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Public Statements

Executive Calendar

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


EXECUTIVE CALENDAR -- (Senate - March 16, 2006)

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the budget resolution.

A budget is about choices. It is about tradeoffs. It is about weighing competing priorities and conflicting objectives and figuring out what matters most for Americans.

Unfortunately, the budget we have before us makes the wrong choices. Instead of tackling Federal deficits and rising debt, this budget worsens them. Instead of strengthening our schools so America can be competitive in a global economy, this budget weakens them. Instead of taking bold action against poverty as the President promised after Katrina, this budget cuts important services that Americans depend on.

Budgets matter because the tradeoffs we make matter, and this budget makes the wrong tradeoffs. It extends tax breaks aimed at millionaires while doing nothing to expand opportunity for working Americans. It claims to be fiscally responsible while ignoring billions of dollars of Government spending for ongoing military operations overseas.

At a time when we have maxed out our borrowing, this budget has us borrowing more. At a time when we have already cut certain programs beyond the level of efficiency, this budget cuts them some more. At a time when we have already lavished tax breaks on the wealthiest people and corporations, this budget lavishes even more.

As I talk to families in Illinois--farmers and small businesspeople, teachers and veterans, salespeople and service workers, doctors and senior citizens, people prospering and those struggling at the margins--I see people dealing with real issues and real problems. I see people concerned about our national security and our domestic security. I see people worried about what they see and what they don't see happening here in Washington.

Unfortunately, this budget that we are debating today gives Americans little reason to have confidence in their Government. This budget gives them little reason to think that their elected leaders are paying attention.

Many of my Democratic colleagues and I have been offering amendments over the last few days. Together we are troubled by this budget and doing our best to ensure that it reflects at least some of America's cherished values. A few of my Republican colleagues have also joined us in trying to improve this bill.

I was disappointed on Tuesday by the failure of the Senate to pass the Pay-go amendment to restore discipline to our budgeting process. That vote was bipartisan and very close, and I hold out hope that this body will soon restore budget rules that work to reduce deficits and restrain debt. But there are still opportunities to make this resolution more responsive to the needs and concerns of the people in Illinois.

For example, I appreciate the willingness of Senator Gregg and Senator Conrad, as the managers of this bill, to accept an important amendment of mine that addresses the problem of homeless veterans.

Each and every night, more than 200,000 of our Nation's veterans are homeless. More than 400,000 will experience homelessness over the course of a year. In my hometown of Chicago, as many as 38,000 veterans spend a night homeless over the course of a year.

It is one the great tragedies of this Nation that brave men and women who risked their lives for us have no place to turn to and no place to call home.

There is no single cause for homelessness among veterans. Homeless vets are men and women, single and married. They have served in every conflict since World War II. Many suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder or were physically and mentally battered in combat. A large number left the military without job skills that could be easily transferred to the private sector. Regardless of the cause, we know that there are ways to combat this crisis.

My amendment devotes a small amount to begin addressing this problem by building on existing proven programs. For nearly 20 years, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program has helped get veterans off the streets with intensive services that are unavailable elsewhere and really get to the heart of the causes of homelessness.

HVRP grant recipients provide clothing and food to help stabilize veterans, they provide mental health and substance abuse counseling, and they provide employment services and housing assistance to allow them to reenter society. Some HVRP programs even employ formerly homeless veterans to serve as counselors and role models to other veterans. HVRP offers specialized support for veterans who are turned away from other programs. In short, HVRP is a cost-effective and proven way to help veterans who have no place else to turn.

The budget currently flatlines spending for the HVRP at $22 million, which is only 44 percent of the authorized level. At this amount, we will only be able to serve 16,250 veterans next year.

My amendment increases HVRP to its full authorized amount, an increase of $28 million. This will help us reach approximately 36,820 homeless veterans. This is still less than 10 percent of the total need, but it is an important start. My amendment will also devote an additional $12 million to the Department of Labor to improve jobs services for hard-to-place veterans. This is a modest increase of 6 percent over last year.

Every day, we walk past men and women on street corners with handwritten signs like ``Homeless Veteran--Need Food.'' Sometimes we give a dollar, sometimes we just keep walking. These are soldiers who fought in World War II, Vietnam, and Iraq.

We cannot allow the proud shoulders that have carried the weight of liberty to be broken by the terrible burden of homelessness and hopelessness. We owe our veterans more than an emergency shelter cot or a cardboard box beneath an overpass. We owe them a chance to enjoy the dignity and respect they earned fighting for our freedom.

These men and women served us without fail when we needed them, and now we must do the same for them.

I thank Senators GREGG and CONRAD for accepting this amendment.

Mr. President, I hope we can continue to improve this budget. But, until we have a fiscally responsible budget that makes the right choices for America, I owe it to the people of Illinois to reject it.

I hope it won't be too long before this body can get serious about solving the real problems we face as a country and preparing for the new challenges and opportunities we will face in the years ahead.

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