Pryor Applauds Budget that Sets Responsible Path Forward
Senator's Priorities Include Veterans' Health Care, Flood Control and Drug Prevention
Senator Mark Pryor today said the Senate passed a budget that reflects our nation's fiscal shape while also making economically-sound investments in health care, energy and education. He strengthened the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Resolution through amendments intended to enhance flood control efforts, reduce the shortfall of health care personnel at veterans' facilities and reduce drug trafficking.
"We can't overcome our fiscal problems overnight, but this budget sets a responsible path forward," Pryor said. "It cuts our deficit in half over the next five years and addresses underlying problems plaguing our economy by investing in health care, energy and education solutions."
Pryor said he was pleased the number one priority of the budget is to put the economy back on track, but he also wants to make sure other serious problems are addressed this year. Pryor introduced and the Senate passed several of his amendments, which serve as placeholders as funding or offsets become available. They include:
Veterans' Health Care: There is currently a major shortfall of medical professionals at veterans' health facilities nationwide, including 1,700 nursing vacancies and 900 doctor vacancies. By 2013, the Veterans Administration (VA) is expected to lose 7,600 nurses. The Pryor amendment is intended to help meet growing demand by enabling the VA to be more competitive in attracting personnel and providing incentives particularly to health care professionals serving veteran populations in rural communities.
"We must have a plan to meet the needs and complex medical conditions of our veterans. It starts with having nurses and doctors in place to treat them," Pryor said. "My measure will allow the VA to be competitive in hiring medical personnel, which in turn will improve the quality of care and response time our veterans receive."
Flood Control: In the last 3 years, there have been record levels of flooding in the mid-west, south and most recently, the Great Plains. As a result, flood control infrastructure has been damaged, stressed and destroyed. The Pryor amendment elevates levee maintenance, repair and improvement as an "infrastructure" investment in the budget, ensuring local communities have the necessary resources to meet their levee system needs. According to a 2005 report by the Multi-hazard Mitigation Council, every $1 spent on mitigation equals $4 in future benefits.
"Arkansas experienced the worst flooding in 25 years last spring," said Pryor. "As a result, much of our flood control infrastructure has been significantly damaged. While some repairs may cost as little as $150,000, this is a huge price tag for a small, rural community to pay. In order to prevent further damage, my amendment ensures communities have the necessary resources to repair and maintain their surrounding levees."
Drug Trafficking: The Department of Justice identifies 230 cities in the U.S. with a Mexican drug trafficking organization presence, including Little Rock, AR; Fort Smith, AR; and Fayetteville, AR. To address this growing problem, the Pryor amendment would increase the funding and counties that can participate in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. This program enables law enforcement to assess drug trafficking problems and design specific initiatives to reduce production, manufacture, transportation, distribution and chronic use of drugs. Four counties in Arkansas -- Washington, Benton, Pulaski and Jefferson -- have the HIDTA designation.
"The drugs and violence in Mexico has a direct impact in the streets of Arkansas. It's critical to beef up border programs, but we must also strengthen local law enforcement efforts in order to intercept drug trafficking," Pryor said. "The HIDTA program has been an effective resource, and it should be expanded so we can more forcefully combat drug production, transportation and use."