Issues of the Day

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 4, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GARAMENDI. Mr. Speaker, before I launch into the major subject matter of this evening, I want to call attention to the horrific fires that have occurred in California over the last month. It is extremely early in the fire season. Normally, fires of the size that we have seen in California during the month of August occur in late October/ November.

Climate change is real, and what we are seeing is a 365-day-a-year fire season in California. In my own district of Lake County, the largest fire ever in California's history is still burning, mostly under control, but it will probably burn for another month until the rains come.

Just to the north, in the Redding, California, area, more than 1,000 homes were lost and 4 people lost their lives. We saw last year the huge fire that occurred in southern California, in the Santa Barbara- Ventura County area, followed by horrific mudslides that, again, claimed the lives of dozens of people.

My heart goes out to all the victims of the fire, and my gratitude, along with the gratitude of the communities of California, goes out to the brave firefighters and first responders who met the challenge of these very fast moving, very, very dangerous fires.

It should bring to the attention of all Americans the need for us to address the new issues that confront our Nation as a result of the ever-warming climate and, also, the need for this Congress to carry on what is now in place in law, and that is to allow the U.S. Forest Service to have two accounts: one account for fighting fires and a separate account for managing the forests.

The health of our forests is in doubt. As one of my colleagues often says, we can take the trees out in an orderly way and remove some of the vegetation, providing the necessary firebreaks and forest thinnings, or it will come out in a fire.

Now, if I might, Mr. Speaker, go to the other subject matter that I would like to spend a few minutes on.

I often start my Special Order hours with some words from a very well-known American, a fellow who had four terms as President of the United States. If you haven't figured it out already, it would be FDR.

In the past, as I have used this to set the tone and to set the value of my conversation, or the values of my conversation, I didn't really appreciate how pertinent these words would be here in September, the day after Labor Day, of 2018.

So I want to draw your attention to what FDR said in the 1930s. He said: ``The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.''

I want to say that again, because this really should be our goal. It should be the principle value of our legislative process here.

``The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.''

So, what to make of this. Yesterday was Labor Day, a tradition that goes back to the 1880s, when there was a real crisis, when there was child labor, where there were no workplace safety laws, where there was the advent of what became known as the robber barons and the era of the golden few.

Yesterday, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, wrote an op- ed laying down some thoughts that all of us ought to pay attention to. He said that working people are crying out for change that would bring about a political system that lifts up our voices, an economy that treats us fairly, and a society that values labor.

He also said a few other things. He said: ``For decades, corporate interests have been hell-bent on chipping away at our most fundamental rights and freedoms. They have corrupted our public institutions and rigged the economy to work for the few at the expense of the many.''

Well, it seems as though he may have been channeling FDR, and it wouldn't surprise me that he would.

In December, Congress passed and the President signed the largest tax scam in America's history. Our friends on the Republican side sold the tax bill to the American public as relief for middle-income families. President Trump went further to say that working families could expect a $4,000 to $7,000 raise due to the lowering of tax burdens on companies.

I should repeat that: President Trump said that working families could expect a $4,000 to $7,000 raise due to the lowering tax burden on companies and corporations. Hmm.

Let's test those words. Let's test those words against what has happened since December of 2017 when the largest tax scam in the Nation's history actually passed. So, what have the workers of America found? The Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor has shown that workers' real wages, accounting for inflation, have decreased slightly since the signing of the tax bill.

This means that the average worker's salary buys less today than it did before December 2017. By the way, that tax bill cost the Federal Treasury, that is, reduced the tax receipts to the Federal Treasury, by nearly $2 trillion over the next decade. Well, not the next decade. We are now 9\1/4\ years ahead. Two trillion dollars.

All that sold on the premise that the wages for working Americans would increase. No. Didn't happen. Not likely to happen. There were some modest increases in wages, but they have been negated, wiped out, by rising inflation.

Since the great recession of 2009 and '10, there really was real wage growth, adjusted for inflation, every year until the current year. Now, undoubtedly, there are some here in Congress--and perhaps the President--who would point out that some corporations have actually used their windfall for employee bonuses.

Let's just take a look at what that windfall is. Yes. Here it is. Well, I'm afraid this number is wrong. We now know it is actually going to be close to a $2 trillion reduction in taxes.

So where is it going? Well, let's see. Mr. Speaker, 83 percent of all of that near $2 trillion winds up in the hands of the top 1 percent and American corporations. Everyone else can share 17 percent of that number, $2 trillion.

So, how many Americans saw a windfall as a result of the tax cut, as promised by the President, the $4,000 to $7,000 bonus coming to you as a result of the tax bill? Well, there are 155 million employees in America, doing every conceivable kind of work, including some of the folks here in the dais behind me.

Only 6.8 million of the 155 million actually received wage increases or bonuses since the passage of the tax scam. Their 5.9 million employers, a very generous 411 of the 5.9 million employers, provided their employees with a bonus or a significant wage increase.

Publicly traded companies across America are spending 101 times more money on stock buybacks, $712 billion in the first 8 months of 2018, than employee raises or bonuses, which are $7.1 billion. Shall I say that again? Probably ought to. Publicly traded companies have spent $712 billion on stock buybacks and $7.1 billion on bonuses and raises. Interesting.

The New York Times reported on this on July 13, and the headlines read, ``Paychecks Lag as Profits Soar, and Prices Erode Wage Gains. Corporate profits have rarely swept up a bigger share of the Nation's wealth, and workers have rarely shared a smaller one.''

I suppose, if I wanted to play economist, I would put up something like this: How is corporate America spending their tax cut, the Trump tax cut? Well, here you have--oh, this was April. This blue line, that was April.

In April, corporate stock buybacks were $238 billion, in April of 2018. We are now in September. That was April. Mr. Speaker, $238 billion in stock buybacks, $6.5 billion for bonuses and wage increases. We are now in September, 4 months later, and stock buybacks are $712 billion, a number that I said just a moment ago; and wages and bonuses have increased $7.1 billion. Half a trillion dollars. A half a trillion dollars of the stock of the tax cut has been spent, increased, from April to September.

No doubt in everybody's mind why the stock market is roaring ahead. There has been $712 billion spent on buying back stocks since January 1, 2018. That is three-quarters of a trillion dollars. No wonder the stock market is roaring ahead. Unfortunately, the wages of Americans have actually, in real dollars, declined.

A few other things for those of you who like to play economist. You have to love these graphs. The employee pay as a share of the national income, in 1970, it was about, I don't know, 66\1/2\ percent of the total wealth of the total national income that was for wages. Here we are in 2018, and it has fallen to 62 percent.

Well, how about corporate profits as a share of national income? Well, in 1970, it was down here around 9 percent of the total national income that was corporate profits. Here we are in 2018, and it is 13 percent.

We would say that would be wonderful for corporations, if somehow that corporate wealth would actually be shared with employees.

Now you can kind of understand why Mr. Trump was so agitated on Labor Day yesterday when he was talking about income inequality.

There is one other way to see this, and let me put this up. This is corporate tax rate, individual and corporate income taxes as a percentage of all the Federal revenue. That is all the tax revenue the Federal Government collects.

Well, let's see, way back in 1934, about 10 percent. Both corporate and individuals paid about the same amount, and that went on until 1939, 1940, and then it began to shift. In that period of time, since the 1940s, early 1940s, until today, corporate taxes, as a share of the burden of taxes paid in America, has declined from 40 percent in 1939--that was the build up to World War II--to, well, somewhere down around 7.8 percent today. Pretty good for corporations. Pretty good for people who own stock.

Who does own stock? Eighty-four percent of U.S.-traded stock is owned by the top 10 percent of Americans. Whoa, now that is an interesting statistic.

So the stock market roars as more and more of the tax cut is poured into stock buybacks, and the benefit goes to the top 10 percent of Americans.

We ought to pay attention to that. Oh, by the way, individuals have continued to pay more and more of the total burden of funding our Federal Government. All of this is a result of tax policy over time.

So what are we going to do about this? Before I go to what we are going to do about it, let me just pick up one more thing. Do you remember all the talk about bringing American corporations back to America, end the offshoring? Surely, you remember that. Well, I remember the talk here on the floor. The great tax bill is going to end the offshoring of American jobs. We are going to Make America Great Again. We are going to bring American corporations back home.

Well, it didn't happen. Why didn't it happen? Well, because the way the law was written, there is actually greater incentive today to offshore jobs than there was prior to the great tax scam of December 2017. American corporations can actually have a lower tax rate by offshoring, by investing offshore.

I am sure you remember the great ballyhoo about Harley-Davidson. They were concerned about the President's tariffs and said that they were going to manufacture their motorcycles in Europe as a result of the tariff on steel and aluminum. Well, there is another known issue about Harley-Davidson. They utilized the tax break given to American corporations for offshoring jobs to open a facility in Thailand after the tax bill was passed.

They laid off 800 workers in their Kansas City facility and opened a new facility in Thailand. They not only did that, but what did they do for the remaining workers in America? Well, if those workers happened to own Harley-Davidson stock, I suppose they did okay, because Harley- Davidson decided to spend $700 million to buy back 15 million shares.

Interesting the way in which tax policy actually works, to the benefit of whom? Hardworking American families? No. The top wealthy Americans? Yes.

What did FDR have to say about all this? This isn't ancient history. This is America today. This is America today, and we ought to pay attention to what FDR has said when he said American progress is not whether the wealthy do better, but, rather, whether the working men and women of America, the poor, the people who are struggling to put food on their table, the people who are trying to get their kids an education, trying to deal with the ever-increasing cost of higher education, FDR said it very clearly when he said it is our test, that we are judged by what we do for those who have little.

So here we are today. Here we are just days ahead of a new election in which this issue is going to address every American. This election is going to be about whether the policies so starkly laid out here in the tax legislation, the policies of adjusting the American wealth so that those who have much get more versus those who are working day in and day out are struggling just to stay ahead and failing to do so.

There is a stark difference here in policy. Let there be no doubt that, for us, as we go into this election, we go into this election keeping firmly in mind that our task is to provide A Better Deal for the people, A Better Deal for the people of America.

The wealthy have done fine. The top 10 percent are doing terrific. We are not against them, but we are for the people. We are for the working men and women of America who are trying to put food on their table, pay rent as housing prices soar, as rental rates go through the roof, working men and women in the families of America who are struggling every day just to keep up with inflation, and far too many not able to do so.

Yes, there is no doubt that, in America today, the unemployment rate has dropped. Yet, there are still millions of Americans who have not been able to get into the labor market, who have not been able to adjust to the changing economy of America, who are unable to have the skills to fit into that new economy, who are on the outside.

But I will tell you this: We care about them. We think it is our responsibility to care about every American, not just the wealthy, as some do in this hall, but every working man and woman and for those not able to work.

So we offer A Better Deal for the people, and I am just going to lay out four specific issues in the next remaining minutes.

First of all, it is about healthcare. I came to this Congress in 2009 with the determination to work for a healthcare system that provided quality insurance for every American. We made a major step toward that, not because I arrived but because the American public was crying out for a quality health insurance program.

Too many Americans were on the outside. Too many people were excluded because they had a preexisting condition. Too many Americans couldn't afford it, and more and more American companies were eliminating healthcare insurance as part of the benefits.

So we, the Democrats, without one Republican vote, put forward the Affordable Care Act. And guess what? More than 20 million Americans within 3 years had insurance that wasn't previously available to them, and it was a good insurance policy.

All the while, from January 2011 to this moment, our Republican colleagues have been trying to reverse that progress. More than 60 different bills passed the House of Representatives in those years that would eliminate the basic health insurance for 27 million Americans.

That was their policy. That is not ours.

Our policy is to provide universal health insurance for every American. We have not given it up. We have seen erosion in the years with the new President who rails against insurance for everybody. And we see specific programs put forward by our Republican colleagues to carve away protections for those Americans who have preexisting conditions.

How cruel is that? How wrong is that, that this Nation would set up a system that would remove the protection that has been in the law since 2010, the protection that insurance companies cannot discriminate in the provision of insurance because of preexisting conditions?

What is a preexisting condition? For a young female, it is that she might get pregnant. Yes, they consider that a preexisting condition, being a female. You have high blood pressure? That is a preexisting condition. You had measles or chickenpox in the past? That is a preexisting condition. It goes on and on and on.

I know this issue. I was an insurance commissioner elected in California to protect Californians from the abuses of insurance companies, and I saw time after time after time insurance companies discriminating, harming individuals, terminating their health insurance because they forgot to write down that they had chickenpox as a child.

Now here we are in this era of Trump, this era where, once again, the majority and the President would impose upon Americans, once again, insurance discrimination. You have a preexisting condition? Good luck. We are going to fight that.

As we have seen the wages of Americans stagnate under the pressure of insurance and the pressure of the tax scam, as we have seen that, we have also seen the inevitable increase in the cost of prescription drugs. Who does that hurt? The super wealthy? The 10 percenters who have done so well in the last year? Or does it hurt everyday working Americans?

I will tell you this, it is our plan to put in place policies that would give the Federal Government the opportunity to negotiate prices for prescription drugs so that Medicare and Medicaid recipients don't have to endure the enormous out-of-pocket costs associated with that and to give other Americans who are not yet of that age the opportunity to be able to get their prescription drugs at a reasonable price just as the rest of the world, or at least that part of the world that has advanced economies, is able to get.

What about education?

I was back home in my district, as were all the rest of us over this last month. How many times did I hear from parents whose children are about to graduate from high school, saying they can't afford it, that they can't afford to go to college. And if they do, they will be saddled with such student debt that they will never be able to buy a home. They will spend the first 10, 15 years of their postgraduate life paying off the student loans.

This is not a small matter for Californians. This is not a small matter for citizens of every other State. It is an epidemic in America, the cost of higher education, the burden that is placed upon young men and women who are struggling to get an education, having to go out and get a student loan just to be able to continue, and then paying that off in the years ahead.

It occurred to me somewhere along the way that, as I received the inevitable mail about refinancing my home mortgage, maybe students ought to be able to refinance their student loan. But, oh, no, not in America. You can refinance your home mortgage, but you can't refinance your student loan at a lower rate? That is wrong.

So I, and others, have introduced legislation that would at least allow for a refinancing of student loans at a lower rate. But that is not enough. That is just one piece of a solution to a problem that is endemic and an epidemic in America.

We are going to spend $1 trillion in the next decade rebuilding every one of our nuclear bombs and our basic mechanisms to deliver those bombs. What if we spent like one-tenth of that on allowing American children to get an education without being saddled with a student loan for the first 10 to 15 years of their postgraduate life, to be able to have a free community college education the first 2 years? Some States are trying to do that, New York among them. Why not the Federal Government?

But, oh, no. The Secretary of Education is going exactly the other direction, trying to eliminate the protections that were put in place by the Obama administration to protect students from loan scams, from bogus education programs, such as the Trump real estate education program. Did I mention that loudly enough? Such as the Trump real estate program.

So his Secretary of Education wants to allow him, when he terminates his career as President, to go back and rebuild the scam that harmed thousands of Americans and, along with that, maybe many, many more.

American families need to be concerned about what is going on here. For the people, are our policies for the people?

I was traveling across California in my district, 200 miles one side to the other, the great Sacramento River Valley, more levees than anywhere in America, including Louisiana. The roads are filled with potholes. The levees are in need of repair. The airports are crowded. We just heard a lot about that in the previous session.

The bridges are collapsing, not just in Italy, here in America. I think we have some 60,000 bridges that are in need of serious repair. I noticed one of them across the river here in Washington, D.C., under repair, and that is good for Washington, D.C. But what about, I don't know, Missouri? What about our infrastructure?

We have lead contamination in the communities of Michigan and other contamination in the water of cities in California. We have shore lines that are collapsing. We have water lines that are not working properly.

American infrastructure was built decades ago and has not been repaired in the intervening years, and we have a $1 trillion backlog just to keep pace.

Travel to Europe, travel to China, travel to other countries, Japan, and others, and you will see modern infrastructure, but not in America, not in America.

So what are we going to do about it? I will tell you what we want to do about it on our side of the aisle. We want a real infrastructure program, not a bogus one like ones proposed earlier this year by our President, but a real, solid infrastructure program that has real money, that has the real opportunity to be able to rebuild our existing infrastructure to bring about what we have called for, for more than a decade: good repair of all of it, whether it is a water system, sanitation system, a levee, a highway, or an airport.

That is what we want to do, and we want to build the infrastructure for tomorrow.

We know that international trade is going to increase. Well, maybe not. Maybe I have to change that, given the trade war that is now underway, brought to us by the President. So we will see how it turns out.

But right now, maybe we are not going to see an increase in international trade as tariffs are imposed. But maybe that will pass, and we will get back to fair trade, real opportunity to grow our economy by trading internationally. To do that, we are going to need better ports. We are going to need better infrastructure to move goods into and out of the ports. We need to have deeper ports. All of these are infrastructure projects.

How are we going to do it? Well, I suggest that we are going to do it with a real infrastructure program that has real money. If we were to go back to one of those charts I had there that showed the share of American corporations, their share of the total tax revenues is declining, decade by decade, to the lowest level since the imposition of a corporate tax rate.

We are going to try to retrieve some of the mistake that was made in the tax bill of December 2017, retrieve some of those incentives that were in the bill, replace those incentives with real legislation that encourages American corporations to bring those profits back into America.

I bring to your attention a bill that Mr. Lloyd Doggett of Texas has put forth, a bill that would terminate the unfair, unjustified provisions of the 2017 tax bill that encourages further investment by American corporations overseas. Reverse that. Bring that money back home.

If we were to pair that with another bill by Mr. Delaney, we would see the opportunity for a rea infrastructure program, setting up an infrastructure bond and banking program where we can use that money coming back into America from the kind of tax reform that Mr. Doggett has put forth and Mr. Delaney has put forth to build our infrastructure, having American corporations that enjoy the benefits of this Nation pay their fair share and not hide their profits overseas, as so many have done and will do even more because of the tax program.

A final point about our program, which we call A Better Deal for the People, America knows the level of corruption that is taking place here in our Nation. They hear it; they see it on television. There has never--well, ``never'' is a long time. In the memory of living Americans, there has never been such a corrupt administration as we have today: EPA Director; questions raised about the Commerce Secretary; people resigning left, right, and center, just ahead of the cops; and, of course, the President.

We need to pay attention to this. It erodes the foundation of our democracy. Campaign financing, Citizens United, is allowing secret, dark money to invade our election process.

We don't know the full extent of Russian involvement. We know hacking. We know that they are out there using social media. We don't know the full extent of foreign money coming into our election. We are not ever likely to know, under the current laws, because there is secret money allowed in our democratic process, eroding the very nature of our democracy. Maybe some of it is foreign. There is evidence that it is. Maybe--no, not maybe. We know about millions coming into the campaign.

There is not a Member in this House of 435, less those who have left for various issues of corruption, not one of us wakes up in the morning without concern that secret money, millions, will be dumped into their campaign in the 65 days, 62 days until the next election.

We don't know. We can't know. It is out there. It is wandering around out there, millions upon millions of dark money, secret money. It could land on any of us. Given what I have been saying about the President, it may land on me. Fine, we will deal with that.

This is a problem. It is a problem for America when that kind of money buys elections, buys candidates, buys Members of Congress and more.

Citizens United and all the rest needs to go. We need to know who is financing me, financing my colleagues here. We need to be able to report that so that the people can make up their minds what they want to do.

I will give you one example, and then I think I have said enough for the night. There was an election in California a few years ago that had Pacific Gas and Electric, one of the major corporations, utilities-- well, the largest in the Nation, trying to carve a special favor for itself, eliminating all competition. They got it on the ballot. They collected signatures, got it on the ballot.

They were required, under California law, to disclose where the money came from in support of their campaign and all of the ads, all the television, all the written mailers and so forth paid for by PG&E.

The opposition to this, which was basic citizen groups, said that this is wrong. There were editorials written. Maybe $20,000, $30,000 was spent opposing PG&E's effort. It went down 2-1 for one simple reason: PG&E was required to disclose that they were paying for the ads, and people go, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. So disclosure works.

Unfortunately, Citizens United and a couple of other decisions have made it impossible for the American people to know who is financing Members of Congress, Senate, President, so forth.

So, here we are. A better deal for the people, healthcare, infrastructure, jobs, wages, corruption. You are going to hear a lot about this.

Kaptur), who is joining me this evening.


Mr. GARAMENDI. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman so very much.

124 Labor Days for the working men and women of America. We should keep that in mind, and certainly I know the gentlewoman will and I, and I am sure my colleagues, at least on the Democratic side of the aisle, will also.