Cantwell: President's Budget Raises Electricity Rates, Cuts Funding for Law Enforcement and Homeland Security, Shortchanges Education, Veterans, Hanford Cleanup, and Children's Health Care
Monday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said the president's fiscal year 2008 budget proposal undermines the federal government's commitments to veterans, law enforcement, and homeland security, and would shortchange Washington state by raising electricity rates, cutting health insurance for children, and underfunding tank waste cleanup at Hanford.
Cantwell identified ten specific ways the administration's budget request falls short:
Energy Rates: The president's budget includes a plan to raise Northwest electricity rates that is nearly identical to a proposal defeated last year by all eight senators from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Currently, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sells surplus power and uses the revenue to lower electricity rates for Northwest ratepayers. About 70 percent of the electricity consumed in the State of Washington is BPA power. The proposal included in the administration's fiscal year 2008 budget would divert certain surplus sale revenue to the U.S. Treasury, instead of using it to lower BPA rates for Northwest consumers.
"This year, the president's budget yet again attempts an end-run on Congress to force a rate hike on Washington families and businesses," said Cantwell. "No matter how it's packaged, this proposal concerned, this plan is dead on arrival."
Homeland Security: The president's budget reduces funding for a number of pivotal anti-terrorism and first responder grants programs that help state and local governments stay equipped, well-trained, and prepared. The president would cut state homeland security grants from $509 million to $187 million, law enforcement terrorism prevention funding from $364 million to $263 million, Urban Area Security Initiative funding from $747 million to $600 million, State and Local Training Program funding from $211 million to $95 million, and Firefighter Assistance Grants from $662 million to $300 million. The president's budget also fails to recognize the need for increased security within our nation's transportation system, keeping funding for the Port Security Program, Transit Security Program, and Intercity Bus Security Program stagnant at $210 million, $175 million, and $12 million, respectively. Finally, the budget proposal cuts Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology funding from $848 million to $799 million. This funding is important to developing technology to screen cargo for conventional explosives, such as technology currently under development at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the Tri-Cities.
"At a time when our country's ports, borders, and transportation systems remain vulnerable, we should be getting more resources to our law enforcement officers, not cutting the vital programs that help them stay prepared and keep our communities safe," said Cantwell. "We have a responsibility to make our nation more secure, and important technologies are already under development at places like PNNL that could greatly enhance transportation security in America."
Clean Energy: The president's budget proposal provides only a slight increase in funding for new clean energy research and development at the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), meaning that when adjusted for inflation we are going backwards, not pushing ahead on the critical research and development needed to reduce our dangerous overdependence on fossil fuels. The president's budget also cuts weatherization programs, which help cash-strapped low-income families save on energy bills, by 35 percent. In addition, the proposal fails to fund almost $900 million in critical clean energy programs authorized in 2005 by the bipartisan Energy Bill, including hydrogen technology, bioenergy, solar, energy efficiency, and State Energy Program Grants.
"Just two weeks after the president mentioned the need for greater energy independence and tackling climate change in his State of the Union address, his budget falls far short of the major investments we need to move to a cleaner, more diverse 21st century energy system," said Cantwell. "By failing to push ahead on the critical research and development needed to reduce our dangerous overdependence on fossil fuels, we put our nation at a dangerous security, environmental, and economic disadvantage."
Education: The president's budget proposal underfunds No Child Left Behind by $14.8 billion. With this budget proposal, the president has now underfunded No Child Left Behind by a total of $70.9 billion since the program's creation. By underfunding Washington state's portion of the No Child Left Behind Act by nearly $160 million, the president's budget leaves 45,951 Washington students without help. In addition, the president's proposal cuts special education funding by $291 million. Overall, the Bush budget eliminates 44 specific education programsnearly $2.3 billion in cutsand would reduce funding for career and technical education programs by $687 million. This cut would reduce Washington state's funding by more than half, from approximately $25 million to $11.4 million.
"If we want to keep our economy competitive and ensure a bright future for the next generation of leaders, education must be one of our top priorities," said Cantwell. "Once again, the president's budget makes a quality education more difficult to find and afford than ever. We shouldn't be looking for savings in the pockets of our neediest students."
Head Start: The president's budget would decrease Head Start funding by $100 million, threatening the quality of the program through cuts to service hours, transportation services, and instruction. Since 2002, Head Start funding has been cut by 11 percent. Currently, the program only serves half of the children eligible for the pre-school program, and far less than half of the children eligible for Early Head Start.
"Year after year of cuts have hit Head Start hard, limiting the program's ability to help thousands of families in need in our state," said Cantwell. "Head Start provides critical services to families in communities all across Washington. We have a responsibility to provide the support and resources to make it accessible."
Home Heating Assistance: The president's budget would cut Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding from an already low $2.2 billion to just $1.8 billion. Last spring, when the Senate passed legislation approving emergency funds for the LIHEAP program, the Bush administration announced that Washington state residents would receive none of that assistance. This year's budget program keeps LIHEAP underfunded in Washington state yet again, and with fewer funds to go around overall in this budget, even fewer families will have access to the aid they need.
"Even without this steep cut, too many of our state's eligible LIHEAP recipients go without the help they need," said Cantwell. "Cutting the program back even further will literally leave more families and seniors out in the cold."
Children's Health Care: The president's budget significantly restricts state efforts to provide health care to uninsured children. Even though it increases funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $5 billion over five years, this is less than half the amount required to maintain coverage for current enrollees, and far too little to encourage states to extend coverage to more uninsured children from low-income families. Currently, Washington state covers 11,000 children with SCHIP funds and over 500,000 with Medicaid, while 100,000 remain uninsured. The president's budget would also undermine Washington's efforts to use SCHIP funds to cover children between 200 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level by lowering the matching rate and requiring states to pick up a greater portion of the cost for children in this group.
"Far too many children are still going without health insurance, preventative care, and regular check-ups," said Cantwell. "This program was created to help these children, and we have a responsibility to clear the road blocks that are keeping states from providing them coverage. We have a responsibility to keep more children healthy, keep health care costs down in the long-run, and deliver health coverage to more uninsured children in our state."
Hanford: While the president's budget request provides additional funding for the vitrification plant, it yet again underfunds tank farm cleanup at Hanford. The president requested only $273 million for tank farms, just below the $274 million requested last year and well below the $321 approved by Congress in fiscal year 2006.
"We need a better commitment from this administration to clean up contamination and nuclear waste at Hanford," said Cantwell. "The federal government has a moral and legal obligation to clean up Hanford and complete critical initiatives like tank cleanup. Our state simply can't afford drastic cuts or dangerous delays."
Law Enforcement: The president's budget significantly cuts two of Washington's local crime fighting-toolsthe Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) program and Justice Assistance Grants. The COPS program helps local law enforcement agencies hire police officers, acquire new crime-fighting technology, and support crime prevention initiatives. JAG supports state and local drug task forces, community crime prevention programs, and prosecution initiatives, and is vital in the fight against meth. In 2006, Washington received $5.7 million in JAG funding and $6.7 million in COPS funding.
"These two programs have a long and proven record of helping keep neighborhoods safe for Washington families," said Cantwell. "Weakening these critical initiatives at a time when we need to be more vigilant, not less, makes no sense. "
Veterans: The president's budget proposal would mean higher health care costs and prescription drug co-pays for most of Washington's 629,000 veterans. The budget proposal would nearly double pharmacy co-payments from $8 to $15 for many veterans and implement annual enrollment fees. Overall, the budget requests approximately $34.2 billion for veterans health care. The VA has testified in the past that the Veterans Health Administration requires a minimum annual increase of 13 to 14 percent to meet the rising medical costs and increasing demand of America's veterans, but the president's budget proposal only increases funding by six percent. The budget would also reduce funding for medical and prosthetic research by $29 million and $3 million, respectively.
"With the high number of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, we cannot afford to cut funding for critical medical research that provides returning veterans with a better quality of life following their service," said Cantwell. "Our veterans have served and sacrificed so much for their nation. We have a responsibility to deliver the recognition, the care, and the assistance they were promised and deserve."