A transcript of Sen. Warner’s statement is on the “flip.” I have mixed feelings (although I’d point out that Warner voted to extend the Bush tax cuts, which add $4 trillion a decade to the debt, so…???); what do you all think?
Mr. Warner: Mr. President, let me rise today to speak about the conference report that it appears we’ll be voting on tomorrow regarding the issues of the payroll tax, unemployment benefits and the so-called doc fix.
And let me first of all acknowledge, Mr. President, that I know that many of my colleagues have worked long hours on the payroll tax deal that was apparently reached late last night. I have been briefed on pieces of this deal, and I’ve also seen many of the press reports that have described this deal as a new sign of bipartisanship. As a new member of the Senate, I know, like the presiding officer, we believe that we do our best work here in Congress comes when we can have bipartisan solutions, when we can find ways to reach common ground.
All these factors make it doubly difficult for me to now rise and say that I will be voting against the conference report when it comes to the floor of this body tomorrow.
Now, let me acknowledge on the front end that I think there are worthy reasons that in this recovering economy we’ve got right now, it makes some sense to maintain in some form the so-called payroll tax holiday for a limited period of time. I know and the presiding officer feels that one of the most important issues that our country confronts right now, I would say the most important issue, and the one that is an overhang on everything else we debate here is our inability to come to grips with our debt and deficit. I know as we try to nurture this growing recovery, that one of the ways we take on that debt and deficit is by having a growing economy.
But I also believe that it is terribly important that we show progress on this issue. The national debt now exceeds $15 trillion. Every day that we fail to act we add $4 billion to that total. None of this becomes self-correcting. It will not correct itself until and unless we act. And I for one believe that there is no action that this body could take that would be more stimulative to our economy, that would be a better jobs program, that would do more to restore the trust of the business community and the public, than when we show bipartisan collaboration and cooperation on a long-term debt and deficit deal.
So let me share with my colleagues the five reasons why I will be voting against the conference report tomorrow.
First and foremost, the payroll tax cut that’s been proposed isn’t being paid for. It will add $100 billion to the debt.
Second, the compromise that has been put together, I think, turns some of our traditional policies on their head. By taking this action, we’re saying that tax cuts somehow don’t have to be paid for. We’re advancing a policy that I believe will come back to haunt us later this year when the Bush tax cuts expire.
As a matter of fact, while I have only been a member of this body for three years, I know it has been tradition that in moments of economic crisis that the Congress will sometimes extend unemployment benefits, particularly for those states that have been hardest hit. And in those moments of crisis, the unemployment benefits sometimes go unpaid for. In this compromise, in this conference report, we turn that policy on its head and there is a requirement to pay for the extension of unemployment benefits but no requirement to pay for the $100 billion of additional debt taken on by the payroll tax holiday.
You know, in this body we’ve had debates about debt and deficit and economics. We’ve discussed the economic theories of a whole host of thinkers and economists: John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman, Paul Krugman. Somehow, I feel like this conference report that we’ll be voting on tomorrow may reflect the thinking of a more obscure individual, someone that I recall as a child growing up: that is Wimpy, a cartoon character, Popeye’s hungry pal. Wimpy used to always say “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
Well, it seems on this economic policy we’re taking today, deferring payment for this payroll tax policy, that Wimpy once again has won out.
Let me cite the third reason why I’ll be voting against the conference report tomorrow. As I acknowledged at the beginning of my comments, I believe extension of the payroll tax holiday makes sense in this recovery, but it just needs to be paid for.
So I could have very easily supported a number of the proposals put forward, including a 1% increase in taxes on those of us who make more than $1 million a year. A defined benefit with a defined pay-for. If we couldn’t breach the gap on that, I could have looked at means testing the payroll tax holiday.
If we’re trying to make sure that these dollars get into the economy as quickly as possible over this coming year, then clearly a payroll tax holiday for folks who make less than $150,000 a year or $250,000 a year or $500,000 a year or $1 million or less a year — it didn’t make sense to say that regardless of what your income. This payroll tax holiday going to folks like me is not going to have a stimulative effect. I don’t think economic theory bears that out.
If we paid for this or put some restraints on it, I would have been happy to support this conference report.
The fourth reason why I can’t support the conference report is because I am concerned that this payroll tax holiday, which goes into the Social Security Trust Fund, is supposed to end at the end of this year. But we put no metrics on that, and it scares me that we will approach the end of the year and there will be some other reason why it needs to be extended again.
If we put in place a requirement that would have said this payroll tax holiday would start to ratchet back if we continue to see growth in the economy, perhaps ratchet back a third if we see GDP growth for the next three months or unemployment growth, ratchet back another third, ratchet back another third, so we don’t have the cliff effect that is being proposed at the end of the year — again, a cliff effect that will come at the same time as the end of the Bush tax cuts, the proverbial train wreck that’s already being talked about…
So while I believe that this payroll tax holiday is important, the price, the fact that we aren’t paying for it, the fact we put no restrictions or parameters around it and the fact that there’s no guarantee that it will actually expire, are reasons why I’ll be voting “no.”
Let me raise one other concern I have about the conference report. This is one more example of, particularly our colleagues in the House, saying the first place they go for any pay-for for any project seems to be our federal workers.
The same federal workers, two million strong, who keep our streets safe, make sure we get those Social Security checks, try to take out terrorist drug dealers — you name it. The same federal workers who have had their pay frozen for the last two years, who have had to endure the prospects of two or three potential government shutdowns over the last year and a half. To say to this group that we’re going to come back to the well, time and time again, I don’t think is fair or right. As someone who’s looked at the federal pay and benefits, when we get to that issue of a comprehensive tax reform, entitlement reform, big deficit deal, all these items need to be reviewed. But the notion that the first place to come back to for any pay-for is our federal employees, to me, doesn’t seem fair, nor does it seem right.
For these five reasons, I will reluctantly be voting against the conference report tomorrow. I believe it was in the context of the debt and deficit particularly, it was Will Rogers who said when you find yourself in a hole and you want to get out, stop digging.
Well, in some small way by voting “no” tomorrow, I hope I’ll send the signal that I and I hope others will join me and stop digging.