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Executive Session

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 12, 2017
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. President, on the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised working families that he would subject every proposal he saw in the White House to a simple test: ``Does it create more jobs and better wages for Americans?'' He claimed he wasn't ``going to let Wall Street get away with murder,'' and he said he was going to ``drain the swamp.''

Such great talk--and then he got to Washington. His first order of business was to put together a team of people who had spent decades as executives at big banks and large corporations--people who are determined to tilt the playing field in favor of Wall Street and against working families. You don't need to look very far to see them.

His most senior economic advisers--Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, and the senior counselor for economic initiatives, Dina Powell--together, those three have spent nearly a half a century combined working for Goldman Sachs. When it comes to our economy, this isn't the Trump administration; this is the Goldman Sachs administration.

Now President Trump has lined up another top economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, who has been nominated to serve as the Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. Mr. Hassett hasn't worked at Goldman Sachs. No, his ``fresh perspective'' is that he has spent his career advocating for policies that favor the wealthiest Americans.

The Council of Economic Advisers plays a critical role in developing this country's economic policies. It was created by Congress to, as Dr. Hassett has put it himself, give the President ``unbiased, scientific, and objective advice'' about the economic impact of the President's policies on the American economy. They have their fingers in all sorts of policies from trade to healthcare, to taxes, to financial regulation.

So what kind of an economy does Dr. Hassett want? He hasn't been shy in telling us. Dr. Hassett wants an economy that keeps working great for those on top, and if it leaves working families further behind, that is just too bad.

Start with taxes: Dr. Hassett gets really excited about cutting taxes on giant corporations. In fact, when he was working for Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign, he wrote that the new President's top priority-- the No. 1 act, the first thing he should do when he stepped into the Oval Office--was cut the corporate tax rate. His argument was that if we cut taxes for big businesses, they will give those savings to their workers and be more productive, improving the economy for everyone.

That is just plain old trickle-down economics: Give more money to corporations and the wealthy, and they will surely pass it along to everyone else. It hasn't worked so far, and it isn't going to work in the future. Well, it isn't going to work for anyone who isn't already wealthy. For them, that works great.

On trade, Dr. Hassett also sings the corporate tune. Dr. Hassett wants to double down on the same kind of trade agreements that enrich giant corporations and leave the workers eating dirt. Dr. Hassett embraces trade deals that make it harder for small businesses to compete, trade deals that weaken public safety, and trade deals that undercut environmental rules. Dr. Hassett's approach really makes one wonder: Does Donald Trump not know who this guy is, or does he just not care? Either way, it is American workers who will take another punch to the gut delivered by Team Trump.

And how about on financial regulation? Nine years ago, Wall Street brought the economy to its knees and had to be bailed out to the tune of $700 billion. The crash cost millions of Americans their jobs and their homes. Congress then passed bipartisan financial reforms to stop another crisis. Dr. Hassett was not enthusiastic. In public, he called those new rules ``lamebrained'' and described the legislation as ``horrifying'' and ``the worst piece of legislation that I've seen in my entire life.'' He sounded the alarm that the financial reform ``needs to be repealed as soon as possible.''

He has since said that he regrets his tone. Tone isn't the problem here. The problem is what he said, not how he said it.

If Dr. Hassett has his way and Wall Street reform gets repealed, the same behavior that caused the 2008 financial crisis would be unleashed again. I cannot understand how, just 9 years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Dr. Hassett would want to turn the banks loose so they have a clear shot at cheating consumers and building up risks that could blow up the financial system again.

There is no end to Dr. Hassett's bad judgment. He is wrong on the minimum wage, calling the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour ``wrongheaded'' and saying that raising the minimum wage was a ``dishonest approach'' to alleviating poverty.

He is wrong on the environment. In a column, he advised President Obama to ``frack away.''

And, most of all, he is wrong about the fundamental problems in our economy, calling income inequality a myth and saying it was ``ludicrous'' to believe that our society is ``rigged or fundamentally unjust.'' He sounds as if he thinks that it is just great that this economy works for those at the top and pretty much for no one else.
Dr. Hassett has consistently advocated for the interests of corporations over working people. If he is confirmed, I am confident that he will be one more voice in the White House speaking up for the rich and the powerful. No doubt he will fit right into the Goldman Sachs administration.

But Congress has a say in this. The last thing we need is another economic adviser who wants to tilt the playing field even further in favor of corporate America.

I oppose this nomination, and I hope other Senators will too.

I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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