By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Friday, December 17th, 2010 at 2:08 pm in Congress.
Every single Bay Area member of Congress, except one, voted against the compromise tax cuts and unemployment extension legislation passed by the House of Representatives just before midnight Thursday.
Only Jerry McNerney, the Pleasanton Democrat who narrowly avoided defeat in November, supported the $858 billion bill negotiated chiefly between President Barack Obama and the Republicans.
“The economy is struggling and any shock or uncertainty will almost certainly cost jobs,” McNerney said via email. “Moreover, it is absolutely essential to extend unemployment benefits for the families put out of work by the recession. I am also proud of some of the renewable energy provisions. On the whole I believe this bill will help the economy recover.”
McNerney’s vote is consistent. In early December, McNerney was one of 20 House Democrats nationwide who sided with Republicans in favor of extending Bush-era tax cuts to everyone and not just the middle class. The bill failed.
Politically, McNerney’s stance makes sense. Thanks to the 11th District’s jurisdictional strategy of the Altamont Pass, McNerney has one foot in the Central Valley and another in the Bay Area. Unlike his Bay Area colleagues, who handily won re-election their safe Democratic seats, McNerney is in the most competitive district in California and among the most competitive in the nation.
Rep. George Miller, D-Pleasanton, in a phone conversation from Washington, D.C., said he opposed the bill on a several fronts. One, he said, it hiked the already sky-high federal deficit through tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest residents that will yield no national economic benefit.
And second, Miller said, when the one-year, 2 percentage point reduction in the Social Security wage tax, expires at the end of 2011, Congress will come under tremendous public pressure to extend it.
“If Congress doesn’t extend it, we’ll be accused to increasing taxes on working families,” Miller said. “But at that point, if you extend the reduction, it will begin to undermine Social Security and fuel talk about privatization.”
Here’s a run down of what East Bay members of Congress had to say about their votes on the bill:
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove: “Public policy is about choices, and there were better choices than this bill. I fought for a bill that would have worked for the American people. Our alternative proposal called for a $250 rebate for seniors. Instead of draining the Social Security trust fund, it called for a reduction in the income tax rate for working and middle class Americans. And instead of borrowing from China and our children to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, we offered a compromise that would have made sure every American earning up to $1,000,000 would not see a tax increase over the next two years. With the money saved, we would have invested in infrastructure and paid down the deficit. This plan would have created hundreds of thousands of jobs and been more fiscally responsible.”
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont: “Santa Claus is arriving early for a handful of wealthy individuals and industries this year. Wall Street should be throwing a parade today. They can certainly afford one after the President failed to uphold one of his signature campaign promises of letting tax breaks for the rich expire as planned.”
Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez: “The bill was going to pass. I did not pretend otherwise. But at some point, you have to say no. If we increase the deficit, is it really worth it? For many things contained in this bill, like unemployment extension, the answer is yes. But to cut taxes for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and change the estate tax, my answer is no.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: “We should let the Bush tax breaks for the rich expire. Period. They are a big part of the current deficit in the first place. Extending them for another two years digs us deeper into this deficit hole – and we know who will end up paying for it. It won’t be the rich – it will be the poor, low income communities, and communities of color, who lack well paid lobbyists to look out for their interests on Capitol Hill.”
Read through for Miller’s op-ed piece on the subject.
Why I voted against the tax bill
By Congressman George Miller
Given the fragile state of our economic recovery, there are many important provisions in the big tax bill that Congress just approved and that the President signed into law.
Tax rates for middle income families will not go up next year. And people in need of unemployment benefits will get them, helping them and their families and also creating jobs by injecting demand into the economy.
For working families struggling to make ends meet, the bill extends refundable tax credits to help pay for college and child care, and the bill also extends the earned income tax credit, helping to lift people in our community out of poverty and create jobs.
These are lifelines for hard working families and are very good for our local economy and the country – and the income tax rates, the jobless benefits and the refundable tax credits were about to expire if we did not act.
I have long supported these tax provisions because they strengthen our economy, create jobs, and will help some 155 million middle income and lower-income Americans during very tough times.
And if that is all that the tax bill contained, I would have voted for it enthusiastically.
But, because of demands by Republicans in the Senate, the tax bill generates billions of dollars in additional deficit and debt by giving unnecessary tax cuts to America’s wealthiest two percent of income earners and to America’s wealthiest estates.
I am not blaming anyone for being wealthy. Not at all. But it is wrong for our grandchildren to take on the burden of additional debt in order to make wealthy people even wealthier when it provides no economic benefit to our country whatsoever and when the middle class sees their own incomes stagnate.
The political reality, unfortunately, was clear that the Senate Republicans were going to get their way – because if they did not the vast majority of Americans would have seen their taxes go up, and the unemployed would have stopped getting insurance benefits.
Republicans in the Senate held tax relief and jobless benefits for middle income families hostage until they secured tax giveaways for the wealthiest Americans, pure and simple.
Their demands were unfair and unnecessary, and now pose a great burden to our economy. In addition to securing lower tax rates for the highest two percent of income earners, they demanded that the richest estates in America get a new and very lucrative tax break – lowering the estate tax to its lowest level since the tax was first established more than 70 years ago.
And who would benefit from this change? Just 6,600 estates, each whom will get a $1.5 million tax break. It will make Paris Hilton and the heirs to Wal-Mart even richer than they are today.
This one change to the estate tax will increase the deficit by nearly $25 billion. And economists across the political spectrum have told us that not one new job will be created from exempting estates of $10 million from taxation.
I voted to replace their provision with the estate tax levels from 2009 – which was already very generous. Regrettably, our effort to change this provision was defeated.
There are other changes I believed were important. For instance, to keep rates low for middle income taxpayers, but let the rates for the richest two percent go back to the levels under President Bill Clinton, when we had balanced budgets and greater economic growth. I sought real investments in wind and solar production to stimulate American manufacturing. And I am expressed my concern that the two percent payroll tax holiday poses a risk to Social Security. Those changes would have made this bill better, but Senate Republicans said no to all of them.
There are many good things in the tax bill for families and workers in the Bay Area and California, but this tax bill should have done more to create jobs, been fairer to middle income families, and been more fiscally responsible. Because of these serious flaws, I voted against the bill.