DEFICIT REDUCTION ACT OF 2005--CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - December 20, 2005)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in opposition to the spending reconciliation conference report.
The Federal budget should reflect the Nation's priorities. Unfortunately, the priorities on display in this year's budget reconciliation process are out of touch with those of the American people. Worse yet, the rhetoric we hear about fiscal responsibility is at odds with the reality of the pending legislation.
This bill cuts deeply into programs that serve our country's most vulnerable citizens in order to fund tax breaks for those who need them the least. I support lower taxes. I also support lower Government spending. Most Americans do. But at what cost, and for what purpose?
What sacrifices in our domestic priorities, our economic security and independence, our humanity are we asking the American people to endure so that the wealthiest can pocket a little more income each year, even as working class Americans--facing rising fuel prices and health care costs--are pocketing a lot less?
And it is not even as if the spending cuts here will fully pay for the tax breaks. The majority's campaign to do away with pay-as-you-go rules has meant that the tax breaks over the past 4 years have been financed by debt. Debt that now exceeds $8 trillion and keeps rising.
Debt, not discipline, has been the hallmark of the majority's fiscal strategy. They want us to believe that we can't afford the Government we need. But funding our domestic priorities like education, health care, and equal opportunity for America's children is not inconsistent with budget discipline. In fact, a responsible fiscal policy is a prerequisite to tackling the challenges of a relentlessly competitive global economy.
First, ensuring access to basic health care is critical to our Nation's productivity. But this bill undermines Medicaid and essential health services for the poor, cutting benefits by $6.3 billion over 10 years.
Second, education is the key to economic competitiveness. But this bill cuts student loans by $12.7 billion, the largest cut in history. I don't understand how the majority expects middle-class American families to make it in the 21st century workforce if we turn our backs on students.
Third, helping people move from dependence to independence, from poverty to prosperity is in all of our best interests. And many States have made great progress implementing TANF requirements and moving people from welfare to work. But this bill deprives States of the flexibility they need to set realistic and meaningful work targets for their caseloads. It also dramatically underfunds childcare, thus assuring that it will be even more difficult for States and families to fulfill the Federal mandates.
The TANF program affects millions of American children and families and deserves a full and fair debate. Under the rules, the reconciliation process does not permit that debate. Reconciliation is therefore the wrong place for policy changes and the wrong place for the proposed changes to the TANF program.
In short, the reconciliation process appears to have lost its proper meaning. A vehicle designed for deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility has been hijacked to facilitate reckless deficits and unsustainable debt. Instead of being a tool to get us back on track to deal with our serious economic challenges, reconciliation has become a tool for enacting tax cuts for the wealthy while punishing the poor.
This is a profound disappointment to me. Indeed the entire 2006 budget process has been a disappointment.
Mr. President, as we wrap up this session and look towards next year, I hope we will find ways to work in a bipartisan manner on the issues and choices that really matter to American families. The importance of our task and the demand for responsible leadership will only grow in the years ahead.
I urge my colleagues to vote against the conference report on spending reconciliation.