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Public Statements

The Fiscal Cliff

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I rise today to once again speak about the fact that in July, July 25 of this year, the Senate passed a middle-class tax cut bill guaranteeing that the first $250,000 dollars of income any American has would be exempted from any tax increase. We all know that the vast majority--in fact 98 percent--of Americans, makes less than that amount of money. We are talking about 98 percent of Americans receiving tax cuts under that proposal.

Back in July we passed this proposal, and it is now still waiting in the House of Representatives. So far the House leadership has refused to even let the bill come up for a vote, even though we all know that there is a majority of Members in the House who would vote for this and guarantee that as we go into Christmas, middle-class families across America would know they would have $2,200 in their pockets, more in their pocket right now, next year, than they will have if their tax cuts expire. We have passed this bill, and we are urging the House of Representatives to do the right thing and to pass this bill.

Even Republicans in the House say they support this effort. We all know that Representative Tom Cole from Oklahoma said last week, ``I think we ought to take the 98 percent deal right now.'' It is a pretty good deal.

Let us start. We know we have a large deficit reduction effort that needs to take place. There is a lot of give and take that needs to take place. We know what the elements are. But let us do step one, which is something overwhelmingly we agree with. The Senate has passed it on a bipartisan basis. There are enough votes in the House of Representatives. Let us get that piece done and not hold middle-class families hostage to the idea that the wealthiest among us should get additional tax cuts. Let us agree that 98 percent of families in America should be secure in knowing they are not going to have $2,200 more taken out of their pockets next year.

Now, we have just a few days to get this done. In fact, right now we have 27 days until middle-class taxes go up. In 27 days, we will see taxes go up for middle-class families. So this needs to get done now.

There are numerous House Members now agreeing with us--Republican House Members--and I commend them. In addition to Representative Cole, Representative Walter Jones from North Carolina said yesterday that he would vote for the Senate's middle-class tax cut bill. Representative Steve LaTourette, Representative Charles Bass, Representative Mary Bono Mack, Representative Mike Simpson, and Representative Robert Dold have all said the Senate plan is a responsible approach that protects middle-class families from a massive tax hike.

We now have a situation where the Democratic leader in the House is putting forward what is called a discharge petition. As our distinguished Presiding Officer knows and as I know, having been House Members, if a majority of the House signs a petition, that can essentially force a vote even if the Speaker and the Republican leadership don't want to bring it up.

I am hopeful that 218 Members on both sides of the aisle will sign this petition and that we will be able to guarantee before Christmas that middle-class families across this country are not going to have to worry about spending $2,200 more on taxes next year. We need to get this done, and I am hopeful that the House Members will sign that discharge petition if the Speaker does not take this up.

What does this $2,200 mean? It is the difference between paying the bills or not. It is the difference between getting ready for Christmas--buying the tree and the decorations and the presents. So many families these days are back doing layaway, which, for me, when my kids were little and we were trying to budget and figure out how to do things, meant picking out something back in September or in the summer and putting it on layaway and hoping to pay for it so the kids would have the Christmas I wanted for them. Families are doing that today, budgeting every single dollar to make sure they can provide the Christmas they want for their children. As they are budgeting all that, they need to know they do not have to budget a tax increase starting in January, which is what will happen if the House doesn't act within the next 27 days.

One constituent of mine indicated to me that $2,200 was 4 months of her grocery bill. That is a lot of money. We are talking about 4 months of her family eating. We have also figured out that $2,200 would buy 650 gallons of gas. For the average commuter, that is enough gas to get back and forth to work every day for 3 years. That is a lot of money--$2,200, 650 gallons of gas. And $2,200 will buy families in Michigan 550 gallons of milk for their families. So we are talking about a significant amount of money for the average middle-class family, those aspiring to get into the middle class, and those struggling across the country. This is a lot of money for the families we are talking about.

The Republicans in the House can stop this tax increase if they want to. They have 27 days to do it, 27 days to stop a tax increase on middle-class families, 27 days to stop an increase and make sure $2,200 more is not taken out of the pockets of families next year.

Let me stress again as well that we are talking about middle-class tax cuts that would allow every American to get a tax cut on their first $250,000 of income. For the majority of people--98 percent of Americans--that is their income, or less. They do not make more than $250,000 a year. But for everybody who does, it would continue to make sure their taxes don't go up.

For those above that, we would say: You know, for the last decade you have had extra tax cuts, and we are going to ask you now, in the face of the largest deficits our country has ever seen, to do your part, to share in solving the problem.

I know an awful lot of people who are ready to say: Absolutely. I want to do my part.

That is what we are talking about--those wealthiest few being at the table to do their part so we can solve the biggest deficit crisis we have had as a country.

So we are talking about every American earning $250,000 or less or earning an income of $250,000 or less being exempt from tax increases, and that covers, as I said, 98 percent of Americans.

There is agreement on both sides of the aisle. I congratulate and appreciate very much Senator Snowe's comments in which she indicated we should just get this done. She said Americans should not even be questioning that we will ultimately raise taxes on low- to middle-income people. We should take it off the table while grappling with tax cuts for the wealthy.

I couldn't agree more. We are going to miss Senator Snowe in the Senate. She, as usual, is right on the money in terms of the common sense of this situation.

In July the Senate passed a middle-class tax cut. I believe we now have a majority in the House of Representatives, on a bipartisan basis, believes middle-class taxpayers should get tax cuts next year. The House needs to bring it up and vote on it now so we get that off the table. That is step one.

Then, of course, we have larger issues on which we have to agree. We have to sit down and come together on those issues. Last year we agreed on $1 trillion in spending reductions. This step gets middle-class taxpayers off the hook, being held as pawns, held hostage to whether the wealthiest among us will get additional tax cuts next year. Let's just say middle-class families get $2,200 next year, they get to continue their tax cuts, and then we will go on to the next step.

It seems to me--and we certainly saw this as we were doing the farm bill--you don't have to agree on everything to do something. You start with what you agree on. Everybody says they agree middle-class families in this country should get tax cuts next year and beyond. Then let's just do it. What are we waiting for? Let's do that, and then we will look for the next set of issues we can agree on to solve the large problems we have in terms of our fiscal situation and economic growth, by the way, because we will never get out of debt with 12 million people out of work. So we better continue to be focused on jobs, which I know is a huge focus for our caucus--making sure people can lift themselves out of poverty into the middle class and have the opportunity for good-paying jobs for themselves and their families.

So we have a lot of issues to talk about, but since everybody says they agree middle-class taxpayers should not get a $2,200 tax increase next year, why don't we just do that? We shouldn't have to run the clock out and get closer and closer to the holidays, closer and closer to Christmas, with families not knowing what they are going to have to budget for next year. Let's just do it and let families know we can actually work together and get things done because that is really what people are asking us to do.

I believe that is the message of this past election, that people want us to sit down and be reasonable and work together. They also sent a message through the reelection of our President, who campaigned saying the wealthiest among us should be part of solving the problem and can afford to pay a little more to make sure we are not asking middle-class families to bear the entire burden of resolving the deficit in our country. The President won. The public said: Yes, that makes common sense. Everybody ought to be participating, not just middle-class families or senior citizens, who have been hit the hardest in the recession. With everything that has happened in the last decade, they have been hit the hardest or carried the brunt of it.

We are simply saying: You know what. Everybody ought to be in this. As Americans, we all benefit from this great country, the blessings of this country, and everybody ought to be part of the solution.

So I believe that was a very strong message. I believe it was a very strong message to say people want us to work together.

I also know, in looking at the proposal the Speaker has given, it is a nonstarter, saying we are taking off the table any effort that would stop more tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, and instead what we want to focus on is closing loopholes and deductions, because that falls right back to the middle class again--home mortgage deduction, college deduction, the mortgage tax relief bill I have which makes sure that in a short sale or another situation where a family is coming to some agreement with the bank on loan forgiveness, they do not pay taxes on that as income. So we have a whole range of what they call tax deductions they can close that fall smack-dab on the middle class, and that is a nonstarter.

In conclusion, let me say once again that we have 27 days to stop a tax hike on middle-class families across America--$2,200 that will hit people next year. It makes no sense. If they pass the Senate bill, they will be guaranteeing that 98 percent of American people don't have a tax hike. We need to get it done, and I would urge in the strongest possible way that the Speaker bring this up right away and pass it.

I thank the Chair.


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