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Tag Archive | "Carl Levin"

In Washington, the need for compromise is greater than ever


_V-Levin

By Sen. Carl Levin

March 21, 2014

 

Not long ago, Northern Michigan University invited me to address students there as part of a series of addresses on public policy. The subject I chose for my address is, in many places, a scandalous subject: compromise.

Almost all of us in Congress have strong opinions on public policy, strong values that guide us. And on rare occasions, all of us agree on what is the right thing to do.

But we live in a large, complex nation. The interests of our state or region are different than those of others. And aside from local interests, sometimes the answer to a problem just isn’t easy or clear. Sometimes we honestly disagree about what’s best for the country.

The challenge for the Founding Fathers was designing a system that could accommodate the widely varying opinions of a nation that needed at least some unity to survive. The solution to that puzzle was our Constitution, which ensures that, while everyone has some voice in our government, no single voice dominates. The whole system forces us to accommodate the views of others, even those who disagree strongly with us, in order to accomplish our goals. It forces us to compromise.

But that system breaks down when compromise is in short supply. And it is a rare commodity these days. Leaders in Washington are influenced by constituents back home who believe “compromise” is a dirty word.

Six months ago, that attitude got us a government shutdown. Some of my colleagues in Congress refused to approve funding to keep the government running. They demanded that any legislation to keep the government open also repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Now I can respect a strongly held opinion, even if I disagree with it. But when you refuse to allow basic government functions to continue unless you get your way – your whole way – our system breaks down.

After all, I have strong opinions of my own. I feel strongly that the tax burden in this country has shifted so that working families bear more of the load, and wealthy people less. Suppose that I, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told my colleagues, “I will not allow our annual defense authorization act to come before the committee unless Congress passes a bill that closes unjustified tax loopholes used by corporations and the wealthiest individuals.” What if every member of Congress adopted such an attitude? Each of us would refuse to allow government to function unless we won total victory – and nothing would get done.

And we have so much to do. We have to deal with immigration – with the millions of people who now live in the shadows as undocumented immigrants – and with the economic costs of maintaining the status quo. We have to continue building our economy. We have to discover new worlds and new cures for deadly diseases.

We can’t do any of that if we’re not willing to compromise.

There have been some signs that the wave of hostility to compromise is cresting. Early this year, Congress passed a two-year budget agreement. There were provisions that many of us disliked. But partial agreement meant we avoided the cycle of budget crisis after crisis that has done our economy so much harm.

And just last month, Congress passed a farm bill that had been delayed for almost two years by a variety of disputes. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, did a remarkable job getting this bill passed. Nobody agreed with every part of that bill. But we were willing to compromise. We knew that settling for half a loaf, so to speak, was important to the farmers who put the bread on our tables.

These compromises are not so remarkable when you compare them to the scope of the challenges before us. But I hope they are a start. I don’t want to spend my remaining months in the Senate fighting over who can be tougher and more uncompromising. I’d rather spend that time working together on the challenges our country faces – challenges that will affect the lives of the NMU students I spoke to long after I am gone from Washington.

It is time for us all to recognize that if we are to be remembered in a positive light, it will not be for political opponents we hold down, but for the future generations we come together to lift up.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

 

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A Year of Focused Commitment


_V-LevinBy Sen. Carl Levin

When I announced last March that I would not seek reelection in 2014, I said that I wanted to spend my time working on a number of serious challenges that Michigan and the nation face, rather than on reelection. As we begin the new year, I want to update you on the tests we faced in 2013 and where I believe we can move forward in the year ahead.

Among the tasks I mentioned in my announcement was my responsibility as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to monitor and advance the end of our combat commitment to Afghanistan and to help the services, our troops and their families recover from the strains of more than a decade at war.

In two trips to Afghanistan over the last year, I have seen rapid and positive changes that are transforming security and daily life for the people of Afghanistan. Challenges remain, but our troops and our nation should feel a sense of accomplishment about what we have done there for our national security and for the people of Afghanistan.

In Syria, where severe repression has sparked a revolt against the dictator Bashar Assad, the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians shocked the world. With a strong U.S. push, international pressure pushed Assad into an unprecedented agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons capability. That agreement is an advance for the security of the region and the world.

Pressure on another outlier country—Iran—has for the first time in decades provided at least some hope of progress. Late in the year, the United States and our allies reached an interim agreement that freezes Iran’s nuclear program and could set the stage for a final agreement that ends the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Like most Americans, I am skeptical of Iran’s leaders, but I believe this interim step should be given a chance to succeed.

As our involvement in Afghanistan recedes, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to give greater attention to tired military families and help the services rebuild military readiness that has been strained by war. But that opportunity will slip away if we do not address the continuing threat of budget sequestration.

Sequestration is the across-the-board, automatic spending cuts that slashed major funding from important domestic and national security programs in 2013. These cuts have closed Head Start classrooms; ended research programs to fight life-threatening diseases; and forced our military to ground fighter jets and cancel important training exercises. The budget agreement we reached at the end of 2013 reduces sequestration’s impact somewhat for the next two years and offers a bit of hope for an end to the cycle of crisis that has plagued Congress. But it does not touch sequestration for the following six years.

In the longer term, there is only one solution to the sequestration problem: We should replace these meat-ax cuts with a balanced deficit reduction plan. Any such plan must include additional revenue. I have introduced two bills that would close unjustified tax loopholes identified by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair. These loopholes are the source of massive tax avoidance by highly profitable multinational corporations and wealthy individuals at the expense of middle-income families. I will continue searching for common ground with colleagues of both parties to work for a balanced replacement for sequestration.

We’ve made significant progress in recent years in building on Michigan’s manufacturing and technological excellence to enhance our state’s competitiveness and improve opportunities for Michigan workers. The growing strength of our auto industry as it emerges from its restructuring is just one result of these efforts. Michigan is an increasingly important hub for development of green-energy technologies in vehicles and other fields. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a groundbreaking nuclear research facility being established at Michigan State University, reached important milestones. I’ll keep working in the year ahead to strengthen our foundation of economic competitiveness.

The last year was a difficult one for our state’s largest city, Detroit. I and other members of the Michigan delegation have worked to do all we could to make sure that the city has access to all available federal resources to assist in its recovery, and I’ll continue to look for ways to help.

There is no question this year will be a challenging one. My final year in the Senate will be one of focused commitment to the job I was sent here to do.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

 

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Godspeed, USS Gerald R. Ford


 

Tens of thousands of Navy supporters attend the christening ceremony of the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) at Newport News Shipbuilding. The first in class, Ford-class aircraft carrier, is scheduled to join the fleet in 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

Tens of thousands of Navy supporters attend the christening ceremony of the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) at Newport News Shipbuilding. The first in class, Ford-class aircraft carrier, is scheduled to join the fleet in 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

By Sen. Carl Levin

 

Over Veterans Day weekend, I had the honor of giving the keynote speech at the christening ceremony of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier.

We Michiganians are proud to call President Ford one of ours. That’s not just because he held our nation’s highest office, but because of the manner in which he held that office – with a fundamental goodness of heart and generosity of spirit that all of us in public life should try to emulate.

There is perhaps no more visible, more powerful representation of America’s military strength than the towering hull of an aircraft carrier. No other nation makes carriers like America makes them, and the USS Gerald R. Ford will be the most powerful American carrier ever to sail.

Yet for every time this ship will instill doubt in the minds of our adversaries, it will many more times give hope to our friends and the people of the world. It will be welcome support in a time of crisis, and it will bring comfort and aid in times of disaster and grief. And so it is truly fitting that it will bear the name of Gerald R. Ford.

Gerald Ford sought to replace division and doubt with unity and hope. He took office at one of the most tumultuous moments in the history of our democratic system. His task was to calm America’s stormy waters so that we could regain our self-confidence as a nation. George H.W. Bush observed as Vice President Ford prepared to take office as president, “What we need at this juncture in our history is a certain sense of morality and a certain sense of decency.” That’s the perfect description of Gerald Ford. He was the right man for the time.

He knew our true strength, the strength that would carry us through that trying time, wasn’t just in the force of our arms, but what is in our hearts. In a 1975 speech outlining his foreign policy goals, President Ford spoke of the need to build a strong military, but then said, “I would like to talk about another kind of strength, the true source of American power. … I am speaking here of our belief in ourselves and our belief in our nation.”

That is the spirit this great vessel will carry across the oceans. It embodies our military might, and much more: It carries the name of a president who showed us America at its best, an America that strives to bring hope to every corner of the planet and to do so with strength, but without bluster.

Then-Congressman Ford brought a moment of modest humor to the solemn moment he was sworn in as vice president. He told America, “I am a Ford, not a Lincoln.” He showed us that one need not take on extraordinary trappings to accomplish extraordinary things, just as the men and women of this ship, drawn from every part of this land and every segment of our society, ordinary Americans all, will accomplish the extraordinary.

In the decades to come, when the crew of the USS Gerald R. Ford helps defend our nation from danger, when they protect the innocent from harm, when they sail under freedom’s flag bringing hope in times of despair and calm in moments of crisis – at those times, they will exemplify the greatness and goodness, the steadiness and steadfastness of their vessel’s namesake, and of the nation he loved so much and served so well.

Godspeed to the USS Gerald R. Ford and to the men and women who sail her.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Student loan bill a difficult but necessary step


By Sen. Carl Levin

 

The Senate recently faced a very difficult choice. When a July 1 deadline passed, the interest rate on federal student loans was set to double. American students and parents who worry every single day about whether they can afford college cannot be burdened with such an enormous rate hike. The Senate approved legislation to temporarily resolve this crisis, but left the door open to future rate increases. I voted in favor of this legislation, but I also favor action to avert future rate increases.

The cost of tuition at public four-year colleges is up more than 15 percent since 2009. Student loan debt has reached historic proportions. And yet we allowed the rate on new federally subsidized student loans to double, to 6.8 percent, as of July 1. If we had allowed this rate increase to continue, we would have subtracted thousands of dollars from the wallets of American students and their families or, worse, pushed college beyond the financial means of some families who already wonder whether they can afford to give their kids the education they need and deserve.

The bipartisan legislation we passed in late July will provide relief. But it is far from perfect. It switches these interest rates for these critical student loans from fixed rates to floating rates with caps that are far too high. This opens the door to rising interest in the future that students and their families simply cannot afford.

The student debt problem, which for many families is a student debt crisis, requires a carefully considered long-term solution. I am hopeful that such a solution will eventually emerge. But this legislation is not it.

That is why I supported an amendment offered by my colleagues, Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and another amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, that would have mitigated some of the long-term damage of this legislation. Even though we did not adopt those amendments, I supported this bill for the simple reason that it removes the immediate burden facing America’s students and their families.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Sen. Tom Harkin, has pledged to try to fix the likely spiking interest rates facing students when a higher education bill comes up next year. I will strongly support that effort.

We in the Senate had a choice. But America’s college students do not – they have no choice but to pay the ever-rising cost of a college education, not if they want the skills and knowledge that hold the promise of a better life. They have no choice but to live with the decisions we make in the Senate, and that’s why I supported this legislation to avoid a doubling of student loan interest rates that our families simply can’t afford.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

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More progress in the fight against tax abuses


By Sen. Carl Levin

 

In March, the Senate passed a budget resolution. This blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in October represents an important step forward on an issue of great significance to American taxpayers: the need for balanced deficit reduction.

An important part of balanced deficit reduction is reducing the deficit without severely damaging important protections for and investments in American families. One way to do that is by ending unjustified tax loopholes and ending the damage they have inflicted on our budget. The budget summary released by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, decried “the sheer magnitude of the revenue lost to off-shore tax abuse, wasteful and inefficient loopholes, and other business tax breaks.”

For many years as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations I have focused on the maze of offshore schemes and complex gimmicks that are concocted to allow a privileged few to avoid paying the taxes that they owe. Our subcommittee has, on a bipartisan basis, filled volume after volume with damning detail on how these schemes work and the damage they cause.

Now we are at a moment in history when we can remove this blight. The pressures on the federal budget and the threat to economic growth and prosperity that they represent require action. We must close these loopholes. The relentless arithmetic of our budget situation compels it; fairness and justice demand it.

During the budget debate, a number of senators joined me on the Senate floor to speak about the need to close tax loopholes. We outlined the preposterous contortions that too many corporations and wealthy individuals employ to avoid paying taxes, and how those contortions contribute to a shift in the tax burden from corporations and the wealthy to middle-class families and small businesses.

The case for additional revenue and for closing tax loopholes as a source of that revenue is overwhelming. Serious deficit reduction requires more revenue, as everyone from the Simpson-Bowles Commission to the Domenici-Rivlin task force to the Concord Coalition to Fix the Debt, has recognized. Federal revenue remains significantly below its historic average as a percentage of the gross domestic product of our economy, and that revenue is, and under current trends will continue to be, below the levels we have needed in the recent past to balance the budget.

In particular, the loss of corporate tax revenues is an ongoing cause of deficits.  In 2006, corporate tax revenue made up about 15 percent of all federal revenue. In 2012, it had fallen to 10 percent. Somebody has to pick up the slack. In this case it has been average American families.

Why is corporate revenue a shrinking share of our Treasury even though the U.S. corporate tax rate, at 35 percent, is one of the highest in the developed world? It is because the top tax rate doesn’t tell the story. While our tax rate at the upper limit is 35 percent on corporations, the average U.S. corporate taxpayer’s effective tax rate was just 12 percent in 2011, which is the lowest in generations.

A recent study by two think tanks found that 30 of our largest corporations with combined profits of more $160 billion paid no income tax, zero, from 2008 to 2010.

The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations outlined in a report last year how three U.S. companies—Apple, Google, and Microsoft—used offshore gimmicks to avoid taxes on almost $80 billion in profits.

But momentum is building to stop these abuses. Earlier this year, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island joined me in introducing the Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act. Our bill would help address some of these tax schemes and others as well. It is a powerful weapon in our deficit-reduction arsenal if we will use it.

During the budget debate, Sen. Whitehouse and I were joined by Sen. John McCain of Arizona in introducing a bipartisan amendment recognizing the need to close corporate tax loopholes. The Senate approved our amendment, putting the Senate on the record on the need to end offshore tax abuses by large corporations.

We can’t afford these loopholes. We can’t afford the budget deficits they help cause, and we can’t afford the damage they do to ordinary families and small businesses. I’ll keep working to strengthen the momentum for reforms that end these abuses.

Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.

 

 

 

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Two men charged in assault on senator


Ahlam M. Mohsen, 23, of Coldwater, and Max B. Kantar, 23, of Big Rapids, were charged last week in a two-count indictment by a federal grand jury for assaulting U.S. Senator Carl Levin in August, U.S. Attorney Donald A. Davis announced.
The charges stem from an incident that took place during the Senator’s meeting with his constituents at a café and delicatessen in Big Rapids, Michigan, on August 16, 2010. The media widely reported at the time that, immediately after an individual read a statement to Senator Levin accusing him and other senators of war crimes, Mohsen struck the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman in the face with a pie.
The first count of the indictment alleges that the two forcibly assaulted, and aided and abetted each other in assaulting, the Senator in a manner that involved physical contact while the Senator was engaged in, and on account of, the performance of his duties. This count is a felony punishable by up to eight years in prison. The second count is a misdemeanor assault charge, punishable by up to one year in prison. The second count references the same incident as the first count; however, it is a charge that does not require the government to prove either that the defendants physically contacted the Senator or that they assaulted him while he was engaged in or on account of the performance of his official duties.
“My office will vigorously enforce the laws that ensure the leaders we freely choose in open elections can meet with their constituents to exchange views without fear of assault and physical reprisal,” explained U.S. Attorney Davis.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Big Rapids Department of Public Safety.
The charges in an indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

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