Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2023 Budget with Treasury Secretary Yellen
(As prepared for delivery)
Welcome to the Committee on Ways and Means, Secretary Yellen. It’s an honor to have you here with us today. Since the last time you appeared before us, the U.S. economy has made substantial progress towards recovering from the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic catastrophe.
During the first months of the pandemic, so many businesses failed or cut back operations that unemployment hit levels this nation has not seen since the Great Depression.
We saw 22 million Americans out of work, and an unemployment rate above 14 percent. It was a staggering blow, and none of us knew what a recovery might look like, or how long it might take
Already, though, the economy is back at full employment. Wages are rising, consumer spending is robust, fewer households are struggling under unmanageable debt burdens, and consumers have $2.3 trillion in additional savings compared with before the pandemic.
While all of us on this committee are deeply concerned about rising inflation, and all of us worry about families struggling to keep up with mounting costs, there are parts of the economy that have recovered much more quickly than expected.
As you’ll recall, when President Biden took office a year and a half ago, we were in the depths of the COVID pandemic. The President worked with Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan, which quickly began to deploy vaccines, get workers back into jobs, and support Americans with timely economic relief. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, we recovered faster and stronger and averted what could easily have been an even more serious crisis.
The policies that this Committee created—the expanded Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and Child and Dependent Care Credit—helped sustain millions of low- and middle-income families.
Families in every corner of this country who had already been living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic suddenly faced unemployment, reduced work hours, and expenses they never could have anticipated. The stimulus payments, business relief measures, and other pandemic assistance kept millions of households and small businesses afloat.
On behalf of my constituents, I want to thank the career employees of the Treasury Department for their heroic efforts to push out this lifesaving economic relief during the crisis. Under unforeseeable, extraordinary hardship, the people of the Treasury Department managed to swiftly disburse stimulus payments, advance child tax credit monthly payments, and other relief measures that helped millions of households and businesses survive. Your team made a difference in people’s lives. Thank you for your leadership, Secretary Yellen.
At the same time, many of us on this Committee would like to see a better-resourced IRS promote greater fairness and equity in the administration and enforcement of the tax laws. It simply is not fair that low-income families are audited at a much higher rate than high-income families. The IRS must treat all taxpayers fairly and equitably.
One of the many reasons I hope to see progress on the Build Back Better package that this committee advanced and the House passed is that it incorporated long-overdue tax priorities. The bill not only makes our tax code more equitable by ensuring that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share, but it also supplies the IRS with the resources it needs to ensure that no taxpayer is above the law.
The legislation would also tackle the existential threat of climate change while bringing down energy costs for working families, bolstering our energy independence, and loosening the grip of oil companies on our economy.
While Americans are experiencing pain at the pump, oil companies have been gouging consumers in an unprecedented fashion. Their profits in the first quarter of this year were 300 percent above the same time last year. In fact, during the first quarter of this year, the profits raked in by the five largest oil companies amounted to 28 percent of what Americans spent on gas. Across the economy, families are getting pushed to the brink in order to line the pockets of CEOs and wealthy shareholders. Build Back Better will help insulate our economy from this shameful corporate conduct.
We have been fortunate to have you as a strong partner in crafting a thoughtful package, and I look forward to working with you to push these important issues across the finish line.
Finally, I'd like to thank you for your leadership on the international tax negotiations at the OECD.
Finding agreement among 218 Members of Congress is always difficult, and I imagine you experienced similar challenges in reaching an agreement with more than 130 countries. I am hopeful that meaningful progress on implementing Pillar 2 will be achieved in the EU and our other partner countries in the coming weeks.
We all understand that, in international tax, the devil is often in the details. So, I'm also looking forward to working with you and providing feedback on issues important to my caucus as you continue those efforts and as our partner countries move forward with implementation.
I look forward to continuing our work together to set a course for our economy and nation to thrive. With that, I will now recognize Ranking Member Brady for the purpose of an opening statement.