Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI): The Tax Reform Bill is a 'Historic Error'

December 21, 2017

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a democrat representing Rhode Island. The Republican tax plan, he says, is historic in the worst way. He calls the bill 'donor maintenance' because it keeps GOP donors happy while hurting regular Americans. Senator Whitehouse says he will work with Rhode Island's senior senator, Jack Reed, to try to help constituents hurting as a result of the tax bill.

The senator emphasized the importance of midterm elections next year, reminding voters not the forget about November 2018. The tax bill, he believes, is actually a major victory for democrats, because the negative impact on Americans will send them to the polls to vote blue.

Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of opioid addiction in the country. Senator Whitehouse was one of the lead authors of the bi-partisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. It aims to provide resources to prevent and cure drug addictions. The senator says President Trump is all talk and no action. Despite promises to combat the opioid epidemic, the administration has not provided the funds or fully committed to the issue.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

MALE_1: From my point of view, it's historic in the sense that it's an historic error. From what I see, it looks like it is being done essentially as what people in politics call donor maintenance. Keep the fellows who fund your party happy. As an exercise in donor maintenance, it is indeed historic. But in terms of flow through to the American public and giving benefit to the normal family, I don't see that happening at a time when we have just unbelievable income disparity. From the get go, 20 percent of the benefit of this bill goes to the one percent. From the get go. And by the time it winds down over the years, more than 80 percent of the benefit of this bill goes to the one percent. So this is a bit of a scam on regular people and it's a raid on the U.S. Treasury to fund the scam and I think Republicans will end up paying for it.

MALE_2: I'm curious about your message to your constituents back in your home state. They have two Democratic senators, they have two members of Congress who are both Democrats and yet of course after the New Year senator you know just as well as I do, your constituents in Rhode Island will be subject to this law that Republicans have pushed through. What is your message to concerned people in your home state?

MALE_1: That we're going to continue to fight, to see that this kind of stuff doesn't happen. And we're going to try to find opportunities to repair where their interests have been hurt, most obviously on property taxes and state and local taxes. But our realtors and real estate community are very upset. Our universities are upset and the student community. So, I'm also saying don't forget November of 2018. You know, if you want things different, you got to vote in a different power structure here in Washington. If you like what's happening, if you like all of this self dealing for the donor class, great. Keep voting Republican, you'll get more of it.

MALE_2: I am going to ask you now about the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. This is a bipartisan piece of legislation. It's pushed into wall but there's no funding behind it, Senator, so, talk to us first about why you personally have chosen to prioritize the opioid afflicted community from this and why you think it's so important to work in a bipartisan fashion on this particular piece of legislation?

MALE_1: Well, two things; one this is a big problem in Rhode Island or one of the top 10 states in the country in terms of the opioid epidemic and deaths from it. And, you know, everybody in Rhode Island knows somebody who's lost a loved one to this, so it's a very very big deal at home. The CARA bill was important from among other things, it really set in law the notion that somebody who is addicted, has a medical condition and has a health condition, that we can help with and that is nothing to be ashamed of. That the days of stigma ought to be over and that we should treat this. Now, that's a great piece of law. I wrote it. I'm proud of it. But you really got to provide the resources. So we've got about an extra hundred and seventy million in the last bill. We've got half a billion dollars additional as an attachment to the cures Act. We have been promised yet another half a billion and we're hoping that if we can lift the caps both on defense and nondefense spending, that a good part of what goes into the nondefense side will help America deal with this opioid epidemic. Tens of thousands of people dying every year. We wouldn't tolerate it from anybody else. We should not let this go.

MALE_2: And certainly Senator you know just as well as I do this White House has said, hey, this is an issue that we have prioritized the President the United States.

MALE_1: Talk a good game.

MALE_2: And with that I guess my question is that where you think this is at? Is this something that the White House President Trump has talked about without any necessary funding.

MALE_1: So far it's all talk. Their budget doesn't match up with their talk. The authority and the staffing of the Office of National Drug Control Policy does not add up with their talk. Um, you know, the guy is a master talker and salesman but you've got to look behind the pitch and see what's actually up for sale and the product that they've offered is very very weak. Which is one of the reasons why I think it's so important that we fight hard in Congress to get a bipartisan measure that provides adequate funding for the opioid epidemic.

MALE_2: One of the things that President Trump has said that his maneuver by declaring it a health emergency will do, is the role of government specifically in advertising. Quoting President Donald Trump now he has said this the government will create "really tough, really big, really great advertising to dissuade Americans from even getting involved in the world of opioids to begin with. " What's your reaction to that Senator?

MALE_1: Well A we haven't seen it. Not ad one. And B, the people that I deal with and that I work with in this space, the first priority is the folks who have an addiction. The first priority has to be to strengthen the network so that anybody who is addicted can get access to treatment, get it quickly. You can't say to somebody who's addicted, oh come back next Thursday. Thank you for coming in to deal with your addiction. We'll try to make room for you Thursday a week from now. They might not even live to Thursday a week from now. So that's really where the focus should be. If this is just an update of the old failed, just saying no, advertising program then I'm not all that interested. If they've got something better to offer fine, but it's very peripheral. The heart of this has to be the people who have an addiction, the people who need the treatment, to get them that treatment and get them on to recovery.

MALE_2: And finally, Senator, do you have any hopes of securing any modicum of funding as part of the continuing resolution for this crucial issue?

MALE_1: I doubt there will be anything in the continuing resolution. We have not heard of that. The big confrontation, the big agreement, if one emerges out of the confrontation, is going to be in January and that is the moment where the real test will be of whether or not the administration stands behind its opioid promises and whether Congress meets its responsibilities to that community.