Mr. MENENDEZ. I ask unanimous consent to speak as in morning business for 15 minutes.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Senator is recognized for 15 minutes.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Mr. President, I rise to express my strong concerns about the direction Republicans and the tea party want to take our country, beginning with an irresponsible Government shutdown simply for the sake of pursuing a social agenda and continuing their reckless budget plan that will devastate seniors and those most vulnerable over the next decade while rewarding millionaires with even more tax breaks. I look at this Republican budget put out by Chairman Ryan and it is a proposal that takes $1.5 trillion out of health care for seniors and children and gives it to the wealthiest, but it does not even limit subsidies for special corporate interests or big oil. In so doing, it fundamentally resets our values and turns back the clock on the progress we have made to protect our parents and grandparents, seniors and children in this country and keeps the playing field reasonably level.
But even before that discussion, I wish to make a few things clear about the implications of shutting down the Government and what we on this side have already cut from the President's budget to reach an agreement. We started this year with $41 billion less in spending than the President requested. Plus, in March we cut another $10 billion below last year's funding levels, including the complete elimination of 33 Federal programs. In total, we have offered $33 billion in cuts for the remainder of the current funding year, which ends in September.
But the most radical elements of the Republican Party will not take yes for an answer. They say we have not come far enough, which in tea party terms means we have not given them everything they want. So they will shut down the Government rather than take yes for an answer.
I saw a picture on the front page of one of the papers with a tea party banner that said: ``Shut her down. Shut her down.''
I thought we were here to make sure we kept the Government going. It is clear their real reason for shutting down the Government is to promote a social agenda that is not acceptable to the broader part of the country. They are willing to shut down the Federal Government, put our economy, our small businesses, our veterans at risk and potentially delay tax refunds for millions of American families, all simply to make a political point and to try to impose the social agenda of a minority on the majority.
Shutting down the Federal Government over a woman's right to choose or the Federal Government's ability to enforce laws that protect our children's health, in my view, takes irresponsibility to a whole new level. Even the Speaker of the House himself has said a shutdown will ``end up costing more than we save.'' The Speaker is right. It would cost about $8 billion every week or .2 percent of GDP every week the Government is shut down.
The Speaker is right on the substance, but he has not yet been willing to lead and deal with the tempest in the tea party on his right, threatening to cut this economic recovery short to satisfy a narrow, rightwing political agenda.
At a time when small businesses are just beginning to get access to capital they need to create jobs for American families, a shutdown will result in $400 million in capital each week not going to small businesses through the SBA loan program and will throw the engine of small business job growth into neutral when we want it to be in overdrive.
In the last shutdown, more than $1 billion in small business loans to 5,200 businesses were delayed, so we know what small businesses are in for if we have another shutdown. This is not the time in our recovery efforts to say no to helping small businesses put people to work.
In housing, the FHA loan process, which accounts for 30 percent of the housing market, will be interrupted just as we enter the height of the spring home-buying season in my State of New Jersey. With prices low and so many houses on the market, this is not the time to prevent 15,000 homeowners from getting a home loan every week, more than half of which are for new home purchases that would reduce the inventory of the surplus properties.
Now, because Social Security is a mandatory funding program, seniors and the disabled will continue to receive their checks. But if we let the tempest in the tea party shut down the government, interruptions at the Social Security Administration could delay changes in people's benefits and payments. In just 4 days of the last shutdown, 112,000 new claims for Social Security retirement and disability benefits were not taken and over 800,000 callers were unable to reach the Social Security Administration. Certainly in this economy, this is not a time to leave those who rely on Social Security with nothing.
With the tax season upon us, it is certainly not the right time to delay tax refunds families are anxiously awaiting in order to make ends meet, put into the economy, and help the recovery keep going.
It is not the time to shut down 368 National Park Service sites, the Smithsonian, the Statue of Liberty, the monuments, museums, and national parks across the country which, in the last shutdown, lost 9 million visitors and the tourism revenues to those communities. Given that our last shutdown occurred in the dead of winter, we can expect a shutdown in the midst of spring breaks and high tourist season to have a much larger impact on tourism revenues and the wallets of families who have already booked trips to national parks and planned visits to national monuments and museums. To put it in context, if we shut down the government for 5 weeks, we could lose up to $1.2 billion based on the $12 billion visitors brought to the national park communities last year.
If the tea party continues to insist on a government shutdown, military paychecks would be delayed at a time when military families are struggling with multiple deployments and struggling like everyone else to make ends meet. They will ultimately get paid but only when the shutdown is finished. In the last shutdown, more than 400,000 veterans saw their disability checks delayed. Now, let's not repeat that mistake when more of our wounded sons and daughters are returning home from two wars raging abroad every day.
If the tea party continues to insist on a government shutdown, clinical trials of lifesaving drugs will be halted and new patients will not be accepted into clinical research programs at the National Institutes of Health.
If the tea party continues to insist on a government shutdown, they will put our entire economy at risk. As a matter of fact, business leaders have said that a shutdown could result in higher interest rates and chaos in the markets. Every week, 350 import licenses could be delayed, resulting in holding up billions of dollars in American exports at a time when we need those exports to help fuel the recovery. During the 1995 shutdown, $2.2 billion in U.S. exports could not leave the country because thousands of export licenses could not be issued.
Ivan Seidenberg, the CEO of Verizon, who is also the chairman of the Business Roundtable, said:
I don't think any of the CEOs would welcome a government shutdown. Problems for business would run from contracts being postponed to disruptions in the supply chain.
John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, said:
Business would face the danger of the law of unintended consequences. Interest rates could rise and there could be turmoil in financial markets.
This would all happen because Republicans, being held hostage by tea partiers, have rejected $33 billion in spending cuts for this year because they did not get all they wanted, because they are not getting their way on unrelated, extraneous social issues such as women's reproductive rights and enforcing laws on our books to protect our children's health. They simply will not take yes for an answer because yes on spending cuts is not really their only goal. Spending cuts is not why they are trying to shut the government down.
I would remind our colleagues that democratic governments are not about total victory. Authoritarian governments do that, not democracies. In democracies, we are all fairly elected to represent our constituents. We all have a view. We all have a vote. We all have an obligation to govern and legislate for every American, not just for those who hold the views of the tea party. With all due respect, tea partiers claim to love our right to free speech and yet clearly do not believe anyone's views other than their own are acceptable.
I say to our colleagues, we all have deeply held beliefs. Defending them and shouting them from the rooftops is easy, but listening to those who disagree with us and working on the differences is the hard work of government.
I remind my colleagues on the other side that the word ``congress'' is derived from a Latin verb meaning ``to walk together.'' We have already made cuts to the President's budget. We have already made real cuts in this year's spending. We have offered a reasonable compromise that seeks even more cuts but, more importantly, a compromise that seeks common ground, not capitulation, and neither should our colleagues expect capitulation. All we ask is that those on the other side do what is right and act in the broader interests of the Nation, not shut down the government, disrupt services, and put the economic recovery at risk, all to satisfy a narrow political agenda.
I know there was a lot of fanfare on the Republican budget proposal that was put out as we look to the next fiscal year. In my view, it is by far one of the most partisan, ideological, and fundamentally destructive budgets I have seen in my time in Congress--destructive of fundamental protections for every American and for what we have come to accept as fundamental protections that are uniquely American.
It fundamentally takes $1.5 trillion out of health care for seniors and children, and it gives it to the wealthy. It would take health care from seniors and children rather than take subsidies from special corporate interests such as big oil companies. If Republicans got their way, New Jersey residents would lose $34 billion in health benefits, and almost 400,000 New Jerseyans would see their coverage cut entirely.
The Republican proposal talks about cutting taxes, but in reading it, I find only two groups whose taxes would be cut: the rich and those who are even richer. Corporations and millionaires and those soon-to-be millionaires will keep all of their recent tax giveaways and would actually see their tax rates slashed by 30 percent. This proposal loses $700 billion on the revenue side over the next 10 years by extending the Bush tax cuts, particularly to the wealthiest in the country, and trillions more by slashing tax rates for corporations and millionaires. Those making more than $1 million a year will see tax cuts of $125,000 each from the tax cuts and tens of thousands of dollars more from proposed rate cuts, while people in my State would lose $34 billion in health benefits, and 400,000 New Jerseyans end up without health coverage at all.
This budget proposal shifts the balance to the wealthy and makes cuts that do not reflect our values as a people and as a nation. At the top of the list of Draconian Republican cuts is Medicare. Let's for a moment look at the logic of the Republican budget proposal when it comes to Medicare, a program that since 1965 has protected seniors and made sure no older American would be without health care when they need it the most.
In 1965, we passed Medicare. Why? Because senior citizens could not get health insurance. And the reason health insurance companies would not take the risk of insuring older Americans, who, logically, would need to see doctors and receive treatment more often than younger Americans, is rather clear. Even if there were such a plan, the cost would be prohibitive for a senior on a fixed income. So we created Medicare, and today it is one of our most successful programs. No senior is left without access to lifesaving, life-enhancing drugs or the care they need.
What are the Republicans proposing in this budget? They are proposing to end Medicare as we know it. In fact, they want to privatize Medicare, and they say their privatization plan is just a way of asking wealthier seniors to pay more. But let's ask ourselves, logically, how much do we think an insurance company will charge in premiums to a 65-year-old American male who may have had a heart attack or heart ailment or suffers from diabetes. How outrageous do we suppose the premium will be, and how much of a voucher will that 65-year-old American need to purchase even a minimal health care plan? That logic escapes me. Today, buying a private plan on the open market for a self-employed, middle-age couple can cost as much as $18,000 a year. The average retiree in America is living on about $19,000 a year. So, again, the logic escapes me. The fact is, this proposed privatization plan for Medicare completely overlooks the history of why we needed Medicare in the first place. It illogically assumes insurance companies will provide quality health care coverage at a huge discount to older Americans. If that is not wishful thinking, I don't know what is.
Let me close by simply saying that it is time to make sure this government stays open, it is time to make sure we don't thrust the economy backward, and it is time to ultimately ensure that those who have given service to this country, such as the men and women in uniform, don't get hurt, and that we do by coming together on a reasonable budget.