PRESIDENT'S FY2009 BUDGET REQUEST -- (Extensions of Remarks - February 06, 2008)
HON. JAMES R. LANGEVIN
OF RHODE ISLAND
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2008
* Mr. LANGEVIN. Madam Speaker, I rise today to express my deep concern about the budget request that President Bush transmitted to Congress earlier this week. By cutting programs important to working families and ignoring the significant economic downturn our Nation is facing, the administration has yet again demonstrated that its priorities are not those of the American people.
* Our Nation is facing the real threat of a recession, and our government should be doing everything in its power to get our economy moving and to protect the American people from financial hardship. While the President has said he wants to work with Congress on an economic stimulus package, his budget request contains a number of devastating cuts to important programs that will make it even harder for our citizens to make ends meet.
* Despite widespread recognition that fixing the U.S. economy will require addressing our weak housing market, the President's proposal only adds to the uncertainty that families are facing. This budget would slash funding for public housing and rental assistance programs, eliminating critical aid for lower income families, the elderly and minorities, many of whom may be facing foreclosure as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis. In Rhode Island, 400 families are at risk of losing their homes under the President's cuts to Section 8 vouchers. At the same time, he proposes to slash the Community Development Block Grant, CDBG, program, which provides vital funding for economic and community development in our State's cities and counties.
* A real economic plan should also include an investment in education and job training programs that will promote new employment and ensure that our workforce can adapt to the jobs of the future. Unfortunately, those programs are not priorities in the President's budget, and even proposed funding for No Child Left Behind, a program that the President touts as one of his biggest accomplishments, does not keep pace with the rate of inflation. If this budget is enacted, Rhode Island would see $1.5 million less for after-school programs and a cut of almost $6 million for career and technical education. Even with lay-offs happening all across our State, President Bush wants to cut adult employment and training services, which would decrease Rhode Island's One-Stop Career System by half a million dollars.
* I am deeply disappointed that the President's budget does not even begin to fully fund special education programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Furthermore, instead of fully funding our children's public schools, President Bush has turned back to the idea of school vouchers, renaming them Pell Grants for Kids. Vouchers will not solve our country's education woes, and naming them after Rhode Island's esteemed Senator Pell, who championed public education, is grossly misleading and dishonors the legacy of a great Senator.
* The President's budget also fails to make higher education affordable for students with economic challenges. Rhode Island, where college tuition has risen 45 percent in 4 years, would see a $7 million decrease in educational grants for college students. This budget also raises the funding level of Pell grants only by slashing funding for math and science courses that prepare students for technical programs after high school. To maintain our economic advantage in the coming years, our Nation must invest more in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Cutting these programs is shortsighted and endangers our international competitiveness.
* At a time when so many families are having difficulty paving their bills, this budget also shreds the safety net programs that help the poorest Americans. I am extremely disappointed that the President seeks to cut $570 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Despite record heating oil prices, the President wants to slash this program by 22 percent, a cut that would harm our elderly. Ironically, the budget will cause the heating costs of the poor to rise by eliminating the Weatherization Assistance Program. A Federal program that helps people actually reduce their energy consumption. These programs are vital to places like Rhode Island where families are struggling with astronomical heating costs.
* The budget also endangers health care programs for our Nation's poor and elderly by placing critical domestic health care programs on the chopping block. The President has proposed nearly $200 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over the next 5 years. Unfortunately, he aims to achieve these cuts by reducing reimbursements to health care providers and charging Medicare beneficiaries higher premiums for prescription drug coverage and doctors' services. This could not come at a worse time for the 316,000 Rhode Island citizens that receive care under these vital programs and are seeing the costs of goods rise and their purchasing power fall. Furthermore, the health care slated to receive additional reimbursement cuts under this proposal continue to struggle to properly treat the Medicare population. While I agree that we need to address the long-term solvency of Medicare, any reforms should be implemented in a manner that is responsive to the needs of beneficiaries and providers alike.
* Also contained within the President's budget is a suggested increase of $20 billion over 5 years for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, SCHIP. This amount falls drastically short of the bipartisan SCHIP bill passed by Congress in 2007 that would have expanded coverage for millions of children. Unfortunately, the President vetoed that legislation and has instead presented us with a proposal that might well be insufficient to cover current SCHIP participants, let alone cover children who are currently eligible but not yet enrolled in the program. As a longtime supporter of SCHIP, I cannot stress how important this program is to our children, expectant mothers, and parents alike. It is my hope that we will be able to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure that this program receives a proper reauthorization.
* Federal health care programs are vital not only to our Nation's children, seniors, and disabled, but also to the brave men and women who served our country. While the President's budget includes an increase for VA funding. I highly doubt it will keep pace with the health care demands of our returning veterans. I am also dismayed by his cut of almost $40 million to medical and prosthetic research, programs that have helped our wounded veterans return to a normal life. Once again, the President has placed the burden of health care cost increases on veterans themselves by proposing to increase co-payments and introduce enrollment fees for VA medical care. Congress has opposed those efforts in the past, and we will continue to do so.
* Finally, as a member of the Homeland Security Committee, I am concerned about the impacts of the President's budget on our Nation's capacity for response, resiliency, and recovery in the wake of a national catastrophe. The budget calls for an unprecedented 79 percent cut to the State Homeland Security Grant Program, which awarded $34.8 million to Rhode Island from 2004 to 2007. The budget would also eliminate the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, SAFER, Grant program and would slash funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, despite clear evidence that more resources are needed to adequately staff and equip fire departments. Local law enforcement would also suffer under the President's budget, which would cut funding to the Community Oriented Policing Services, COPS, program and to Justice Assistance Grants, JAGS, which have reduced crime in communities nationwide. Our State and local law enforcement must have the resources they need to be effective, and I will fight to block these proposed cuts.
* It is obvious that the President's budget does not reflect America's priorities. So, we must ask, what are the President's priorities? While he recommends raising health care costs for veterans, the President wants $70 billion more to continue the war in Iraq, though Defense Secretary Gates stated today that that number could climb to $170 billion. While he wants Congress to permanently extend his tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, his budget does not contain a long-term fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax, which if left unaddressed could mean a significant tax increase on our middle class. While he slashes programs for our most vulnerable citizens, his refusal to follow fiscally responsible budgeting practices would mean more deficits in the coming years, burdening future generations with crushing interest on the national debt. These priorities are wrong for America. I am confident that Congress will develop a more humane and careful roadmap for the coming year, and I look forward to working with the Democratic leadership toward that goal.