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The Budget Reconciliation

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Location: Washington, DC


THE BUDGET RECONCILIATION -- (House of Representatives - October 19, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Reichert). Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pallone) is recognized for 60 minutes.

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, 6 weeks ago all Americans saw the human face of poverty in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. President Bush vowed that after the botched Federal response to the hurricane that the Federal Government would do everything it could to help those displaced in the gulf and to finally address the issue of poverty. Six weeks later, the House Republican majority is already forgetting about America's most vulnerable. This week, Republicans had planned to cut Medicaid, higher education, food stamps, and possibly the earned income tax credit in order to achieve budget reconciliation.

We heard today that the budget reconciliation has been postponed. We are not going to vote on it tomorrow, and that is certainly good news. I think it is a strong indication that this budget plan was a bad plan for America and that it was, in fact, going to be used as a method of basically hurting the poor and might have had a direct impact on those hurricane victims.

But it does not mean that the Republican leadership is not going to try to bring it up again next week when we come back. And the problem is that it just is not fair, it really is not fair. It is un-American, in my opinion, to say that we are going to try to pass this budget reconciliation by making cuts in the very programs that impact the people who suffered during the hurricane.

The Republicans are claiming that their budget reconciliation bill is fiscally responsible and will cut the deficit. But, obviously, we could tell from the last Special Order that is simply not true. The budget actually raises the deficit, gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest, and makes matters worse, obviously, for the victims of Katrina.

Essentially, this is a way of trying to build in, if you will, the Republican tax breaks that primarily go to the wealthy, to the special interests, to corporate interests that the Republicans would try to pass further down the road this year. And it is amazing to me, Mr. Speaker, that it only took Republicans 6 weeks to forget the images of Hurricane Katrina. They are once again putting the priorities of the wealthiest few ahead of the working-class Americans. It is now clear that the Republicans learned absolutely nothing from Hurricane Katrina.

I could go on myself, but I have to say that my ideas and my concerns with this budget bill were very much set forth in a Washington Post article or op ed that appeared today by Harold Meyerson called ``Gunning for the Poor.'' And I am not going to read the whole thing, Mr. Speaker, or put it in the RECORD, but I wanted to highlight some of the things that Harold Meyerson said because it basically says in probably better language what I just indicated and how I feel.

And Harold Meyerson said in this op ed today in the Washington Post: ``Congress is back in session and it's gunning for the American poor.

``A revolt of House conservatives has persuaded that body's Republican leadership to offset the increased Federal spending going to rebuild the Hurricane Katrina-devastated gulf coast by reductions in Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs for the indigent. If things go according to plan, this week the House will begin to cut $50 billion from those efforts.

``The emerging Republican response to Katrina, apparently, is to comfort the drenched poor and afflict the dry.

``For a moment last week, it looked as though the Republicans were going to enact across-the-board spending cuts.

``That, however, would have meant less money for defense contractors and the highway industry and other contributors to congressional Republicans' campaigns. GOP committee chairmen made that point so forcefully that the idea was scrapped.

``The beauty of taking the cuts out of Medicaid and student loan programs, by happy contrast, is that it does not reduce the flow of funds to the Republican campaign committees by a single dime.

``Even before the right-wing House leadership capitulated to the even further right-wing House rank and file, the government's response to Katrina already appeared to be driven more by laissez-faire ideology than by need or common sense. The administration has opposed efforts by Senate Finance Committee Chairman CHARLES GRASSLEY to extend Medicaid coverage to those Katrina survivors who lost their jobs and health insurance in the flood. And by suspending the requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act that construction workers on federally funded reconstruction efforts be paid the prevailing wage, President Bush has ensured that much of that work will be done by illegal immigrants, as one New York Times report on the Mexican workers rebuilding Gulfport, Mississippi made abundantly clear.''

The article goes on, Mr. Speaker; but the bottom line is, and this is what Meyerson says at the end: ``The same Republican zealots who demand fiscal responsibility by cutting $50 billion for the indigent sick are now also demanding a new $70 billion in tax cuts, including the permanent repeal of the estate tax, that would chiefly benefit the rich.''

So Meyerson basically explains, and I think it is abundantly clear, the Republicans are not trying to make these cuts in programs for the indigent that would essentially help the hurricane victims because they want to balance the budget. Because, no, the deficit is still going to be huge. They are basically doing it because they want to build into the budget the opportunity to come back with permanent tax cuts for the wealthy, for the corporate interests; and this is their way of cutting programs that essentially are crucial for the hurricane victims in order to accomplish that.

And the amazing thing to me, Mr. Speaker, is that we heard President Bush just a few days or a week or so after the hurricane struck say that the hurricane showed that there were a lot of poor people, a lot of people that were unemployed, a lot of people that did not have basic necessities; and rather than trying to help them in some way by extending Medicaid benefits to them so that if they lost their health insurance, they will still have some health insurance, or rather than giving them an opportunity to have a job so that they can help rebuild New Orleans or the various towns along the gulf that were impacted by Hurricane Katrina, this administration and this Republican Congress are just cutting the legs out of any kind of help that those hurricane victims would receive and basically saying we do not care about them; all we care about is giving tax cuts to the very wealthy.

I think it is scandalous, frankly, and it is another reason why we need an independent investigation of what happened with Hurricane Katrina.

A number of my colleagues and I have been coming down here for the last few nights as well as before the congressional break that we had last week and have been saying, and so have the media been saying, that a bipartisan Katrina investigation is needed because the Washington Republicans, the ones who have set up their own committee or investigation on a partisan basis, are the same people who are responsible for the problems that we faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In other words, the Bush administration botched what happened in the aftermath of the hurricane. And they continue to do things that are primarily for special interests, for the people who contribute to their campaign coffers, without worrying about the people, the victims, that are suffering in New Orleans and other cities along the gulf.

So why in the world would we let these Washington Republicans who control the White House, control the Senate, control the House investigate themselves? It makes no sense.

The only way that we are going to get a true analysis of what is really happening in the aftermath of Katrina, including what was discussed today in terms of the unwillingness of the Republicans to help the victims in the aftermath of the hurricane, is by having a bipartisan commission so that Democrats and Republicans are both involved in the investigation, both can look at what is happening and not have this fake Katrina inquiry that would just essentially be a whitewash, if you will, for what happened in the aftermath of the hurricane.

I notice that I am being joined now by some of my colleagues who have been here every night making this point; but we are particularly upset with the fact that, in addition to not having this bipartisan investigation, this bipartisan commission, we now face a situation where the Republicans want to bring up a budget plan that actually is going to cut the very programs that these hurricane victims need.

I would like to point out the other night I read a part of an editorial in the New York Times which I think says it all about this fake Katrina inquiry, and I am not going to read the whole thing, but I just wanted to read the very beginning and the very end.

This was in the New York Times on September 26. It is called, ``Faking the Katrina Inquiry,'' and it says: As the Nation reels from Rita's devastation along the Gulf Coast, any hope for a thorough investigation of government's gross mismanagement of Katrina is quietly ebbing away behind the political levees of Washington. The White House and the Republican-controlled Congress, resisting popular support for an independent, nonpartisan commission, remain determined to run self-serving, bogus investigations. There is no way to whitewash a hurricane. The government dominated by one party should be disqualified from investigating itself. Just as President Bush repeatedly fought the creation of the 9/11 Commission till public pressure forced him to yield, so should the public now demand that the administration and Congress get real about Katrina.''

I feel even more strongly about this in the light of this budget reconciliation bill that we understand now has been postponed because the Republicans do not have the votes. Thank God they do not have the votes, and hopefully, they will never have the vote for this scandal.

I would yield now to my colleague the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Meek) who has been here practically every night making this point.

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Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield, the gentleman from Ohio is absolutely correct. I want to go back to what he said before, because we are talking about all of these terrible things that the Republicans are doing and are proposing to do, and I am sure a lot of the people say, well, why would they do those awful things. I think it is important for us to go back to what the gentleman from Ohio said before, which is why is this happening?

I mean, obviously, it is not happening because they want to reduce the deficit, because my understanding is that this budget that they were going to bring up tomorrow, this budget resolution actually increases the deficit by more than $100 billion, so it is not for deficit reduction. Any spending cuts, in my opinion, are being used primarily for 2 things. One is because they want to offset the tax cuts; again, these are tax cuts primarily for the wealthy, for the special interests that are coming down the road.

The other thing that I think we need to point out, and that is why I asked the previous Democrats from the previous Special Order to leave this chart up. Also what is happening here is that the Republicans want to continue to pay for these infrastructure and other improvements in Iraq. Now, I am not saying that it is bad to do all of this reconstruction work in Iraq. I mean, I strongly believe that it needs to be looked at, because a lot of times it is going to Halliburton and other companies that are skimming the money and not necessarily delivering the services. But I think it is very interesting to see that almost every one of the programs that were mentioned here tonight by each of my colleagues, well, to the extent it is being cut in the United States, it is being done in Iraq. I just do not think that is fair.

I want to just read this again briefly, because it is just amazing to me. Again, this comes from the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Emanuel), our democratic colleagues: health care, because the gentleman from Oklahoma mentioned the community health programs. Health care in America, $10 billion in medicaid cuts through reconciliation, $252 million in cuts for health care professionals, $94 million in cuts to community health care centers that the gentleman from Oklahoma mentioned. In Iraq, 110 primary health care centers built and renovated, 2,000 health care professionals trained, 3.2 million children vaccinated. We are spending the money in Iraq rather than here.

Education, the gentleman from Florida talked about education. The Republican budget cuts in the United States, $9 billion in cuts to student loans through reconciliation, $806 million in cuts to No Child Left Behind. In Iraq, 2,717 schools rehabilitated, 36,000 teachers and administrators trained. I am not going to go through the whole thing because it was gone through before and I do not want to repeat it.

But I will just never forget, within a couple of months after the invasion of Iraq, a couple of my Republican colleagues came down here one night on the Floor and they had just come back from Iraq and it was the first day of school and they had all of the books and the pencils and the papers that were being provided to the students in Iraq. I had just come back from New Jersey and was hearing complaints from the schools about how they did not have pencils and paper and supplies. There is nothing wrong with helping the people in Iraq, I am not trying to take away from them. But for them to say to us that we have to cut similar type programs for people who are really in need, including the hurricane victims, it is just not right. An the reason they are doing it is because they do not want to cut the programs for their special interest friends and, at the same time, I believe they are trying to build in money that they can use for these additional tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.

I just want to also say, again, I am showing my age here because I know this is the 30-Something club, but I am going to digress for one minute. I am so pleased that the gentleman from Oklahoma joined us tonight. I followed his election last year and I was so happy that he won, because we certainly need Democrats in Oklahoma. I know you are in a long tradition of people that the rest of my colleagues probably do not even remember, and that is your father, who was the Senator; Brad Carson, your predecessor; Mike Synar. Oklahoma always had conservative populace, I guess I call them, who were conservative but, at the same time, understood the needs of the people. So I am very pleased that you are with us here tonight.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. PALLONE. I am so glad that the gentleman used that example and the other examples that he has been using. Tomorrow in the Energy and Commerce Committee we are going to have a hearing on the health and social costs associated with drug use, particularly methamphetamine use. And I just have the statistics because I am getting ready for the hearing. In 2000, researchers estimate the annual health and social costs associated with drug use, particularly methamphetamine use, was approximately $116 billion, $15 billion of which was attributed to health care costs.

A lot of the things that we talk about here, particularly health care, are actually preventative. And so the Republicans think that somehow they are saving money. They are not saving anything because they are going to drive people, as the gentleman says, he is talking about methamphetamine, they are going to create a situation where the problem is going to even get worse and it is going to cost us more in the long run because the people that are impacted are going to get sick.

I was thinking of the gentleman's dad again, and I do not want to keep bringing it up. But one of the things that the Republicans are talking about doing, this $10 billion in Medicaid cuts through reconciliation, the gentleman from Oklahoma pointed out that we are not just talking about poor people and indigent people here, we are talking about working people. Maybe you call them the working poor or middle class, I do not know what the word is, lower middle class. The Medicaid cuts that the Republicans are talking about mostly impact senior citizens who go to nursing homes, because what they are proposing to do is to make it more difficult for the spouse who is left behind to keep their home or to keep their car. They want to make the guidelines so that they take the money from those very people in order for them to be able to continue to stay in a nursing home.

And I remember, I was thinking again about the gentleman's dad, because one of the things that he did was the so-called Boren Amendment. I do not even know if my colleague remembers that, but that was the one that said that the nursing homes had the ability to seek redress if the Federal Government was not providing enough funding for nursing home care, because what happened is that the quality of that care decreased and people became sicker, and so he wanted to have some enforcement mechanism to make sure that the quality of care in the nursing homes was still good. When the Republicans came in, they wanted to repeal that, of course, and they did repeal it ultimately.

So these cuts, they directly impact people, not just indigent people. I am not saying we should not be worried about the poor, we obviously do. But a lot of the people who may not necessarily be aware of the fact that they are going to be directly impacted, middle class people, senior citizens, they are going to be impacted by these health care cuts. Even the student loan programs. These are not just student loan programs for poor people, these are middle class kids that are struggling. These cuts impact the majority of Americans. I mean, that is a fact. And I appreciate the fact that all of you are bringing that out, because I think it is very important.

I yield to the gentleman from Ohio.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. PALLONE. The gentleman mentioned before Medicaid. Medicaid is a matching program, 50 percent Federal, 50 percent State. So if the States do not get the 50 percent from the Federal Government, they have to make it up themselves or drop the people completely.

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