Today, I will take part in the Payroll Tax Cut Conference Committee’s first meeting, as we begin our work to reach agreement on an employee payroll tax cut for all of 2012.
Just before the holidays, the payroll tax cut, which had been set to expire at the end of December, was extended for two months through February. This extension prevented a tax increase on 6.7 million workers in Pennsylvania and provided some good news for families going into Christmas.
The payroll tax cut reduces employees’ share of the Social Security payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent of earnings. For the average Pennsylvania worker, this tax cut will boost take-home pay by nearly $1,000 in 2012.
The additional money in workers’ wallets and pocketbooks will help families buy gas, make car payments, pay for housing and put food on the table. The increased consumer spending will help sustain the economic recovery.
According to an independent analysis, there would be 19,700 fewer jobs in Pennsylvania in 2012 without the payroll tax cut. With almost half a million Pennsylvanians out of work, we cannot afford this hit to our economy.
The Conference Committee is comprised of 20 members of Congress – 4 Senate Democrats, 3 Senate Republicans, 5 House Democrats and 8 House Republicans. As the Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and author of the Middle Class Tax Cut Act, I was appointed to be a Senate conferee.
The task before us is to reach an agreement before the end of February to make certain that this money stays in the pockets of middle class Americans.
I initially proposed that these cuts be paid for by a modest surtax on annual income exceeding a million dollars because I believe that is a fair and reasonable way to make sure we extend these middle class cuts without adding to our debt. I believe it also makes great economic sense. However, I am open to other ideas. The key is that we get this done.
The Conference Committee will also take up the issue of how to continue unemployment insurance for those workers who have been out of work for more than six months.
Some say that Washington only focuses when it’s up against a deadline. Well, we have until the end of February to figure this out. I’m confident we will.
The festive Jewish holiday of Hanukkah began at sundown yesterday and will last eight days. Hanukkah is a time when Jewish Pennsylvanians and families all across America come together to celebrate freedom, faith and miracles. I want to wish everyone celebrating Hanukkah this year a joyful holiday filled with light, health and happiness.
December 16th marks the 40th anniversary of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. I want to wish every Bangladeshi a safe and happy Victory Day. Bangladesh is a strong partner that works closely with the U.S. to enhance regional security in South Asia, and Bangladeshis everywhere should be proud of their important regional role and democratic heritage.
Pennsylvanians understand Bangladesh’s importance to America and to the world. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is home to a Bangladesh Association as old as Bangladesh itself, which represents the vibrant Bangladeshi population of the state. The rich culture and history of Bangladesh is a vital part of American culture and history. I am happy to be able to wish my constituents and all Bangladeshis a happy holiday.
Victory Day commemorates the official creation of the state of Bangladesh in 1971. Forty years later, Bangladesh is an important U.S. ally with a government chosen in democratic elections. Together, our countries are dedicated to democracy and development. I hope we will continue to work together to promote security and prosperity for the United States, Bangladesh and the region.
Today, as we mark the official end of the war in Iraq, I ask that you join me in honoring the great sacrifices of our military and civilians who have served there. Throughout the duration of the war, Pennsylvanians have served honorably in the execution of their duties. 198 Pennsylvanians made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Iraq. We should also remember the families of our service members. There are many spouses, children, parents and family members that will celebrate this holiday season with only the memory of a loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.
In addition to the many Pennsylvanians who lost their lives, 1,239 service members were wounded during the war. These brave men and women must have access to the best possible care for their specific wounds and a system that is easily navigable to allow for that care to be provided as quickly as possible.
We must care for our wounded service members and work to improve their lives while also supporting the survivors of our fallen troops; I view this as one of the most important responsibilities of a Member of the Senate. As our military’s role in Iraq comes to an end, there is still a good deal of diplomatic work to be done to ensure that our nation’s sacrifices were not made in vain. Today, the veterans of the Iraq War can hold their heads high and know they answered the call of their nation.
Thank you to all of our Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn veterans. Welcome home.
Today we observe World AIDS Day and honor family members and friends lost to AIDS. We also renew our commitment to support the more than one million Americans and 33 million people globally living with HIV and AIDS. In Pennsylvania alone, over 37,000 people have been diagnosed with AIDS since 1980, and 615,000 Americans have passed away. We remember and pay tribute as well to the doctors, nurses, counselors and loved ones who have studied HIV/AIDS and committed to improving the lives of those infected or at risk.
Although we have made great strides in prevention and treatment, new challenges have emerged and we must continue efforts to reduce infection and ease the burden on HIV/AIDS patients. More than 17,000 Americans with AIDS die every year and one in five people living with HIV are unaware of their infection. As Pennsylvania’s United States Senator, I have advocated for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to provide life-extending healthcare, drug treatment, and support services to over half a million low-income individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. As a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, I supported the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a global campaign to reduce incidents of HIV/AIDS. I have also fought to increase support for both domestic and global HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and research programs in the annual appropriations process. In the 111th Congress, I was a proud cosponsor of the Early Treatment for HIV Act, which would give states the option of providing Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals who are HIV-positive.
In accordance with this year’s World AIDS Day theme, “Leading with Science, Uniting for Action”, I encourage Pennsylvanians to learn more about the necessary steps to prevent and treat infection. More information can be found at www.aids.gov or your local HIV/AIDS prevention and service provider.