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Concurrent Resolution On The Budget For Fiscal Year 2010 - Conference Report

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I thank the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Conrad of North Dakota, not only for yielding but also for his leadership in the preparation of this important document.

The budget resolution is a blueprint. We pass it and then we go to work with the individual parts of it in the appropriations bills. But we have to get this done first because the budget resolution tells us how much we can spend in total. Once we have that guidance, it is turned over to the Appropriations Committee on which I serve. We then parcel it out among the different appropriations subcommittees and go to work looking at the individual budgets. I have one of those subcommittees for which I am responsible. We cannot start working until this budget resolution is agreed to.

It is not an easy political task. First, it is a highly technical document which few Members understand in detail, the chairman and ranking member being notable exceptions. Second, it is highly political because when you start describing what your budget is going to look like, not only next year but several years down the road, you are doing more than putting figures on paper, you are spelling out your values, what do you want to do.

The budget submitted to us by President Obama is significantly different than the budgets we have seen in years gone by. His priorities differ from previous administrations, particularly of President George Bush. We have to realize that in the last 8 years, there has been a significant change in Government spending. In the entire history of the United States of America, through all the Presidents, including President Clinton, we had accumulated about $5 trillion in debt. That is all the debt of America. That was our mortgage when President George W. Bush took office. When he left office--let me go back.

When he assumed office, he assumed a surplus. In other words, the last budget left to him generated more money than we were spending. What did we do with the surplus? We reduced the debt of the Social Security trust fund, which meant that Social Security could last a few years longer.

President Bush inherited a surplus in the budget and a $5 trillion mortgage that all the Presidents had accumulated.

When he left office, what did he leave behind? Eight years after he was elected President, he left a national mortgage of over $10 trillion. It had doubled in an 8-year period of time, and he left to the new President, President Obama, the largest deficit in the history of the United States. I believe it was in the range of $1.3 trillion--a huge amount of money that we were in red ink facing.

President Obama faced a tough task dealing with an economy that was flat on its back in a recession and how to revive it, how to make sure we create and save jobs, how to get businesses back on their feet, how to give some tax incentives and help particularly to working families, how to fund the things in Government which are essential because, as we know, when we get into a recession, people need more things.

I went to a plant in Chicago with Vice President Biden on Monday, a plant which last December laid off 240 employees and now was reopening. We, of course, couldn't be happier that was occurring. I asked one of the workers coming back: How did you get by for the last 4 or 5 months?

Senator, unemployment, that is how I got by.

Unemployment compensation is one of the things Government pays out in the midst of recession. With more and more Americans out of work, we have been paying out more for unemployment insurance, for food stamps, the basic things people need to survive until the economy turns around and their lives turn around.

Faced with that, this Budget Committee had to sit down and try to write a budget that moved us toward reducing the deficit in America and also revitalizing the economy. That is a tough job. If your goal is just to reduce spending, that is pretty obvious. We know how to do that. But if your goal is to still spend enough to get the economy moving and yet create a trend that moves us at least closer to a balanced budget, then you have a tough assignment.

Now add in two other elements that make this even more complicated. President Obama said if we are going to spend money in this economy, we need to invest it in what has meaning, long-term investments in America. There is this caricature of WPA, under Franklin Roosevelt, of people leaning on shovels, folks sitting at desks where phones never ring. I am not sure that is any more than caricature.

Today President Obama said: Let's create jobs that we will use to invest in our future. Let's build things that will have value to us in the outyears. He looked at two or three areas in specific terms. One is health care, and the President is right. If you look at the curve line on the increase in costs of health care in America, it continues to rise. It will continue to rise unabated to the point where there is no hope for us to balance this budget. We will start spending more and more on health care for the elderly, for the poor, for those who are disabled to the point where we cannot even consider any kind of balanced budget. The President said: As part of this next budget, let us move toward the day when we have a new health care system in America, one that serves everyone and is reasonably priced. That is a tough assignment, no doubt about it. But in this budget, we address that issue.

Senator Conrad has talked about reconciliation. That is a term which beyond divorce court most people do not know what you are talking about. For most Americans, it is a term of mystery. For us, it is a procedure on the Senate floor that changes the vote necessary to pass a bill. This is, after all, the Senate, and a majority does not get the job done on a given day. In the Senate, you need 60 votes out of 100 to do anything that is controversial or important. Reconciliation says: On any given issue under reconciliation, a majority is sufficient. But there are strict rules on what you can put in there, strict rules on what you can consider.

Senator Conrad had to deal with this whole question: What procedure would we use to move toward health care. I think he came up with a reasonable conclusion, and it is one I support. If by October 15 we have not made progress toward health care reform, we can consider it under the reconciliation rules.

My friends on the other side of the aisle, the Republican side of the aisle, have protested this saying it is fundamentally unfair, unconstitutional, and ungodly. But the fact is, it has been used repeatedly, 18 or 19 times in the last few years, and it has been used as frequently, if not more so, on the Republican side of the aisle as the Democratic side. I don't think there is anything inherently evil in it unless you are in the minority and it diminishes your power in the Senate.

Senator Conrad struck the right balance. He gives us a chance to deal with it in a bipartisan fashion but says, if at the end of the day, October 15, we are not going to have anything to show for our efforts, we can at least consider reconciliation. I think that is a reasonable approach.

This budget resolution also offers a promising vision when it comes to education. The budget will dramatically expand access to quality early childhood education, including Head Start. The budget invests in teachers and innovative programs. This budget will help us build the education system we need to compete in the global economy.

It is almost a cliche in politics for us to talk about education. Every politician, every candidate does. But the American people know intuitively this was their ladder to success. Unless you were born on some crystal staircase, you were lucky enough to get a good education and make your way in life. We want to make sure more kids are reached earlier in their school years, their learning years, and given that chance. This budget does it.

It also takes into account the fact that tuition costs are increasing dramatically. I left a hearing in the other building of a person who is seeking a Federal circuit court judgeship. That is a pretty high-level appointment. I
noted this man, who is roughly 51 years old and has been a lawyer and a judge, at the age of 51 still has over $40,000 in student loans to pay off--51 years old, $40,000 left.

It is no surprise, if you are putting a child through college and they are fortunate enough to be accepted at a great school, they could end up with a great debt. We want to make sure, particularly for those in lower income groups, that there is more Federal money available to help them.

Since 2000, the average cost of tuition at a 4-year college has increased by 29 percent, and financial aid has not kept up.

This bill moves us toward more financial aid for students.

Energy is another element the President focused on because if we don't find ourselves more independent when it comes to energy sources, we are not only going to be at the mercy of other countries with these energy resources, our economy cannot thrive the way we want it to. If we are not sensitive to the fact that responsible use of energy would make certain we don't increase global warming and climate change and jeopardize future generations, we will pay an even heavier price.

This budget lays the groundwork for cutting back on energy sources that generate greenhouses gases. The budget proposes we spend less money burning conventional fuels and more money on cleaner energy sources, and it helps us create good-paying jobs in energy pursuit. Some of the most exciting areas of our economy--I think the areas that will grow us out of this recession--relate to new visions on energy.

I tell the story about the Sears Tower--now called the Willis Tower--in Chicago. This magnificent building, built 35 years ago, has 16,000 single-pane windows--totally energy disastrous. They are going to be replaced, hopefully with energy-efficient windows. And I hope they will be made in Chicago. We have a new plant there that can do it.

The point is, at the end of the day, in 3 years, Willis Tower--once Sears Tower--can recapture the cost of those windows in energy cost savings. In the meantime, we can produce this new window, creating jobs for people to make 16,000 windows. It fits together nicely and it reduces the carbon footprint of this building. Buildings are one of the major sources of pollution in America.

Finally, let me say that this conference report provides tax relief for American families when they need it the most, and I hope we can continue on that.

It is sad and disappointing to me that the budget offered in the House of Representatives, the one we will vote on later, didn't receive a single Republican vote, not one, not a single vote. The stimulus bill the President brought forward to try to turn the recession around--the Recovery and Reinvestment Act--didn't receive a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives. Fortunately, three Republican Senators stepped up and said they would join us in passing it over here; otherwise, it wouldn't have happened.

Well, in comes the President's budget--an effort to reduce the deficit by half over 4 or 5 years, an effort to make the right investments--and not a single Republican in the House of Representatives would support it. They have become the party of ``no'' when it comes to this Obama administration. He continues to open the door and invite them in, and too many of them say: No, we are not interested.

Well, the American people are interested. The American people voted for change. They voted for new direction and new leadership. And I commend the Senator from North Dakota for bringing this to the floor, and I hope we pass it with a convincing vote.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. DURBIN Mr. President, today the Senate will vote on final passage of the budget resolution conference report for fiscal year 2010.

We will be voting on fundamental decisions about the shape of our economy and the prosperity of our country.

We need to face the facts--we have inherited the worst economic crisis in generations.

We took an important first step in returning our Nation to prosperity earlier this year by passing the economic recovery package.

The Obama administration continues to work hard to repair our financial system so that businesses can make payroll and families can borrow for college.

But there is much more to do to put our economy back on track, and the budget resolution conference report we are considering follows the principles President Obama laid out in his budget proposal.

This budget resolution sets a path to regain the balance our country once enjoyed--careful investments in our future, while creating opportunity for working families who have lost ground over the last decade.

It provides the flexibility the authorizing committees need to tackle our toughest challenges.

And it begins to repair years of neglect by making critical investments to recover economically--particularly in health care, education, and energy.

We need to reform our health care system fundamentally, and we need to do it this year. This budget gives the Congress the flexibility we need to get this job done.

The budget resolution includes a deficit-neutral reserve fund that will allow the Finance and HELP Committees to take on the challenge of fundamental health care reform this year.

We hope to work on a bipartisan basis to reform the system in a way that benefits all Americans--patients, providers, insurers, and the taxpayers.

But if the Republicans decide to try to obstruct these reforms, the reconciliation instructions included in this budget give us the tools we need to pass meaningful reform.

Those instructions don't take effect until October 15, and so we have several months to work together before reconciliation is even an option.

I very much hope that we don't need to use this approach. But reform can no longer wait.

The budget resolution conference report also offers a promising vision for education. First, the budget will dramatically expand access to quality early childhood education programs, including Head Start. And the budget invests in teachers and innovative programs so that all children can succeed in the classroom.

This budget will help us build the education system we need to compete in the global economy, not just today, but in the next generation.

This budget would also help families afford the high cost of tuition by raising the maximum Pell grant award and streamlining student loan programs.

The cost of college is higher than ever before. Since 2000, the average cost of tuition at public 4-year college has increased 29 percent, far outpacing inflation and increases in household income.

Financial aid hasn't kept up these costs. Thirty years ago, a Pell grant could cover 77 percent of public college costs. Now it covers just 35 percent.

The budget would increase Pell grants to $5,550, which will help the 7 million students who rely on these grants pay for college.

We can't transform our education system overnight. But we can start to provide the investments and the programs that will help to get us there soon. This budget would do just that.

This budget also starts the process of reducing our dependence on foreign energy by funding the President's request for energy funding in 2010.

This budget also lays the groundwork for cutting back on energy sources that generate greenhouse gases.

The budget proposes we spend less money burning conventional fuels and more money developing cleaner energy sources.

This budget helps us create good jobs, dramatically improve energy efficiencies, and protect the environment before climate change inflicts permanent damage.

Finally, the conference report provides for tax relief to American families at a time when that relief is much needed.

The budget provides $764 billion in tax cuts, mostly to the middle class.

The conference report provides $512 billion to extend middle-class tax cuts such as the child tax credit, marriage penalty relief, and education incentives.

It includes $214 billion for 3 years of alternative minimum tax reform.

The budget matches the President's estate tax proposal, which would permanently extend the 2009 exemption of $7 million for couples and index that for inflation.

And the resolution provides $63 billion for 2 years of ``tax extenders'' for businesses and individuals.

Preparing a budget is about making choices.

It is a moral document, one that describes what you believe in.

The conference report prepared by the Budget Committee would make critical investments in our Nation's highest priorities, at a time when America needs them most.

This budget would provide a little bit of help to hard-working families that desperately need it.

This budget would bring true, long-lasting change to America that is smart, fair, and responsible.

I urge my colleagues to support it.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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