DURBIN CALLS SENATE-PASSED BUDGET A "LOSER" FOR ILLINOIS FAMILIES
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) labeled the budget passed by the Senate as a "loser" for Illinois families. Durbin said that the budget falls short of making critical investments in education, energy and homeland security.
Initiatives championed by Durbin and his Democratic colleagues to make middle class life more affordable, to help veterans and seniors and to keep America secure through policies that are both tough and smart were rejected by the Senate during the budget debate. The budget was approved last night by a largely party-line vote of 51 to 49.
"The federal budget is the spending roadmap for America's priorities, but this budget is way off course," Durbin said. "It is out-of-sync with the priorities of Illinoisans -- doing virtually nothing to make education, health care and energy costs more affordable. It also fails the test when it comes to providing real security from terrorism and ensuring our veterans get the care they need when they return home."
Durbin said that the Senate missed an opportunity to make America more energy independent and more secure by voting down an amendment to increase by $500 million funding for biofuels and alternative fuels, like ethanol. "More than 40% of the ethanol consumed in the U.S. annually is produced from corn grown in Illinois. Increasing the use of domestically produced renewable fuels, like ethanol, is good for America's economy, good for our energy security, and good for Illinois farmers," Durbin added.
Durbin also said that he was disappointed that the Senate failed to provide real relief to seniors and persons with disabilities by improving the Medicare drug benefit. The Senate defeated an amendment to provide Medicare the authority to negotiate directly for better drug prices and to give seniors a choice to receive a drug benefit directly from Medicare. A recent study found that drug prices offered by ten leading private drug plans under the current Medicare drug program are more than 80 percent higher than the prices negotiated by the Veterans' Administration.
"Medicare beneficiaries are stuck with a confusing, costly plan that is a giveaway to the special interests; drug companies are reaping the profits while seniors are paying the price," Durbin said. "Seniors deserve a simple, affordable and guaranteed Medicare drug benefit."
Vital additional resources for port security were also not approved by the Senate, Durbin noted. Democrats proposed a port security measure that provides an additional $600 million for port security grants, $100 million for new inspectors and staff and $105 million for new technologies.
"Americans are shocked that only six percent of the nine million containers arriving at U.S. ports are scanned or inspected each year," Durbin said. "With 400 million tons of freight on 7,800 miles of open rail lines in Illinois and another 800 million tons of freight on Illinois' 140,000 miles of roads and highways, we must guarantee that every container coming into our ports is inspected. What could be more important than investing in the safety and security of Americans?"
An effort to make college education more affordable and accessible was also rejected. The amendment would have increased the maximum Pell Grant to $4,500 and restored the Perkins Vocational Education program. In 2005, 194,895 Illinois students received just over $449 million in Pell grants.
The Senate turned back attempts to improve health care for veterans, Durbin noted. The amendment would have added $1.5 billion for VA health care and rejected increased fees and co-payments for some veterans. Durbin said many of these veterans make as little as $26,900 a year. The amendment would have also increased needed funding for mental health care, readjustment counseling and rehabilitative care.