Cantwell: President's Budget Raises Energy Rates, Guts Rural Health Care, Shortchanges Veterans, Students, and First Responders
Tuesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said the president's Fiscal Year 2007 budget would seriously undermine the federal government's commitments to Washington state. Cantwell was especially concerned by a provision that would levy a backdoor energy rate hike on Washington consumers, and criticized measures that would undercut seniors, veterans, students, the working poor, and rural health care initiatives.
Cantwell identified ten specific ways the administration's budget request falls short:
· Energy Rates: The president's budget includes a plan to raise Northwest power rates by nearly $1 billion. Currently, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sells surplus power and uses the revenue to lower BPA's electricity rates throughout the Northwest. About 70 percent of the electricity consumed in the State of Washington is BPA power. The proposal included in the administration's Fiscal Year 2007 budget would prevent certain surplus sale revenues from being used to lower power prices for BPA customers, as Bonneville has done for decades. The plan could raise Northwest power rates by an estimated $924 million over the next 10 yearsdepending on the amount of surplus power BPA sells and the market price of power.
"Energy prices are already through the roof," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "By trying to squeeze extra dollars out of the Northwest, the Bush Administration is turning its back on families and businesses just when our economy can least afford it. This is nothing more than a billion dollar tax hike on the Northwest economy. As far as I'm concerned, this plan is dead on arrival."
· ANWR: The president's budget assumes Congress will allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refugethis year unrealistically predicting that drilling will bring in $8 billion in revenue, a $3 billion increase over last year's estimate. In December, Cantwell successfully led a filibuster to block an effort to tack Arctic Refuge drilling on to a defense spending bill. She vowed to continue to fight any similar efforts in this year's budget.
"Less than a week after admitting that our country is addicted to oil, President Bush is pushing an outdated fix that will destroy Alaska's last wild frontier and do nothing to address our country's long-term energy needs," said Cantwell. "I was hoping that the president's State of the Union speech meant he finally realized we can't drill our way to energy independence."
· Veterans: The president's budget renews his effort to charge more for certain veterans' health care by pushing for a universally-rejected plan to charge a $250 annual enrollment fee. The plan would also increase prescription drug co-pays to $15. While the president's proposal features an increase of $2.99 billion over last year's appropriations of $24.8 billion, almost 30 percent of the additional funding would come from these new fees, placing an unfair burden on the backs of millions of men and women who served their country honorably.
"Our nation's veterans deserve better," said Cantwell. Instead, the president's looking for extra savings in the pockets of those who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. They sacrificed for their country; we have a duty to stand by their side."
· Homeland Security: The president's budget would cut vital funding for first responders by slashing funding for the FIRE Act program and eliminating the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program. Cutting important first responder programs not only ignores the needs of those men and women working hard to keep our communities safe, it also puts our entire nation at risk. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (FIRE Act), which funds firefighter equipment and training, would face a $372 million cut, leaving the program with far less than the $665 million provided last year. Washington state has received over $64 million in FIRE Act funds since 2001. The president's budget would also eliminate the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP), which assists state and local law enforcement agencies in preventing and responding to potential terrorist attacks. Washington state received almost $8 million in LETPP funds in 2005.
"Washington's firefighters and police officers put themselves in harm's way each day to keep Washington's families and communities safe and secure," said Cantwell. "We have a responsibility to give first responders the equipment, technology, and resources they need. Anything less ignores our commitment to keeping America's communities safe."
· Methamphetamine: The president's budget cuts over $23 million from the meth hot spots programleaving the program with fewer funds than during any other year since its inception. Last year, thanks to Cantwell's efforts, this important program received over $63 million. Cantwell has also fought to limit access to precursor drugs that are used to produce methamphetamines, and stressed the need to investigate the link between meth crimes and other criminal activity such as identity theft. Washington state is sixth in the country in meth production and first in children found on raided sites. There is a disturbingly high correlation between meth and other crimes, and recidivism rates for Washington meth convicts are higher than for other drug convicts.
"We can't afford to shortchange local law enforcement officers inundated by meth crimes," said Cantwell. "We must recognize the growing threat of this dangerous and debilitating drug. I will continue fighting to give local cops the resources they need to keep Washington's communities meth-free."
· Home Heating Assistance: The president's budget under-funds the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by almost 65 percent, providing just $1.7 billion. In last year's energy bill, Congress made a commitment to fund LIHEAP at $5.1 billion. Last week, Cantwell joined a coalition of senators calling on Congress to approve much-needed funding this winter for the already under-funded LIHEAP program. Unless Congress takes immediate action, thousands of eligible families in need will not get any help. Cantwell pledged to continue fighting to increase home heating assistance in the face of sky-high energy costs are hurting hurt families and businesses across the country.
"Right now, three out of four eligible Washingtonians cannot access LIHEAP funds," said Cantwell. "The president's budget falls terribly short and leaves even more families and seniors out in the cold. With today's through-the-roof energy costs, we clearly need to do more to help Washingtonians in need."
· Hanford: While the president's budget request provides additional funding for the vitrification plant, it cuts other aspects of Hanford cleanup efforts significantlyparticularly tank cleanup. Funding to clean up Hanford's tank farms was cut by $52 million. Overall, the president's proposal decreases Hanford funding by more than 10 percent when compared to the 2005 level. The administration has also failed to provide any information on the impact of this proposed reduction on jobs, safety, or the pace of work.
"We need a clear commitment from this administration to cleanup America's nuclear legacy at Hanford," said Cantwell. "Critical programs like ongoing tank cleanup can't afford drastic cuts. Even the Energy Department's own Inspector General noted that a lack of resources has hampered progress. The federal government has a moral and legal obligation to cleanup Hanford."
· Education: The president's budget calls for the largest cut to federal education funding in the 26-year history of the Education Department: a $2.1 billion reduction in federal education investments. By under-funding Washington state's portion of the No Child Left Behind Act by more than $160 million, the president's budget leaves 48,601 Washington students without help. The budget proposal also calls for cuts to special education. Washington's special education programs, which benefited 124,000 disabled students in 2004, will be under-funded by almost $125 million if the proposed budget passes. The budget also calls for changes to financial aid that fall well short of what is necessary to make college a reality for more of Washington's students. The Bush budget freezes the maximum Pell grant at $4,050 for the fourth year in a row, despite rising tuition costs, making it increasingly difficult for Washington's 90,255 Pell Grant recipients to cover tuition.
"This $2 billion cut to education stands in stark contrast to the president's State of the Union speech pronouncement that education is a key investment for our nation's future," said Cantwell. "We cannot ignore the needs of our state's students and teachers, and we can't afford to pass thousands of dollars in extra costs onto students and parents struggling to make tuition payments."
· Rural Health Care: The president's budget calls for a 73 percent cut to rural health care programs. The proposal would eliminate the Primary Care Training programs, which train medical students to work in underserved rural and urban areas. At the University of Washington alone, the cuts would result in a loss of $500,000, necessitating the lay-off of several faculty and staff. The president's budget would also eliminate funding for the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC), including two facilities in Washington stateone in Seattle and another in Spokane. AHEC funding is used to recruit healthcare students for placement in rural areas and is vital to bringing healthcare professionals to practice in rural communities. The funds also support continuing education programs for providers in rural areas, helping to keep providers up to speed in their field so they can meet licensing requirements.
"Washington's rural communities deserve nothing less that first-rate health care," said Cantwell. "This budget doesn't come close. We need to support and enhance rural health care initiatives so we can get more qualified doctors to rural areas and retain the many dedicated health care professionals currently serving rural Washington."
· Medicare and Medicaid: The president's budget calls for $36 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next five years, including a half-percent reduction in the hospital reimbursement rate, a freeze in payments to nursing homes, and increased monthly premiums for middle income beneficiaries. The budget also exempts income requirements from inflation, meaning that many more beneficiaries will be hit by higher premiums in the future. Medicaid would also undergo nearly $5 billion in cuts over five the next five years. These cuts are in addition to a new Medicare prescription drug program riddled with gaps and plagued by shoddy implementation. Cantwell has worked to smooth the drug program's transition, and will continue fighting cuts to programs vital to seniors and others in need.
"Our nation's poorest seniors are already trying to deal with a complicated, confusion drug program that's left many without the life-saving medications they need," said Cantwell. "Now the administration wants to cut even more of the programs they seniors rely on. I'll continue fighting to make sure seniors get the care they were promised."