When Democrats sang a different tune

Readable Research | BySamantha Cook | Budget deficit, Politics, Taxes

Jan. 16, 2013 — The resolution of the “fiscal cliff” pushed by President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and accepted by Congress at the beginning of this year made permanent the Bush-era tax cuts for 99.3 percent of households, including the first $450,000 of income for all couples regardless of their overall income level. It also kept capital gains and dividend tax rates well below the rates of ordinary income (and below their level under President Ronald Reagan).

Compared to allowing all the Bush-era tax cuts to expire and fixing only the alternative minimum income tax so that it did not ensnare middle-income taxpayers for whom it was not intended, the Obama-McConnell deal is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to cost the federal treasury approximately $3 trillion over 10 years.  

Of the Democrats and Independents in the Senate, all but three voted “yes” on the Obama-McConnell proposal, and only one of those in opposition — Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) — cited the continuation of tax cuts for wealthy families as justification for his decision. 

25 Democratic and Independent Senators who voted in favor of the plan had all voted “no,” either as Senators or as members of the House, on the 2001 Bush tax cuts as well as on the 2003 Bush tax cuts (the latter, lesser-known measure, lowered the tax rate on capital gains and dividend income).

What follows are illustrations of what those Democrats and Independents who supported the Obama-McConnell Plan had to say in opposition to the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.

To see the source and date for each statement, cursor over the word “source.”

Note: most Democrats in 2001 supported a tax-cut proposal more modest than the Bush cuts that were passed, and less tilted to the wealthiest Americans. Senate Democrats also proposed an alternative plan in 2003 that included a more modest tax cut in the form of a wage credit.

You can scroll down to see statements from each of the senators (listed in alphabetical order). If you prefer, you can click on a senator’s name in the table below, and that will open a new window. 

Sen. Daniel Akaka Sen. Benjamin Cardin Sen. Carl Levin Sen. Bill Nelson Sen. Charles Schumer
Sen. Jeff Bingaman Sen. Kent Conrad Sen. Joseph Lieberman Sen. John Reed Sen. Debbie Stabenow
Sen. Barbara Boxer Sen. Richard Durbin Sen. Robert Menendez Sen. Harry Reid Sen. Mark Udall
Sen. Sherrod Brown Sen. John Kerry Sen. Barbara Mikulski Sen. John Rockefeller Sen. Tom Udall
Sen. Maria Cantwell Sen. Patrick Leahy Sen. Patty Murray Sen. Bernard Sanders Sen. Ron Wyden

† No longer in the Senate as of the new term

Former Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii)

In 2006, Sen. Akaka was asked whether the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent. He said they shouldn’t:

“We cannot make the tax cut permanent. The reason for that is that our country has increased our debt so much that the future generations will be in trouble in trying to keep up our nation with those huge deficits.” Source

“Government should be taking care of those who need help most and not take care of the richest.” Source

2006 Hawaii Democratic Senate Primary Debate, August 31, 2006. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/HawaiiD
2006 Hawaii Democratic Senate Primary Debate, August 31, 2006. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/HawaiiD

 

Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)

2001: “I’m very concerned that this tax cut will leave us with limited resources that will prevent us from making the right investments in education and health care.” Source

2003: “It’s not good economics, considering the size of our deficits, to be locking in substantially larger deficits, which would be the impact (of the tax cut).” Source

“It’s very heavily allocated toward the affluent elite.” Source

“This proposal will add substantially to future deficits and is not constructed in a way that will stimulate the economy…We should get a better handle on how much we are going to need to cover the cost of the war with Iraq and its aftermath, as well as our other obligations, such as health care and education, before contemplating another tax cut.” Source

“New Mexico Among States to Benefit Least,” Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), May 22, 2001.
“President’s Stop Won’t Influence N.M. Dems,” Albuquerque Journal (NM), May 10, 2003.
“President’s Stop Won’t Influence N.M. Dems,” Albuquerque Journal (NM), May 10, 2003.
“Raise Your Voices,” Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), May 13, 2003.

 

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

2001: “It’s time that we learned from past mistakes. America tried this plan before in 1981, and it led to a period of economic recession that my state…will never forget.” Source

“Mr. President, just as I voted no on the Senate version of this tax bill because it was fiscally irresponsible, raided Social Security and Medicare, and would force cuts in investments in working Americans, including education, so too do I oppose this conference report.” Source

“This tax bill plays a game with our fiscal future. To meet the target of $1.35 trillion of tax cuts over the next 10 years, all of the tax cuts in this bill expire in nine years. Why? Because if they were in effect 10 years from now, the cost of this bill would be astronomical, and it would be very clear to the American people that this tax bill is nothing but a riverboat gamble with our children’s future.” Source

2003: “The president’s new tax plan is a federal budget buster and what it does to the state budgets is completely irresponsible.” Source

“Mr. President, this bill is called the ‘Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act.’ That name is wrong. This bill is not about creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. It is about helping the elite few with large tax cuts, while burdening the majority of Americans with a huge debt.  Fairness is an American value. And this bill is far from fair.” Source

“President Appeals To Middle Ground; SPEECH Bush urges Congress to back tax cuts, spending plan,” The San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2001.
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND TAX RELIEF RECONCILIATION ACT OF 2001—CONFERENCE REPORT—,” THOMAS Congressional Record, May 26, 2001.
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND TAX RELIEF RECONCILIATION ACT OF 2001—CONFERENCE REPORT—,” THOMAS Congressional Record, May 26, 2001.
“Senator Feinstein, backer of 2001 tax cut, opposes new reductions,” The Associated Press State & Local Wire, January 9, 2003.
JOBS AND GROWTH TAX RELIEF RECONCILIATION ACT, 2003—CONFERENCE REPORT —,” THOMAS Congressional Record, May 23, 2003.

 

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) (Member of the House of Representatives in 2001 and 2003)

2001: “President Bush’s budget makes it impossible for us to add a Medicare prescription drug benefit or to adequately invest in public schools…This budget takes us in the wrong direction.” Source

2003: “Two years ago, the President got his tax cut through Congress, which he claimed would create jobs. Two years later, today, we have lost since then 1.7 million jobs, and now they are saying we should do it again.” Source

REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS DISAGREE ON BUSH PLAN,” States News Service, February 27, 2001.
REPUBLICANS DENY WORKERS EXTENDED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS DURING ECONOMIC DOWNTURN,” THOMAS Congressional Record, May 13, 2003.
Send a letter to the editor