we have the wherewithal to do that.
I yield the floor.
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