August 06,2022

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Wyden Delivers Floor Speech in Support of the Inflation Reduction Act

As Prepared for Delivery

The Senate is at the beginning of a long debate that’s long overdue. At its center is the Inflation Reduction Act, which goes after some of the biggest challenges facing the American people today. 

This bill is made up of proposals that have been in the works for many years — most of which comes out of the Finance Committee. There’s going to be a lot of time for debate in the hours and days ahead, but let’s start off with the basics. I’ll begin with health care, where this bill is going to make huge progress bringing down costs. 

Prescription drugs are far too expensive in this country. Millions of people, particularly seniors, get mugged every time they walk up to the pharmacy counter. That begins to change today. So many Americans count on Medicare, and for the first time ever, we’re giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors. 

The Senate is lifting the curse that has drained Medicare’s negotiating power for all these years. That’s a policy change I first called for in 2004 as the first Senator to put Medicare negotiation up for a vote. Big Pharma has been protecting the ban on negotiation like the Holy Grail, but that ends here. 

If a drug company refuses to negotiate, they’re going to face a steep excise tax on the sale of their products until they come to the table. 

And that’s only the first of several important changes. 

Also for the first time, seniors who’ve been getting their pockets picked by drug companies are going to have ironclad financial protection. 

Our legislation puts a new, $2,000 out-of-pocket cap on Medicare Part D drug plans so that seniors are no longer forced to choose between paying for their medications and paying for food, rent or gas. 

For the first time, our legislation finally reins in drug company price-hiking. If the drug companies hike prices faster than inflation, they’ll pay the full difference to Medicare. That cap goes into effect in just a few months. 

It’s not just prescription drugs that are too expensive. Across the board, health care costs are too high in America. That’s why our legislation makes health insurance more affordable for millions of people. 

Colleagues, these are landmark health changes that will save a lot of lives and improve countless others. It has been a herculean struggle over the years, but finally the Senate is breaking Big Pharma’s iron grip over the Congress. 

Democrats would have liked to go even further, including with an inflation cap on drug prices in the private market outside of Medicare. But any one of these policies on their own would be life-changing for millions of people. 

Getting so much done under challenging Senate rules is like hitting 95 percent from the free throw line in a basketball game. It’s an all-star accomplishment. 

Moving from health care to climate, the Inflation Reduction Act includes the biggest effort in history to save our climate and invest in clean energy and jobs. 

The centerpiece of the energy package is a set of tax changes I’ve been working on for more than seven years. It throws out the old energy tax code made up of more than 40 different tax breaks. 

Each one of those old breaks had its own complex rules and definitions. There were permanent breaks for oil and gas, but only temporary incentives for clean energy. The system was broken and out of date a long time ago. 

For the first time, the United States tax code is going to reward reducing emissions and increasing efficiency. The Inflation Reduction Act replaces the old system with emissions-based credits to turbocharge investment in clean electricity, clean transportation, and energy conservation. 

Our new plan is going to reduce the typical American household’s energy costs by $500 per year. It’s going to drive a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions overall and a 70 percent reduction in the power sector. And it’s going to create 600,000 new jobs from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.

On top of all that progress, our legislation is also one of the largest deficit reduction packages in history. It’s paid for with a few key changes to our tax laws. 

The first says that it’s long past time for hugely profitable corporations to pay a fair share. Far too many of those corporations are paying very little at all, and in some cases they’re paying zero. Our legislation says that corporations that rake in billions in profits will have to pay a 15 percent minimum. That’s just a slightly higher rate than a typical worker would pay if they earned a modest wage all year long. And colleagues, fifteen percent is not an outlandish request. 

A few days ago, the Finance Committee released new data from an analysis of corporate taxes by the Joint Committee on Taxation. That study looked at hundreds of corporations that paid rock-bottom effective tax rates in 2019. 

There was one group of more than 100 companies that stood out. They averaged nearly $9 billion in profits reported to Wall Street. They paid, on average, an effective tax rate of 1.1 percent. I’ll say that again — more than 100 hugely profitable companies that paid, on average, 1.1 percent in taxes. 

It’s no surprise that big, tax-dodging corporations are pulling out all the stops to oppose this plan, and Republicans are standing alongside them. Some have even made the false claim that this is a tax increase on working families. 

Let’s be perfectly clear on that point — that is totally, completely false. It’s the same old trickle-down nonsense you always hear when Congress has a debate on taxes for the wealthy. A family making less than $400,000 will not pay one penny in additional taxes under this bill. 

Republicans are further out of step with the American people on corporate taxation than they are on just about any other issue. 

Our proposal is focused on hugely profitable corporations, and all we’re asking is for them to pay a fair share, just like working people do. That’s what the American people support, and it’s another idea the Finance Committee has worked hard to have ready to go. 

Second, the Inflation Reduction Act is also paid for with a one percent tax on stock buybacks. Corporations have spent trillions of dollars on stock buybacks in recent years — a huge windfall for corporate executives and wealthy shareholders. They set a record in 2018, and then they broke it again in 2021 right in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Senator Brown and I introduced this proposal together last year. 

Stock buybacks make a lot of wealthy people even wealthier on paper, but they do little to strengthen the economy, drive innovation or improve the well-being of American workers. This one percent tax is not only going to help pay to prevent the worst effects of climate change, it’s also going to encourage big corporations to invest in their workers and R&D instead of more handouts to the top. 

Third, our legislation includes resources for the IRS to improve taxpayer service and go after wealthy scofflaws who are skipping out on paying what they already owe. 

I’m going to have a lot more to say about this over the course of this debate, because the amount of misinformation and bile being spread online about this policy in the last day or two is enough to knock your head back, but I’ll summarize the issue briefly right now.

Here’s what this is about. A decade of Republican budget cuts has impaired basic taxpayer services and hollowed out our ability to go after wealthy tax cheats who rip off the American people for billions of dollars every year. 

The current IRS commissioner — a Republican appointee — estimated that the amount of taxes owed that are not collected could be as much as $1 trillion per year.

Democrats believe that the IRS ought to have the resources it needs to go after sophisticated, lawbreaking tax cheats at the top. Democrats also believe that typical American taxpayers ought to be able to get somebody on the other end of the phone line when they call the IRS with a question. 

These shouldn’t be controversial ideas — even Ronald Reagan added staff to the IRS while he was president. But the powerful special interests who don’t want to pay what they owe are lying to the American people about what we’re proposing. They’re spreading the claim that this is about adding IRS agents for more audits of typical workers — wrong, wrong, wrong. The legislation includes language specifying that no one making less than $400,000 will pay additional tax.

The goal is better taxpayer service and stronger enforcement so that the wealthy pay what they owe.

If you’re opposed to beefing up tax enforcement, you’re allowing tax cheats to keep breaking the law and get away with their rip-offs. You’re also causing headaches for typical American taxpayers who need basic services from the IRS. 

That just about captures what’s in this landmark legislation. At a time when Americans are feeling the weight of inflation and they’re experiencing the disastrous effects of climate change, the Senate is moving ahead with legislation that begins to tackle those issues head-on.  

What Democrats have on offer are proposing lower prescription drug costs. Lower health care costs. Lower energy costs. Lower carbon emissions. Lower deficits. Less tax cheating by corporations and the wealthy. Policies that leading economists tell us will help fight inflation. 

This debate is going to make clear that on the other side, there is a very different set of proposals on offer. 

Every Republican Senator is going to oppose these changes. By voting against the Inflation Reduction Act, they’re voting for higher drug prices, higher energy prices, higher deficits, higher inflation. They’re voting for drug companies and oil and gas companies to have all the power. 

Furthermore, outside of this bill, Republican Senators are going back to the same old attacks on Medicare and Social Security. 

Senator McConnell said he wouldn’t reveal his party’s platform until after the elections. Despite his best efforts to hide the Republican platform, it hasn’t worked out that way. Republican Senators are making clear what they plan to do if they retake control. 

Just a few days ago, Senator Ron Johnson said that Congress should end the guarantee of Medicare and Social Security.

He wants the budgets for Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block every single year so that when Republicans are back in control, they can cut and destroy these programs as we know them today. 

Senator Rick Scott, the campaign chief for Senate Republicans, has proposed winding down Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security within just a few years. And at the same time, he’s proposing raising taxes on millions of working families. 

That’s the Republican campaign platform. Goodbye to Medicare, goodbye to Social Security. And there will certainly be no hope of passing the bold climate legislation the American people need to fight the climate crisis. 

Under those Republican plans, Americans will be paying far more for health care. They’ll be paying far more for prescription drugs. They’ll be paying for their parents and grandparents to get by in retirement. They’ll be paying to clean up and rebuild from worsening climate disasters. Those are costs that the American people cannot afford — and Republicans will never ask corporations or the wealthy to pitch in by paying a fair share. 

I’ll close on this. It’s been a very long road to get to this point. Not just months of discussion between Democratic Senators. Many of these policies have been in the works in the Finance Committee for years. 

There is a long debate ahead of us. I’m sure it’ll touch on just about every policy issue under the sun. But at the end of this debate, Democrats are going to pass the largest climate package in history and save the typical family hundreds on energy costs every year. 

Democrats are going to lift the Big Pharma curse and give Medicare the power to negotiate a better deal on prescription drugs. Democrats are going to require that big corporations raking in huge profits pay a fair share in taxes, just like working people do. 

All of these big victories — each of them long overdue — comes in a bill that lowers prices and helps fight inflation. 

I’m looking forward to the rest of our debate. I urge my colleagues to support this historic legislation.