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Public Statements

Deficit Reduction Act of 2005--Conference Report

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DEFICIT REDUCTION ACT OF 2005--CONFERENCE REPORT

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, last week, I came to the floor to speak against the proposed reconciliation bill, and I used the analogy of the Grinch who stole Christmas. At that time, we did not have a conference report yet before us, and I hoped that we might make some significant changes in what would be sent to us after the House acted.

Unfortunately, although there were some changes, the overall impact of what has been sent to the Senate for action is disappointing and deeply disturbing. While the Grinch stole the gifts, the decorations, and even the Christmas tree, this budget slashes hope. It slashes opportunity. It slashes support that the least among us need in order to be as productive and healthy as possible. This Republican budget slashes child support enforcement, Medicaid benefits, student loans, and so much else.

Now, the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas actually has a happy ending, because the Grinch, seeing the error of his ways, returned what he had taken. Unfortunately, I fear the budget before the Senate today does not have a happy ending. It represents a monumental failure by the Republicans in Congress to recognize the real priorities that the people of America--working families, students, seniors, and particularly children--need.

The Republican priorities are crystal clear in this bill. The Republican majority chose $2.6 billion in new tax breaks for oil companies. I don't know how that is a priority. I don't even know how that is understandable. The oil companies could not be doing any better than they are doing, and we are still giving them more tax breaks from hard-working American taxes. We still prohibit the Government from negotiating for prescription drugs to lower the cost to Medicare beneficiaries, which could save $100 billion for taxpayers. The Republicans decided not to eliminate the $5.4 billion Medicare insurance company slush fund and, instead, chose to cut home health care, hospital quality improvements, imaging services, medical equipment, and hospital payments. And as usual, with the Republican majority, they decided against cracking down on abusive corporate tax shelters such as mailbox headquarters and other loopholes.

We have heard a lot of this from the eloquent, persuasive argumentation by the Democratic ranking member on the Budget Committee, the Senator from North Dakota. We have heard from others of our colleagues raising the alarm about this ill-conceived budget. But one issue that has not yet been raised that I would like to highlight is that I think this bill may very well increase the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in our country.

Why, you might ask? Today contraception and other family planning services are provided as a matter of course under Medicaid. We do this because it is good for women to have access to such treatments and medications. It also prevents unintended pregnancies and, therefore, prevents abortions and, therefore, saves money. For every dollar Medicaid spends on family planning, the Government saves $3. But this bill eliminates the guarantee.

I don't understand this. We obviously have very strong opinions and deeply held convictions about abortion, but are we also divided about contraception and family planning? Are we not in this body committed to reducing the number of abortions?

Apparently, we are not because the provision in this reconciliation budget that eliminates family planning for Medicaid recipients makes it very clear that the majority opposes contraception and family planning, which reduces unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

It makes no sense to me. I thought we were working toward a bipartisan agreement that we would try to prevent unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, reduce the need for abortion. I sadly predict that if this measure stays in the bill, which apparently it is going to because we expect to vote on it in the next several hours, the number of abortions will go up, the human and financial costs will go up, and many women will really be out of luck.

The other piece that is so troubling to me is young people aging out of foster care. These are young people for whom we try to provide some support services by continuing their access to Medicaid. They, too, will not have access to family planning.

This is all about misplaced priorities, choices that do not serve our Nation's future and puts the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of working families, college students, seniors, single moms, and the middle class.

Consider who is bearing the costs because we know there are winners and there are losers. Certainly, the winners will be oil companies, drug companies, corporate freeloaders, and deadbeat parents. That is a wonderful list of whom we are helping in this Christmas season.

Despite rising medical expenses that burden middle-class and low-income Americans, this bill cuts $6.9 billion from Medicaid by slashing benefits and increasing costs to beneficiaries. We know there is a considerable body of research from RAND to the Urban Institute and many others that have found if you increase copays and premium costs, beneficiaries will skip needed care and may lose coverage entirely.

This bill also, for some reason, has it out for college students, the very people we should encourage to get their education, to become productive citizens, to have competitive jobs in a global economy. The bill cuts over $12.7 billion from student loan programs, resulting in higher payments for 472,000 New Yorkers today and millions more in the years to come.

The bill also undermines the Direct Loan Program which has been shown by every independent analysis to cost as much as 12 times less than the private loan program. So I guess we should put the banks on the list of winners along with the corporate freeloaders and the deadbeat parents and the oil companies.

As millions of seniors struggle with medical bills, this bill slashes $6.4 billion from Medicare over the next 5 years, including a $1.6 billion increase in Medicare Part B premiums, making it more expensive for their seniors to visit their doctor this year instead of last.

The thing I am still totally amazed by is cutting $4.9 billion in child enforcement, eliminating $343 million from foster care programs, undermining childcare for working families and TANF that rewards and enables work.

I don't know, Mr. President, I guess there are different priorities between us in this Chamber, and I am disappointed in that. Given that 1.1 million more Americans fell into poverty last year, and over 37 million Americans, including 13 million children, live in poverty today, we are headed in the wrong direction.

I guess the Republican majority can brag about $2.6 billion in new tax cuts for oil companies, $6.9 billion in Medicaid cuts, and cuts to foster children, the most vulnerable of all of our citizens. Corporate welfare was saved. Student loans were cut. I don't know how you can, with a straight face, say that is the kind of priorities we should be having at any time but particularly in the Christmas season. But I suppose the folks who find these great big tax breaks under their tree are going to be grateful.

The ultimate irony is that this bill is being called deficit reduction. We know how to do deficit reduction. We did it in the 1990s. We did it by making hard choices. We did it by making it clear that nobody was going to get off scot-free, that everybody would have to pay their fair share. Tough decisions would be made on both the revenue and the spending side.

This bill doesn't reduce the deficit at all. In fact, it worsens the deficit outlook by at least $30 billion. That is going to become even more clear when we come back after the first of the year and the Republicans give us $70 billion in additional tax cuts. Let's tell everybody those tax cuts are, once again, going to help people who have been helped already, quite substantially, over the last 5 years.

It is not doing much for the average American, it is not doing anything for some of the poorest of Americans, other than telling them they are on their own.

In a time of war, with the third largest budget shortfall in our Nation's history, when we have rising poverty again, the call for financial sacrifice by the White House and the Republican Congress falls only on families struggling to make ends meet. It falls on our children particularly, the poorest of our children, foster care children, children whose parents are not providing support for them. It doesn't fall on oil companies reaping record profits, not on the drug companies, not on the corporate freeloaders, not on the deadbeat parents.

This bill is not in keeping with the spirit of this season or the priorities of the American people. I hope that we will do better next year. I hope that people will realize, as the Grinch did, that we don't need to act in a way that is playing to the lowest common denominator, that takes care of the privileged at the expense of everybody else. I do think it is fair to say that this bill is unprecedented. Never has so much been done for so few who need it so little.

This is a very sad day in the Senate. I hope we can do better in the future on a bipartisan basis, and I hope that the real values of America once again are put into action in the Congress.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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