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Call on Congress to Emphasize Fiscal Discipline and Priorities for American Families (7/15/00)

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The Briefing Room


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release Saturday, July 15, 2000

Call on Congress to Emphasize Fiscal Discipline and Priorities for American Families (7/15/00)

Today, in his weekly radio address, President Clinton criticized the Senate Republican leadership for placing a higher priority on an excessive, regressive, multi-billion estate tax repeal that would benefit fewer than 60,000 Americans over a Medicare prescription drug benefit that would provide desperately needed coverage for tens of millions of seniors and people with disabilities. He reiterated his opposition to this ill-advised and irresponsible tax change and urged the Congress to focus on priorities that will benefit millions of Americans of all incomes, including raising the minimum wage, enacting a strong, enforceable, Patients' Bill of Rights, and investments in key priorities like education, health coverage, and the environment, many of which have attracted substantial bipartisan support. In this spirit, President Clinton made a good-faith offer to move forward on debt reduction by taking Medicare off-budget, as well as signing prescription drug and marriage penalty relief legislation. However, Republican Congressional leaders have not only worked to defeat the President's program to help working families, but have moved ahead on their own agenda that risks our fiscal discipline and undermines our priorities.

The Republicans Have Failed to Address Key Priorities and Instead Have Passed Irresponsible Tax Cuts that Threaten Our Fiscal Discipline, Spending Over $650 Billion of the Surplus This Congress has adopted a strategy of passing tax cuts one by one, with no overall framework or plan. The tax cuts already passed by the Congress would spend over $650 billion of the surplus. These include: estate tax repeal ($104 billion in the House and Senate), marriage penalty ($182 billion in the House, with a $248 billion bill currently being debated in the Senate), communications excise tax repeal ($51 billion in the House), so-called small business tax reductions ($122 billion in the House and $103 billion in the Senate), Patients Bill of Rights ($49 billion in the House and $32 billion in the Senate), and affordable education ($21 billion in the Senate). With interest, the total cost of these cuts is over $650 billion. If the Republican Congress continues on this path, it could pass tax cuts that would spend the entire on-budget surplus and more leaving no money for America's priorities.

The most recent tax cut passed by Congress was an irresponsible repeal of the estate tax, which the Republican majority pushed through while voting down a more targeted approach that would have allowed additional resources for priorities:

  1. Congress passes fiscally irresponsible and regressive estate tax repeal. According to estimates by the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Department of the Treasury, the cost of the Congressional estate tax repeal would explode from about $100 billion from 2001-10 to about $750 billion from 2011-20 possibly one of the most backloaded tax cuts ever passed by Congress. In 2010, the entire benefit of estate tax repeal would go to only the 54,000 wealthiest estates two percent of all decedents providing them with an average tax cut of $800,000. Half of the benefits of repeal would go to the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent of families just 3,000 families annually. Estate tax repeal would cost about $50 billion in 2010 substantially more than the cost of the President's prescription drug proposal, which would benefit more than 40 million deserving seniors. Only a tiny fraction of the revenue cost of estate tax repeal would benefit small businesses and family farms. Furthermore, studies by economists have found that repealing the estate tax would reduce charitable donations by $5 billion to $6 billion per year. For these reasons, the President has said he would veto the bill.
  2. The Majority in the Senate ignores more targeted alternatives that address priorities for American families. The majority in the Senate voted against more-targeted and fiscally responsible estate tax relief that would have eliminated estate taxes for two-thirds of those who now pay and the vast majority of small businesses and family farms at a fraction of the cost of total repeal. Senate Republicans also voted against amendments to reduce poverty among senior citizens, provide for a voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit, make college more affordable, provide additional housing, help working families save for retirement, and assist families in assuring affordable health insurance and long-term care.

The President's Constructive Offer to Address America's Priorities; On June 26th, President Clinton made a constructive offer to the Congressional leadership to break the gridlock in Washington and take important steps for America's families. The President's offer had three parts:

  1. As a precondition, Medicare should be taken off-budget and its $403 billion surplus locked in for debt reduction.
  2. If Congress passes an affordable voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit that is available to all and protects against catastrophic costs along the lines of the plan proposed by the President, then
  3. The President would be willing to sign broader marriage penalty tax relief along the lines passed by the House or reported out of the Senate Finance Committee. The Congressional leadership has chosen to ignore this offer, without providing an alternative of its own, and to proceed with an agenda that risks our fiscal discipline while bypassing the priorities of American families.

Congress Should Act on Crucial Priorities This Year: In his radio address, the President highlighted several priorities for Congressional action this year:

  1. Provide Affordable, Voluntary Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage For All Beneficiaries: Over 13 million Medicare beneficiaries have no drug coverage, and over 3 in 5 beneficiaries have undependable drug coverage. Medigap and managed care prescription drug coverage is either expensive, extremely limited, and / or unavailable. Seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare without drug coverage fill 30% fewer prescriptions than those with coverage, but pay 83 percent more out-of-pocket for drugs. With fewer than 40 days left in the legislative session, President Clinton will urge the Congress to act now to design a meaningful and accessible prescription drug benefit option for all Medicare beneficiaries. To that end, the President has proposed a voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit that would begin in 2002 and, in return for a $25 premium, provide prescription drug coverage that would have a zero deductible and cover half of all prescription drug costs up to $5,000 when fully phased in as well as limiting all out-of-pocket medication costs to $4,000.
  2. Pass A Fiscally Responsible Budget That Invests In Our Priorities: The President proposed a balanced and fiscally responsible budget that makes investments in key priorities for the American people. The President's budget includes important investments in education including modernizing 6,000 schools and repairing 25,000 more, meeting our commitment to hire 100,000 quality teachers to reduce class size, identifying and turning around failing schools, mentoring at-risk youth to increase college success, and increasing accountability. However, to pay for fiscally irresponsible tax cuts, Congressional Republicans have cut $28 billion from the President's domestic priorities. This would result in fewer quality teachers for schools, fewer law enforcement officers and prosecutors to fight crime, reduced environmental protection, and less funding for National Science Foundation research. This year, as he has for the past seven, President Clinton will insist that Congress produce a responsible budget that honors our values and invests in the American people.
  3. Raise The Minimum Wage: Congress has delayed increasing the minimum wage for over a year by attaching costly and unnecessary tax cuts to this long-overdue measure. Each day Congress delays, it takes money out of the paychecks of 10 million minimum-wage workers, many of whom are moving from welfare to work. The minimum wage has not been increased in nearly four years. An increase now enjoys broad bipartisan support and should not be held hostage to an irresponsible tax cut aimed at helping those who are already better off.
  4. Pass A Meaningful Patient's Bill Of Rights: Over nine months ago, the House passed the Norwood-Dingell Patient's Bill of Rights with overwhelming bipartisan support. The President will urge the Congress to reject the partisan, flawed bill passed recently by Senate Republicans. This bill would: fail to provide full protections to more than 135 million Americans; allow health plans to subject patients accessing emergency care to financial penalties; fail to guarantee real access to specialists; and establish a wholly inadequate enforcement mechanism that prevents plans from being accountable when they make harmful decisions. He will stress that the Congress is one vote away from achieving a majority vote for the bipartisan Norwood-Dingell legislation, which has been endorsed by over 200 health care provider and consumer advocacy groups, and urge it to act to pass this legislation without further delay.

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