CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007 -- (Senate - March 14, 2006)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I speak in favor of the PAYGO amendment introduced by my friend, and ranking member of the Budget Committee, Senator CONRAD. This amendment, of which I am a cosponsor, seeks to fully reinstate the pay-as-you-go requirement for direct spending and revenue legislation in the Senate through 2011.
During the 1990s, the Senate's PAYGO rule worked well to reduce Federal deficits, and the rule is badly needed today. Back then, PAYGO applied equally to increases in mandatory spending and decreases in revenue. It neither forced tax increases nor spending cuts but rather enforced fiscal balance and budget discipline. New spending or tax cuts could only become law if they were offset or found 60 votes in support.
Unfortunately, the original PAYGO rules were abandoned to provide for a series of unfunded tax breaks. Those tax breaks were not paid for by reductions in Federal spending and there was only one way to pay for them--by increasing our deficit to historically high levels and borrowing more and more money. Now we have to pay for those tax breaks plus the cost of borrowing for them.
Instead of reducing the deficit, as some people claim, the fiscal policies of this administration and its allies in Congress will add more than $600 million in debt for each of the next 5 years. This budget does nothing to reduce our deficits and, in fact, makes them worse.
Americans deserve better financial leadership. The people I talk to in Illinois are not fooled by what's going on. Working families understand that the same principles that apply to their family budgets should apply to our national budget as well. They understand that, in this life, you get what you pay for and if you don't pay for it today, it will cost you more tomorrow.
You don't have to be a deficit hawk to be disturbed by the growing gap between revenues and expenses. Americans are willing to share in the hard choices required to get us back on track, as long as they know that everyone is pulling their weight and doing their fair share. That's why it is so important that we reinstate PAYGO in a way that meaningfully enforces the budget discipline that both sides of the aisle need in order to honestly tackle our country's short-term and long-term fiscal challenges.
This is an important amendment at an important time for our country. I am pleased to once again join Senators CONRAD and FEINGOLD on this amendment and to be part of a bipartisan group of cosponsors. I urge my colleagues to vote for fiscal responsibility and for good budget leadership. I urge my colleagues to support this PAYGO amendment.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Missouri.
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise to discuss an issue on which I hope we can find common ground--veterans care.
At this moment, we are debating two different amendments; one is very good, the other is significantly better. I remind my colleagues that we were in the same position almost exactly 1 year ago.
In March of last year, we stood here and debated competing veterans amendments. The Senate voted down an amendment by Senator Akaka 47 to 53. It instead embraced a smaller amendment by Senator Ensign. Just a few months later, we learned the VA would face a billion-dollar budget shortfall. This shortfall was avoidable, regrettable, and threatened care for our veterans.
I know that none of us wants to relive the experience of last summer. We don't want to have to explain to our veterans why we didn't support them, why we didn't demand a budget that matched their sacrifice, why we yet again took the President's word on how much funding our veterans needed.
Senator Burns' amendment is a good step forward. It eliminates, for the fourth year in a row, the President's proposal to establish a new enrollment fee and double prescription drug copayments for Priority 7 and 8 veterans. That proposal would have balanced the budget on the backs of moderate-income veterans. It sends the wrong message to our troops in Iraq. I urge my colleagues to vote for Senator Burns' amendment.
But like last year, Senator Akaka's bill offers a better option, grounded in real estimates of the VA's need. In addition to blocking the new fees, Senator Akaka's amendment would add $231 million for treating Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The underestimation of this workload was one of the major contributors to the shortfall crisis last year.
It also would add $321 million for mental health initiatives. A recent Army report indicates that more than one-third of soldiers and marines who served in Iraq have subsequently sought mental health care. This is a rate that is higher than in other recent conflicts. The report may even understate the issue because two-thirds of Iraq veterans who screened positive for PTSD and other psychiatric disorders are not receiving treatment, according to The Washington Post.
It would add $122 million for readjustment counseling at vet centers, and rehabilitative care. These are areas that desperately need additional resources.
Today, we have thousands of brave men and women risking their lives for us halfway around the world. At home, we have millions more who were equally courageous in defending our freedom in previous wars and conflicts. When it comes to honoring these soldiers and these veterans, we can and must do more.
Today, the state of care for America's veterans is not worthy of their service to this country. The VA, for example, continues to insist on banning new Priority 8 enrollments. Through this ban, the VA has denied health care to 260,000 vets who assumed upon enlistment that a working class salary of $25,000 wouldn't prevent them from receiving the health care they were promised. In Illinois, 8,944 Illinois veterans were denied health care through the ban just in the last year.
When it comes to America's veterans, it is not only our patriotic duty to care, it is also our moral duty. When our troops return from battle, we should welcome them with the promise of opportunity, not the threat of poverty.
Senator Burns' amendment is an improvement over the President's original budget. But given this President's record of underestimating veterans' budgets in the past, we must do more.
It is time to reassess our priorities. A budget is more than a series of numbers on a page; it is the embodiment of our values. I urge my colleagues to support the Akaka amendment.
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I know I speak for the entire Senate when I say we fully understand the importance of supporting our Nation's law enforcement officers and that we all want to do everything possible to make the safety of our communities one of our top budgetary priorities. This is why I rise today to support the amendment offered by my colleagues, Senators Dayton and Chambliss, to restore funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance grants program.
Unfortunately, once again, the President's budget request for fiscal year 2007 does not recognize this priority. In fact, it cuts the entire program for the second year in a row.
During Senate debate on the fiscal year 2006 Department of Commerce, Justice, Science and State Appropriations Act, I cosponsored a Byrne grant amendment with Senators Dayton and Chambliss that would have increased the funding for the JAG program to $900 million. That amendment passed the Senate, but was stripped in conference.
I am disappointed that the President's fiscal year 2007 budget request once again cuts this important law enforcement program, a program that has suffered significant cuts in the last few years, despite providing real results and benefits around the country. For fiscal year 2005, the Byrne/JAG program was appropriated $634 million, an overall cut of 12 percent for both programs from fiscal year 2004, and a 30 percent cut from the fiscal year 2003 funding.
As for fiscal year 2006, the President's budget request proposed the elimination of the Byrne/JAG program, but Congress refused. However, the Byrne/JAG program still received a $218 million cut from fiscal year 2005 level.
This year, the President's budget request once again eliminates the Byrne/JAG program from the $416 million--a 34 percent cut from fiscal year 2005 funding level--passed by Congress last year.
In Illinois, these cuts will have an immediate and direct effect on the ability of law enforcement to use Byrne grant funds to fight one of the gravest drug threats facing the nation today--methamphetamine.
In downstate Illinois, as in other rural communities around the country, there has been a tremendous surge in the manufacture, trafficking, and use of meth. Illinois State Police encountered 971 meth labs in Illinois in 2003, more than double the number uncovered in 2000. According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the quantity of meth seized by the Illinois State Police increased nearly tenfold between 1997 and 2003. This surge is placing enormous burdens on smalltown police forces which are suddenly being confronted with a large drug trade and the ancillary crimes that accompany that trade.
These police departments rely on Byrne grant funding to participate in meth task forces, such as the Metropolitan Enforcement Group or the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group. These task forces allow police in different communities to combine forces to battle a regional problem. There are a total of seven meth taskforce zones in Illinois, and these task forces have seen real results with Byrne grant funding.
In 2004, the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group accounted for more than 27 percent of the State's reported meth lab seizures, and in that same year alone, Byrne/JAG grants helped Illinois cops make over 1,200 meth-related arrests and seize nearly 350,000 grams of meth.
In towns like Granite City and Alton, cuts in Byrne grant funding will force them to make difficult choices about how to allocate already scarce police resources. Indeed, the chief of police in Granite City told my staff last year that cuts in Byrne/JAG grant funding would threaten the fundamental viability of his meth task force.
While meth use continues to grow, it is inconceivable to me that the President would propose another cut to the resources needed by law enforcement to fight crime and clean up the streets. To me, this is yet another example of the misplaced priorities of this administration.
We all know that we are facing a real budget crisis in this Nation. The deficit is growing, and we must enforce some fiscal discipline. But I don't believe we should be balancing the budget on the backs of our Nation's law enforcement officers who keep our families and communities safe every day.
I am disappointed by the President's fiscal year 2007 budget request and hope that the Senate will support my colleagues' amendment and find the necessary funding that local law enforcement needs.
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