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Congressional Budget for the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2009 -- Continued

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--Continued -- (Senate - March 13, 2008)

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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, this amendment reinstates the President's international affairs budget to the number he called for, No. 1. No. 2, it has 34 cosponsors, evenly divided, Republicans and Democrats. Everyone from Senator Lugar to Senator Vitter and everyone in between has cosponsored this amendment.

No. 3, the point I would like to make is, Defense Secretary Gates, as well as 50 flag officers, represented by General Zinni and Admiral Smith, as well as our commanders in the field, all recognize we are spending $19 to $1--19 military dollars to every one civilian dollar we spend--to deal with international affairs.

I will conclude by saying, when I was in Afghanistan last week, the commanding general made the comment the Taliban begins where the road ends.

I say to my colleagues this is critically important to our physical security to fund the international function because it is redevelopment money to go to Afghanistan.

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Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in favor of the higher education tax provisions included in the fiscal year 2009 budget resolution.

I would like to begin by commending Chairman Conrad and the rest of the Budget Committee for their foresight in providing for $13 billion in tax relief to help make college more accessible and affordable. Prioritizing education in this year's budget, in my opinion, is a step in the right direction. If we do not change the status quo, over the next decade, an estimated 2 million students will not attend college because their families cannot afford it. We must not stand idly by while the goal of providing a better future for our children becomes unattainable. Qualified students should not be denied access to a college education because they cannot afford it.

Since my first Senate campaign in 1972, I have supported tax incentives to help families send their children to college. While we have come a long way since then, we must do more, such as enacting the bill I introduced last year--the College Affordability and Creating Chances for Educational Success for Students Act, S.1399--or ``College ACCESS Act.'' I would encourage my colleagues to consider one specific provision in the College ACCESS Act: the creation of a single $3,000 refundable tax credit, or the ACCESS credit.

The ACCESS credit would consolidate two existing tax incentives--the Hope credit and the tuition deduction--and replace them with a single $3,000 refundable tax credit. Families would no longer face the complex and varying eligibility criteria or the difficult task of determining which tax incentive has the greatest value. The ACCESS credit improves the existing tax incentives in several ways.

First, the ACCESS credit would allow families to claim the credit for each child in their household. While the Hope credit can be claimed for multiple students in a household, the tuition deduction can only be claimed once per tax return. The ACCESS credit removes this discrepancy.

Second, the ACCESS credit would be available for all 4 years of college and 2 years of graduate school. Presently, the Hope credit is available only for the first 2 years of a student's postsecondary education while the tuition deduction can be claimed for multiple years. The ACCESS credit remedies this discrepancy.

Another improvement is that the maximum value of the ACCESS credit is $3,000 per student, which covers the average cost of tuition at a public 2-year college and half the average cost of tuition at a public 4-year college. In comparison, the Hope credit's maximum value is only $1,650 per student and the tuition deduction's maximum value is only $1,120 per household.

One of the most important features of the ACCESS credit is that it would be refundable. The existing tax incentives for higher education are of limited or no benefit to low-income families who have no income tax liability. These families cannot claim either the Hope credit or the tuition deduction. The ACCESS credit's refundability provides relief for those that need it the most.

The ACCESS credit also broadens the income eligibility limits to help more middle-class families. Couples earning up to $130,000 could claim the full credit, while a reduced credit would be available for those earning up to $166,000.

A report issued by the Government Accountability Office found that 27 percent of eligible tax filers claimed neither the tuition deduction nor an education tax credit because of their complexity. Tax incentives cannot benefit students and their families if they do not know about them or understand their eligibility criteria or their value. The ACCESS credit would eliminate existing discrepancies and reduce the complexity of the existing incentives for students and their families, helping approximately 4 million more hard-working American families pay for college.

While a college education has never been more important, a college degree is fast becoming a luxury good for too many families. This budget provides us with an opportunity to reverse that trend. If we expect to maintain our status as a leader in the global economy, we must do more for our students. The ACCESS credit I have introduced would do just that, ensuring that the doors that lead to opportunity in our country remain open to all our children.

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