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Public Statements

The Farm Bill

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. REED. Madam President, we all recognize the country faces many challenges. Too many of our neighbors are still looking for work, and too often those with a job have not seen a raise in quite some time. Indeed, for many years people in Rhode Island and across the country have a growing sense that there is too much focus on the powerful few and not on the average family playing by the rules.

A quality higher education seems more unaffordable each year. Working men and women do not often feel the government understands their struggles and the need to move the country forward. They also want us to begin to balance the books, just as we did under President Clinton, with a sensible balanced approach, one that led to increasing wages across the board, increasing productivity, increasing employment, and a budget surplus before George W. Bush's policies took over.

Last year we took a step in balancing the books. We cut $1 trillion of Federal spending. We do not hear much about it, particularly from the other side of the aisle. But what it means is that every discretionary program will see less funding for the next decade, which will have a huge impact on my State and every State in the country.

If we are going to cut spending on education, research, and transportation to the tune of approximately $1 trillion, I think most Americans recognize that the other side of the equation has to be considered. Revenue needs to be part of a balanced plan to reduce the debt. The simple fact of the matter is that virtually every expert panel and commentator has said clearly that in order to reduce the deficit to a sustainable level, revenues have to go up. It is a matter of arithmetic. So the question that presents itself to us is, where does the revenue come from? I believe at the end of the day, the President's plan to continue to provide tax breaks for 98 percent of all Americans and let tax rates for the wealthiest return to the Clinton-era levels is about as fair a proposal as is possible at the moment. First, it recognizes that the middle class should not be the one on the chopping block where there are other options. Second, it asks those making more than a quarter of a million dollars to return to the same top rates we had for most of the 1990s. Third, it cuts everyone's taxes on the first quarter of a million dollars that you make.

What is sometimes lost in this debate is because of our progressive tax system, there will be no changes to the tax rates on income up to $250,000. The benefits of those tax cuts which were enacted in the early decades of the 2000s will still be there for 98 percent of Americans, and they will still be there for those paying additional revenue because of the reversal of the top two upper income tax rates. Yet our Republican colleagues in the House seem to have adopted a posture of obstruction and holding the middle class hostage in order to preserve nearly $1 trillion in tax cuts for the top 2 percent of Americans. If we do not extend these tax cuts for the middle class as the President has proposed, the typical Rhode Island family of four could see their taxes raised by an average of $2,200 in the year 2013. This would be a setback for our very fragile economic recovery. It is simply not fair to have these middle-income Rhode Islanders who are trying to make ends meet in this economy be further subject to a tax increase.

I think I listen pretty well to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. It seems they agree that, yes, these taxes should not go up on 98 percent of Americans. Indeed, in July they dropped their filibuster, enabling the Senate to pass the Middle Class Tax Cut Act. The bill prevents taxes from going up on 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses, and would cut the deficit by nearly $1 trillion.

As I mentioned, if the House does not pass this bill, middle-class families will see their taxes go up by an average of about $2,200. All the House has to do--and they can do it very quickly under their procedures--is take up the Senate-passed bill and pass it. We will put a significant downpayment on deficit reduction. We will provide certainty to 98 percent of Americans that their taxes will remain the same, and we can get onto other sensible appropriate reductions and expenditures and move the Nation forward.

It is heartening to hear some Republicans in the House such as Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Mike Simpson of Idaho talk about accepting this commonsense approach and locking in these tax rates for middle-income Americans. Indeed, if the House, as I suggested, had an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, I would suspect there would be enough Republicans willing to join the House Democrats in passing a tax cut for 98 percent of Americans and giving the business community the certainty it needs. Unfortunately, we have yet to see an indication from Speaker Boehner that he will let the Senate approved middle-class tax cut legislation have an up-or-down vote--despite the fact that by passing this bill every American, including the wealthiest, will get a tax break on the first quarter of a million dollars of income, and the Tax Code would become a bit fairer.

I am worried that there are too many on the other side of the aisle who are willing to let taxes increase on the middle class in order to stop the top two marginal tax rates from returning to Clinton-era levels for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. That, to me, is unfair. Indeed, it is an uncalled-for imposition on the vast majority of Americans.

Republicans would jeopardize our economic recovery by creating uncertainty around letting these tax provisions lapse for all Americans. It could hamper demand, restrict commerce, and impede recovery at a time when our economy is making fragile gains. Indeed, it would be similar to what we are seeing in other parts of the world, where austerity measures in Europe have already caused many of their economies to slip back into recession.

We can't do that. We have got to provide both confidence and the resources for consumers to go into the marketplace and continue to strengthen our recovery. And I would hope to accelerate this recovery because we need more demand, more jobs, more activity, not less.

Unfortunately, the record of some of our colleagues on the other side has suggested that when it comes to making difficult decisions on behalf of the majority of Americans they balk. I have seen in this Congress--the other side threaten a government shutdown and the other side seriously consider defaulting on the debts of the United States. I have seen threats to end unemployment insurance, which would harm our economy and tremendously disadvantage so many Americans who are looking for work. I am hopeful the House of Representatives can respond both thoughtfully and decisively by passing the legislation the Senate has already passed and continue the tax cuts for middle-income Americans while beginning to raise revenues from those who are the wealthiest amongst us.

In the spring of 2011, we were faced with the possibility of a government shutdown. In the summer of that same year, we were faced with the issue of the debt ceiling and government default. All of these attempts to disrupt and undercut the process of government had costs, real costs to our economy, real costs to our sense and the sense of the American people that we are effectively able to manage their affairs, for the welfare not of the very few but for all Americans.

Republicans have also blocked the American Jobs Act. A plan that analysts predicted would lead to the creation of nearly 2 million jobs--and at a time when those new jobs were and still urgently needed. Now with the accumulation of all these different threats to our economy, all these different dramatic moments, we are looking at automatic increases in taxes if the Middle Class Tax Cut Act is not adopted. Failure to pass the bill could severely impede or even reverse the economic recovery we have seen to date. And again, this economic recovery is not as strong as we want to see it, but it is heading at least in a positive direction.

We have to move forward decisively, with a balanced approach to ensure that the vast majority of Americans do not see their taxes go up. And that revenue is raised from those who are most able to afford it.

The President has been very clear that he will be strong in resisting overtures to extend the tax benefits for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. The American people agree. They re-elected him and they consistently, in just about every type of public survey, support his proposal.

Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives are out of step and out of tune with the American public.

Speaker Boehner has not proposed a sensible, balanced approach that mixes revenues and expenditure reductions. Instead, he once again raises the spectre of cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits. That is not the approach we have to take.

What we can do, what we should do, what we must do is simply ask the House of Representatives to take up what we have already passed here in the Senate, the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, immediately. That would provide the breakthrough we need to go forward, to continue to build on our economic recovery, and continue to respond to the legitimate needs of men and women all across this country. I hope House Republicans do that. I know I will be here, along with my colleagues, urging them to do that as quickly as possible.

Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the remaining time under Democratic control be allocated as follows: Senator Boxer for 15 minutes, Senator Casey for 10 minutes, and Senator Schumer for 5 minutes.


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