DEFICIT REDUCTION ACT OF 2005--CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - December 21, 2005)
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Mr. SPECTER. On a close call I have decided to vote for the conference report on the reconciliation bill because the benefits slightly outweigh the disadvantages in evaluating the tradeoffs.
I start with the proposition that the savings of $40 billion over 5 years in the conference report is closer to the $35 billion passed by the Senate than to the $50 billion cuts passed by the House of Representatives. This deficit reduction amounts to less than one-half of 1 percent of total Federal spending, an estimated $13.8 trillion over the next 5 years.
Medicaid was a special concern where the conference report of a $4.8 billion reduction was much closer to the Senate figure of $4.3 billion than to the House cut of $11 billion. While I would have preferred targeting different reductions, the conference report does give the States flexibility in the use of Medicaid funds so that the States will be in a position to ameliorate hardships resulting from the proposed reductions.
It was important that the conference report included $1 billion in additional budget authority in fiscal year '07 for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will result in $625 million in outlays as we approach the fiscal year 07 winter season which is likely to be very harsh. It is anticipated that there will be an additional $2 billion for fiscal year '06 added to LIHEAP in the Defense appropriations bill although that is not a certainty because the Senate will not act on that bill until after the vote on reconciliation.
I am further encouraged by the elimination of some $700 million on cuts for the Food Stamp Program and the rejection of the House passed $5 billion reduction in child support enforcement to aid local governments which finally came in at a $1.5 billion cut.
After visiting many first responders around the State, I was pleased to see the reconciliation bill add $1 billion for first responders who will be very important in any prospective emergency situation.
I was also pleased to see the one year moratorium on inpatient rehabilitation hospital provisions which require 50 percent of Medicare beneficiaries to meet certain ailment criteria for 2 years.
I was opposed to the repeal of the Continued Dumping and Subsidiary Offset Act, CDSOA, program but there was finally a compromise to give the program 2 more years.
Of special significance to Pennsylvania was the addition of $998 million for the Milk Income Loss Compensation, MILC, Program which is very important to the financial status of nearly 9,000 dairy farms in the State.
In making judgments on legislation like the reconciliation bill, we are really faced with a Hobson's choice. None of the options is desirable. We are constantly choosing among the lesser of the evils.
In the overall context of discretionary spending which is involved in the reconciliation bill and in the appropriations bill for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, there are palpably insufficient funds available for such domestic programs. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, it was my responsibility to structure legislation that came within the allocations approved by the Budget Committee and Appropriations Committee.
With a 1-percent cut at the outset and another projected one percent across the board cut and the failure to keep up with inflation, the subcommittee sustained a cut in real dollars approaching $7 billion. At the conference on the bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, I said publicly that I would not support the bill unless my vote was indispensable for its passage. If the bill is not passed, we face the alternative of a continuing resolution which will be $3 billion less than the bill, so there is no alternative, as a matter of basic arithmetic, but to support the bill.
I have already put my Senate colleagues on notice, including the leadership, that I will not support next year's budget unless there is adequate funding for domestic discretionary programs with special emphasis on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. I will also work to correct any inequities or hardships which result from the reconciliation bill.