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Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, last month I traveled to dozens of communities throughout my State. I actually visited 47 counties in Minnesota in January, from towns on our southern border with Iowa to towns way up on our northern border with Canada. I saw a lot of great entrepreneurial activity out there. I got to see ethanol plants. I was with Senator Conrad in North Dakota for his entrepreneurial forum. I got to jump on solar panels to show that hail doesn't hurt solar panels in Starbuck, MN.
What I heard from people throughout our State--and I think what we are hearing from people throughout America--is that Washington must provide a new direction to address the Nation's priorities and solve our economic challenges. They know what is happening. There has been a doubling of foreclosure rates in rural Minnesota. We have seen rising energy prices, as my colleagues can imagine when it is so cold. I was in International Falls, where it gets to be 10 below zero. In International Falls, it is pretty cold. In Embarrass, MN, it can get pretty cold.
There are also skyrocketing health costs. I heard about that not just from individual families and workers but from small businesses that are having trouble keeping their employees on health care plans or big businesses that are having trouble competing internationally because of the costs of health care.
What people told me out there is they need new solutions and new priorities from Washington.
What I want to talk about today is, first of all, the President's budget and how it doesn't give us new solutions, it doesn't give us new priorities, and then our own stimulus package that is so important to push through this Congress and not to be obstructed.
The President's budget continues a familiar pattern of misplaced priorities. It continues a 7-year pattern of fiscal irresponsibility, borrowing money and then leaving an ever-larger debt to our children. In just 7 years, this administration took a budget surplus of $158 billion and turned it into what will soon be a budget deficit of something like $300 billion, $400 billion. It is quite an accomplishment. Meanwhile, this new budget continues to neglect critical investments that are needed to strengthen our economy and our Nation in a very difficult time. It does not make the investments we need in our Nation's transportation infrastructure. It does not make the investments we need in developing renewable energy sources to move us toward greater independence and security. It does not make the investments we need to get new technology to solve our climate change problem--what I call building a bridge to the 21st century. It doesn't do that. It doesn't make the investment we need in the basic medical and scientific research that has always been a key driver of our country's innovation and growth. It doesn't include a shift in these priorities, and it also doesn't include how we are going to pay for it.
When I went around our State in January, people were willing to talk about reform. They are willing to talk about rolling back some of these Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest people--people making over $200,000, $250,000 a year--so we can actually pay for some of the investments we need in our State. People out in rural Minnesota said: Fine by me. Roll back those tax cuts on people making over $200,000 a year. That is not me. Meanwhile, I have a road that I can't even go on because it has so many potholes and that has a shoulder that is going downhill where four people were killed in the last few months. I am happy if you can put some money into infrastructure.
Here are a few examples in Minnesota of how the President got the budget wrong. I think people are well aware of our tragic bridge collapse. That was only six blocks from my house, when a bridge just fell down in the middle of a summer day in the middle of America. It was a tragic wake-up call that the Nation's bridges are deteriorating faster than we can repair or replace them. So what does the administration do in its budget? It reduces funding for the Federal highway construction fund.
Minnesota is home to premier medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota that conduct breakthrough research on lifesaving cures. Many of the researchers at these institutions depend on Federal funding. So what does this administration do in its budget? What was I going to tell the people in our State, when I met with them at the Mall of America, who are trying to find a cure for children's diabetes, for the parents who met with me as we see autism on the rise and we are trying to find a cure or the people on the Alzheimer's ward? What does the President say to them? Well, for the sixth year in a row, it freezes funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Nation's leading medical research agency that provides essential funding to doctors and scientists.
The budget also cuts health care services. For example, the administration is calling for an 86-percent cut in funding for rural health programs, including rural health outreach grants and the Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant Program.
I can tell my colleagues what I heard when I was up in Brickstown, MN. I was up there. They have a hospital. They have one surgeon--one surgeon. You have to go miles and miles and miles to find another hospital. You can see towns miles and miles away, it is so flat up there. But they have this one hospital that is so important to their area. The surgeon is reaching retirement age. He might even want to retire now, but he can't because they can't find another surgeon to go up there. If they don't find another surgeon, they are not going to be able to have babies born in that hospital because they don't have a doctor who can do a C-section.
Much of my State is rural despite the thriving metropolitan area we have in the Twin Cities and thriving places such as Moorhead and Rochester and Duluth, and we have these rural hospitals and health care providers that depend on this Federal funding to provide services for the rural residents of my State. It is not just a nicety; it is a necessity.
In Minnesota, we are on the leading edge of the renewable energy revolution that promises to transform our economy and lead us toward greater energy security and independence. So what does the administration do in this budget? It cuts funding for solar energy research, hydropower, and industrial energy efficiency. It also cuts Department of Agriculture programs that are important for developing new farm-based energy sources such as biomass and cellulosic ethanol.
Now, we heard the President at the State of the Union talking about moving to this new energy era. Well, put the money where the mouth is. It is not there. How are we going to stop spending $200,000 a minute on foreign oil if we are cutting the possibility of research into things such as cellulosic ethanol which, if done right with prairie grass, which puts carbon back into our soil, will allow the prairie grass to be grown on marginal farmland? This is the direction we need to go but not if we are going to cut funding. We have seen these wind turbines in our State where people are so excited they have wind turbines everywhere, wind turbine manufacturing, but every time the wind tax credit goes away, the investment stops about 8 months earlier because it is like a game of red light-green light: They don't know what is happening. So this is what the administration does.
This budget would shut down the U.S. Department of Agriculture's North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris, MN. That was one of the places I visited in January. This lab, on the University of Minnesota campus, is at the forefront of research and development to promote homegrown renewable energy. This is our energy future, but you would hardly know it from looking at the President's budget.
Finally, as I mentioned, it has been a little cold in Minnesota. It did get up to 10 degrees below zero one day, but it was down to 20 degrees below zero in Embarrass about a week ago. Nationwide, the average household is expected to pay 11 percent more for heating this winter compared to last year. Families who rely on home heating oil are facing record prices 30 to 50 percent above last winter.
What does the administration do in its budget? It cuts in half the emergency funding for the low-income heating assistance program. This is a program which enjoys bipartisan support. It provides much needed help to seniors and families who are struggling with ever-rising heating costs. Maybe the President thinks we are going to have so much global warming that we don't need this heating, I don't know. While these prices are going up and you are in the middle of winter, you shouldn't cut the heating program. I hope the next President see things differently.
I believe deeply in the importance of fiscal responsibility. I support the pay-as-you-go rule for budgeting. My husband and I keep our financial house in order, and we think the Government should too. If you want to talk about fiscal responsibility, you don't have it in this budget. There is no willingness to talk about doing things differently. Do we want a budget that offers tax giveaways to the wealthy or one that provides relief to middle-class families who are squeezed by the rising costs of housing, energy, health care, and tuition? You know what happened on the AMT debate. We voted to pay for it by taking money away from the hedge fund operators, but the other side would not do it. Do we want to give lucrative favors to the rich and the corporations, or do we want to invest in our future prosperity, in things such as research and development and renewable energy?
Instead of investing in the oil cartels in the Mideast, we need to invest in the farmers and workers of the Midwest--maybe a few in Vermont, as well, Mr. President. Do we want a budget that continues to send tens of billions of dollars to Iraq--I think it is $12 billion a month--or do we want a budget that provides our local and State law enforcement with the resources they need to protect public safety here at home?
I want to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by rolling back the tax cuts for the wealthiest people making over $200,000 or $250,000 a year.
I would like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by eliminating offshore tax havens for multimillionaires.
I would like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by ending the tax breaks and royalties that have been handed out year after year to the big oil companies.
I would like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for seniors. Exactly what we predicted would happen has; you are seeing the prices go up, not down. They just had a re-up period for Medicare Part D. Seniors in my State are trying to figure out all these call-in lines and are trying to save a little money, and they are caught in the doughnut hole. This could have been done better. It wasn't done in a fiscally responsible way.
The President's budget doesn't provide the new priorities and new solutions America needs. Instead, it continues to take us down the wrong path for the future.
Even as we must plan and invest for the long term, I am also concerned that we have our priorities right in the short term. At this time, the urgent priority for America is to get our economy moving forward again and not let it weaken further. That is why we have put together an economic stimulus package that would respond promptly and responsibly. It would get this economy moving with tax rebates that are fair to the middle class, carefully targeted, and fiscally responsible. But tonight we find out that we are not going to be able to vote on that tomorrow.
I do commend Senator Baucus and Senator Grassley for their swift work in getting this comprehensive, simple, and effective measure to the floor.
A short-term stimulus package needs to be targeted for the people who need it most. Although economists are wary to declare that we are officially in a recession, many middle-class American families have been feeling the effects of an economic slowdown for months. From the impact of the mortgage crisis on the value of homes in their neighborhoods, to the skyrocketing costs of the oil that fuels their cars and heats their homes, to the rising prices in the grocery store, the middle class is feeling economic pressure from each and every side.
When I went across my State on our Main Street tour in January, no matter where I went--all 47 counties--the economy was the first on the list of what the people in my State wanted to talk about. From city hall, to the cafe stops, to the turkey-processing places, to the little solar panel company, that is all they wanted to talk about--the economy. The message was loud and clear. I heard a lot from the middle-class families. Even before we began to experience this economic slowdown, the families were finding it harder to get by.
To give you a sense of what we have in our State, in Minnesota, the unemployment rate recently jumped to 4.9 percent, up from 4.4 percent the month before. Our State lost 23,000 jobs in the last 6 months alone. Over 50,000
Minnesota families lost their homes to foreclosure in the past 3 months. Home heating prices for Minnesota families have risen by 14.1 percent per household in the past year alone.
In order to get communities along Main Streets in Minnesota and across our country booming again, we need both short- and long-term solutions. While everybody agrees the rebate checks will be a part of whatever targeted and effective stimulus package Congress ends up sending to the President, I am here today to voice my strong support for several additional provisions that are in our Senate proposal. These proposals would do much to help improve the middle-class lives behind those statistics I just talked about. These are real people all over our State. These proposals are a proven stimulus for our economy. They deserve a full debate and proper consideration in our Chamber.
First, we need to expand our rebate effort in order to ensure that certain deserving groups are not left out. As I said, part of creating a targeted stimulus for the economy is through helping those who need it most. I was sorry to see that the House proposal fell short.
It is crucial to this package that the 20 million American seniors who worked all their lives, paid taxes, and contributed to our society in countless ways will get rebate checks. That is the first point. We need to include the seniors.
In the past week, I have heard from hundreds of Minnesota seniors who told me that the Senate proposal to include Social Security recipients is the only fair way to stimulate the economy. I agree, and I support the Senate effort to include seniors.
It is also crucial that we include disabled veterans in this package. These men and women have served our country both here and abroad. They signed up to serve; there wasn't a waiting line. When they come up and people are getting rebates, there should not be a waiting line. Go to the end of the line--you disabled veterans, who served our country, are at the end of the line; you don't get a rebate check. That is not right.
Second, I firmly believe we should include an extension of the clean energy tax incentives in any stimulus package. We can do that in another package, but we have to do it. These benefits certainly meet the definition of what we need for a short-term stimulus package.
If you look at the data, we have seen a revolution going on across the country in wind and solar and other forms of renewable energy. This has been like a game of red light-green light. You can go through the lights, and then it lapses for 6 months. It goes on again, and then it lapses. The proven statistic is that every time it lapses, the investors stop investing. That is not what we want. Our country came up with all of the technology for wind and solar, and now we are falling behind the rest of the world in developing it because we don't have the investment tax credits in place.
Third, I believe the stimulus package should also include additional funding for LIHEAP. Working families in Minnesota and across the Nation should not have to choose between paying home heating bills and putting food on the table. Increasing LIHEAP funding to keep pace with the skyrocketing price of oil is essential to this stimulus package.
I see the stimulus package as a first step, and it is crucial to support it. But long after those rebate checks are spent, we are going to need a long-term economic strategy in response to the problem or we are going to be back where we started in the first place. We need an economy that creates good, stable middle-class jobs. We need infrastructure investment so we don't have bridges falling down in the middle of America. We need energy investment. That will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create good jobs in the green-collar energy sector.
In the Senate, we have our stimulus package, and it is a good one. The people we serve are asking for a new direction and priority. That means being fiscally responsible, being willing to roll back some of the tax cuts for the wealthiest, closing down loopholes, negotiating for lower prescription drug prices, and taking the oil giveaways and putting them into renewables. Those are new priorities for this country.
Last year, we made a downpayment on change in this country. We moved toward a more responsible budget process. We gave working Americans an increase in the minimum wage. Today, we can continue that progress and continue that change with a system that is fair for all Americans. That means getting the stimulus package done, including these necessary changes with seniors and disabled veterans and the LIHEAP funding, and then looking at the long term and making sure in this package--or in another one--we get the tax cuts in place for clean energy and do something about fiscal responsibility. And we are willing to talk about change and really do it.
This is our moment. The American people have spoken. At least they spoke to me in Crookston and Worthington and Starbuck. I think if the people who live in those towns were standing here, they would tell the Senate what we need to do. So let's get it done.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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