Legislative Sessionby Senator Jack Reed
Posted on 2014-12-16
REED. Mr. President, the House has sent us a $42 billion year-
long extension of several tax provisions known as tax extenders. This
year-long extension is unpaid for, and while I will support this
measure because several provisions in this bill need to be extended--
and soon--I must raise concerns about the approach here to once again
stack the deck against middle-class families. They rightfully are
concerned that they have been left out--and continually so--in policies
that this body finds the will to pass.
Case in point is the effort I engaged in all year with my Republican colleague, Senator Heller, to restore emergency unemployment insurance benefits for 1.3 million Americans. Now this program is typically considered an emergency measure because it has been fundamental to supporting our economic recovery, and as such the $24 billion cost to extend the program through 2014 would normally not be paid for. Well this year that was not the case and several of my colleagues, particularly House Republicans, insisted that this typical emergency measure be offset for it to get consideration.
So Senator Heller and I worked with several of our colleagues to craft a paid-for measure that would extend the program for 5 months. That paid-for bill passed the Senate, but the House has since refused to give it an up-or-down vote--despite the fact that it met the condition of being paid-for and the Congressional Budget Office had estimated a full year extension of the program would create 200,000 jobs and boost economic growth by 0.2 percent of GDP. So it strikes me as incredibly one-sided and patently unfair that House Republicans would send us a $42 billion unpaid-for retroactive year-long extension of tax provisions that would not generate the same kind of economic boost as UI, but they still would not consider helping the long-term unemployed as they search for work. Indeed, in the bipartisan Senate extenders bill, we included a provision that would encourage employers to hire the long-term unemployed--but even that modest change to the Work Opportunity Tax Credit was not included in the House bill.
This is part of a troubling pattern created by some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and in the other body--if it helps a small set of businesses or special interests, well the deficit does not seem to matter to them. But if a proposal or initiative is aimed at helping low and middle-income Americans get a foothold in the economy, then the standard is much higher and constantly changing.
The 1-year tax extenders bill does have some good provisions, like the extension of credits that help families afford college, make it easier for homeowners and lenders to keep families in [[Page S6900]] their homes, or promote the production of renewable energy like wind. But the bill also has tax breaks for race horses, rum, NASCAR and is skewed towards corporations. All equaling a total of $42 billion in unpaid-for tax cuts.
Indeed, we also considered an appropriations bill, which included a snuck-in provision that allows pension cuts on the backs of middle- income employees and retirees in multiemployer pension plans. We should not have considered such far-reaching pension reform without thoughtful, strenuous, and open debate. So the insertion of a pension deal, negotiated behind closed doors, that hurts middle-income employees and retirees at the waning hours of a lame duck Congress is untenable and further cause for Americans to think that their government does not have their back or care about their economic security. They will see Congress giving tax deals for race horses and NASCAR, while their pensions are cut. That's not how this body should govern.
Now as we enter a new Congress, we will have to confront the impending sequester that we will face head on again in fiscal year 2016, which will seriously frustrate our ability to provide for the national defense and general welfare. Those sequestration cuts, brought on by the refusal of my colleagues on the other side to reach a deficit reduction agreement that included raising revenue, total $109 billion per year and will impact non-defense and defense spending equally. So again it is striking that many of my colleagues on the other side will have no problem voting for $42 billion in unpaid-for tax cuts--or even as was reported last month, a $450 billion unpaid-for permanent extension of these tax breaks--but when it comes to helping American workers or confronting and undoing the sequester cuts to our domestic programs my colleagues on the other side apply a tougher standard that is tilted against everyday Americans.
I have made the tough choices in the 1990s to balance the budget and I have supported over $3.3 trillion in deficit reduction since 2010, over two-thirds of that coming from spending reductions. The deficit is on its fastest decline since World War II and has been cut by more than half since 2009. But the economy has not been growing fast enough and many Americans have seen stagnating wages and have the sense that the economy is stacked against them. So I will work with my colleagues, as I have consistently tried to do, to urge them to join with Democrats to spur broad-based growth for every American and ensure the economy and government works for them--not just for large corporations or special interests.