CONCURRENT RESOLUTION ON THE BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2005 -- (House of Representatives - March 24, 2004)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the order of the House of Tuesday, March 23, 2004, and rule XVIII, the Chair declares the House in the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union for the consideration of the concurrent resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 393.
The Chair designates the gentleman from Idaho (Mr. Simpson) as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, and requests the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Miller) to assume the chair temporarily.
IN THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Accordingly, the House resolved itself into the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union for the consideration of the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 393) establishing the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2005 and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2004 and 2006 through 2009, with Mr. Miller of Florida (Chairman pro tempore) in the chair.
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Mr. WICKER. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman from Iowa (Chairman Nussle) for yielding me the time.
As the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. Nussle) noted in his statement, America's continued greatness comes from the unlimited opportunities that our freedom provides us. America is still the land of opportunity, and we must continue to remain the land of opportunity.
We have placed opportunity as the third tenet of this budget because without the first two, strength, ensuring that America is free and remains free; and without growth to remain the world's most prosperous nation with an ever-expanding economy and job market, America's opportunities would quickly diminish.
The opportunity for all citizens of this country to work their way up, to have a better life, to take advantage of all the chances and choices this Nation provides is why we are here. It is why our ancestors came here. It is also why so many from around the world continue to flock to this Nation, often risking their own lives to get here.
This budget continues our commitment to strengthen the very foundations that have provided us with this wealth of opportunity. We have also enhanced and strengthened our commitment to a host of domestic programs, including those that educate us, help our people when they are sick, help those who are unable to care for themselves or their children, and provide for those who fought for us.
First, let's take a look at Medicare. This budget fully funds for the next 5 years, by congressionally certified numbers, historic Medicare reform. Last year, this Congress and President Bush accomplished a feat that policy-makers have been struggling with for years. We have enacted legislation to strengthen Medicare and include a prescription drug benefit. It was a truly historic first step in strengthening a program which has lagged behind private health insurance since its enactment in 1965.
As a result of this action, just a few months from now, all beneficiaries will have access to a Medicare discount card that will result in 10 to 15 percent savings for the average beneficiary and up to 25 percent savings on some prescription drug costs. Low-income seniors will receive a $600 subsidy in conjunction with their prescription drug discount card.
As part of the improvements in benefits and in the way the Medicare program does business, this Congress and President Bush have also acted to expand opportunities for people to save for their own health care through health savings accounts. These accounts will allow for two very important changes: first, they will restore to consumers the ability to plan for and make their own choices about their own medical coverage; and, second, they will help to address the long-term demographic and financial problems facing the Medicare program.
With regard to Medicaid, this budget continues our commitment to preserve and strengthen both Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP, which assists individuals and families who cannot afford health care coverage.
Since 1995, Medicaid spending has grown 95.2 percent, including an 8.2 percent growth last year. Last year, we added additional funds to allow for Medicaid S-CHIP reform, to extend the availability of expiring fiscal year 2000 S-CHIP funds, and to give States the option of extending Medicaid coverage to children with special needs.
Over the next 5 years, CBO estimates that Federal outlays for Medicaid will exceed $1 trillion. With this budget, we have continued our commitment to provide for this critical program, which provides to those most in need of necessary medical care.
On the subject of welfare reform, we have further continued our commitment to assisting lower-income Americans, by funding such programs as the TANF block grants, (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), also child care funding, food stamps and child nutrition programs as well as Head Start.
The successful TANF program is reauthorized at the President's level, $16.9 billion annually for the next 5 years. Since the program was enacted in 1996, welfare rolls have declined by 56 percent, and the vast majority of those who have left welfare since 1996 have done so for work. In fact, since that time more than 3 million single mothers who have gotten off welfare have been lifted out of poverty, mostly because of increased earnings. This is the kind of opportunity that we are providing. Since 1996, funding for child care assistance and assistance to mothers leaving welfare for child care expenses has been increased by nearly 50 percent.
This budget also continues to fund HUD's three major rental assistance programs and accommodates the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP, providing $1.9 billion to assist low-income families in meeting heating and cooling expenses.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to direct the attention of Members to this chart with regard to education. It indicates that since Republicans took control of Congress in fiscal year 1996, the budget for the Department of Education has more than doubled. In fact, education has received an annual average increase of 12 percent sustained over 8 years. No other cabinet-level agency has grown as fast as education over this period.
Mr. Chairman, to take a look at the three large programs that now absorb about two-thirds of the agency's funds: title I funds to low-income schools have nearly doubled, Pell grant funding has more than doubled since 1996, and special education funding has more than quadrupled since 1996. In addition to increased funding, Congress also passed education reform, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This act demands results from schools in exchange for Federal dollars and works to forge a real link between education spending and classroom achievement, while focusing resources more sharply on underperforming schools.
Many on both sides of the aisle believe that accountability standards in this No Child Left Behind law represent the greatest accomplishment in a generation in terms of K-12 education, and an even more important stride than the funding increases that I have talked about. This budget also continues our commitment to provide for and strengthen those principles.
Concerning veterans, this budget increases veteran funding by $1.2 billion over the President's budget-funds that can be used for veterans medical care and medical and prosthetic research. I am pleased to say that over the past several years, we have shown a level of gratitude befitting the service of our Nation's 25 million veterans through hefty increases in funding and substantial increases in benefits and services. Since Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, great strides have been made in improving benefits for our Nation's veterans.
Now, Mr. Chairman, sometimes we come down to the floor and we get a little carried away with our rhetoric. I have heard some of my good friends from the other side of the aisle talk today about the accomplishments that we have made with regard to veteran funding and calling them shameful, saying that they constitute glaring deficiencies and that they endanger services to veterans. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let's look at some of the most important improvements to our veterans programs. These are the facts: the Republican Congress expanded eligibility for veterans medical care in 1996 and in 1999. As a result, as Members can see by this chart, the number of veterans using VA medical care has increased from 2.5 million in 1995 to 4.7 million veterans today, a tremendous accomplishment for which this entire Congress can take pride.
My next chart, this chart indicates that since 1995, total spending on veterans has increased from $38 billion to $60 billion. That is a 58 percent increase compared with a 36 percent increase during the previous 10 years of Democrat control of this Congress. Is this a shameful record, I ask my colleagues? And payments per veteran have risen by 79 percent.
With regard to my final chart, this indicates that since 1995, monthly education payments under the Montgomery GI bill, named after former congressman G.B. "Sonny" Montgomery, these benefits have increased from $405 to $985, an increase of 143 percent. Is this a shameful accomplishment? Under the 40 years of Democrat control of Congress prior to the Republicans taking over, there was no progress whatsoever on the concurrent receipt issue. But as a result of action taken by this Congress last year, military retirees injured in combat, while training for combat, or who are more than 50 percent service disabled are able for the first time in over a century to receive retirement benefits concurrently with veterans disability compensation.
I submit this is a proud accomplishment and far from the accusations we have received from some of our friends on the other side. With this budget, we have continued our commitment to ensuring that those who have served our Nation with pride, valor, and dignity receive the best of America's appreciation.