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Public Statements

The Budget

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, I rise with deep concern about what the proposed Republican budget does--in real terms--to real families in this country.

I am deeply concerned that my colleagues on the other side--in their ideological haze--seem to have lost sight of the real people whose lives will be affected by the choices we make.

It seems to me that the Republican budget proposal fails to realize that budgets are not just about numbers. Budgets are about people--their hopes, their dreams, their expectations for a better life for themselves and their children. They are about the promise of America--the vision we have of safe, clean, vibrant communities in which to live and raise our families.

Budgets are a reflection of our values, not--as the House Budget Committee chairman would have us believe--a faceless calculation of pluses and minuses just to get to an arbitrary number--regardless of the impact on families, seniors, students, and every community in this country.

We all have a budget, every family has one, maybe not a formal budget, but we all have one. On the revenue side we have what we earn from gainful employment, investments, interest on savings. And on the flip side we have our expenses: our mortgage payment, groceries, utilities--and we have our contributions perhaps to our church or synagogue, donations to a favorite charity, a favorite cause. These are expressions of our personal values, just as the nation's budget is an expression of our collective values.

We may not always think of the budget in those terms, but we should. It is about our values.

Well, we found out last night, in upstate New York, that the Republican vision of ending Medicare as we know it does not reflect American values, and voters are not buying it.

Once again, our Republican colleagues have shown that they are out of touch with the American people and are on the wrong side of history when it comes to what Americans think is fair--what they think is right.

Americans don't think it's right to give subsidies to big oil companies, tax breaks to millionaires, and take Medicare away from seniors.

They are saying that it is time to abandon the tired refrain of privatization and ending Medicare as we know it. It is time to abandon their ideological agenda that leaves seniors to fend for themselves.

It is not who we are as a people, and it is not what Americans want.

This week I met with a group of seniors in Fort Lee, NJ. We discussed what the Republican budget cuts would do to the Medicare system they have depended on for decades.

At the Fort Lee senior center, a typical 65-year-old, under the Republican budget proposal, would pay an additional $7,060 by 2022. Right now, 142,834 seniors in New Jersey are impacted by the donut hole. Under the Republican plan those seniors will pay an additional $80 million for prescription drugs next year, and by 2020 seniors currently in the donut hole will pay an additional $1.6 billion.

Nationwide, nearly 4 million seniors would pay $2.2 billion more for prescription drugs in 2012 alone under the Republican plan. The Republican plan to end Medicare would also force at least 1 million seniors to pay over $110 million more for annual wellness visits in 2012.

And, by turning Medicaid into a block grant program, the Republican plan could cost America more than 2 million private-sector jobs over the next 5 years and threaten our economic recovery. But that is not all. Nationwide, the Republican plan could cut more than $503 billion in Medicaid funding for seniors and the disabled, including life-saving nursing home care.

Leaving us with the uncomfortable and unanswerable question I pose to my Republican friends: What will those people do--where will they go? What happens to them under your budget plan?

These are people, not budget numbers. What happens to them?

The Republican budget, in my view, satisfies a narrow political agenda that has obsessed about diminishing the role of government at all costs, no matter the trade-offs, no matter who it hurts, or what we lose.

I believe we can debate the role of government, but let's have it straight-up. Let's not play this game of tearing away at the fabric of America thread-by-thread to satisfy a political agenda, and falsely claim it to be ``fiscal responsibility.'' It is not fiscal responsibility; it's the single-minded goal of a conservative political agenda.

Fiscal responsibility is finding common ground and making difficult choices together. In a democracy, one view does not make a budget.

We can negotiate responsible cuts. We all agree that we must make cuts and reduce the deficit. So let's agree now to negotiate fair cuts and include revenue expenditures that truly balance the budget, and are truly fiscally responsible.

Cutting the deficit should not be a game of political brinksmanship. It requires serious people coming to the table willing to make difficult choices that balance cuts against revenues--balance necessary services and investments that protect our values and our way of life against wasteful spending--while creating opportunity for every American.

Balancing the budget isn't just about numbers. It is about protecting middle class families who are struggling to make ends meet in this economy--and about reflecting their values, their hopes, their vision of what America is all about.

When considering our values as a nation, the question in this Senator's mind is: Who pays to lower the deficit and who does not under this Republican budget proposal?

The answer is clear. Middle class families pay. Seniors pay. Anyone looking for a Pell grant pays, but nothing is asked of the wealthiest Americans, and Big Oil still gets billions in subsidies.

The fact is the Republican approach to balancing the budget is anything but balanced.

It is skewed to those who have the most and have already benefited the most. A balanced long-term deficit reduction plan would have to include discretionary spending cuts, including defense, as well as entitlement changes. It would have to reduce revenue expenditures by closing tax loopholes.

That is what fairness demands; it is what balance would demand. And it is what makes sense.

In my view, the Republican plan--with $1 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy--makes no sense. It is as unbalanced a proposal as one could imagine. Yet our friends on the other side come to the floor and embrace it as rational, reasonable, and perfectly fair.

They look America in the eye, and say that giving the wealthiest Americans more in tax relief will magically create jobs. Although there clearly is not evidence that it has in the past. They tell us that it will raise all ships. They tell us--once again--that wealth will trickle down.

How many jobs-lost, how many jobs-outsourced, how many companies-moved-overseas do we have to endure before we admit that trickle-down-economics is a quaint but false notion? The one thing lacking in trickle-down is the trickle-down.

The fact is the Republican budget is not a balanced approach. It is, in fact, the epitome of imbalance. It memorializes a far-right political ideology and codifies it into a budget document that is fundamentally flawed.

My colleagues on the other side believe balancing the budget means putting $1 trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy on one side of the ledger, and $1.4 trillion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over the next 10 years on the other. They believe it means a trillion dollars in tax cuts for millionaires who hold 40 percent of America's wealth while eliminating protections for seniors, children, and the disabled--a choice that will leave 34 million Americans with no medical insurance at all.

If we were serious about reducing the deficit in a balanced way, we would start with the obvious, subsidies for Big Oil. The top five oil companies earned nearly $1 trillion over the last decade. Passing my bill to repeal oil subsidies would save taxpayers $21 billion over 10 years.

We can safely assume oil profits will be much greater in the decade to come with higher oil prices, but let's assume the top five oil companies only get another $1 trillion in profits over the next decade.

And let's not forget that these profits are in Federal waters and on Federal lands, so they are making these profits with America's own resources. According to the data, the cost of exploration, development, and production of oil for the big five oil companies is about $11 per barrel.

Oil has been trading at about $100 a barrel. That means Big Oil companies are enjoying a profit of over $90 per barrel of oil they extract.

Why in the world would they ever need subsidies in such conditions?

Handing out money to Big Oil companies and to the wealthiest Americans shows that the other side is not interested in balancing the budget or reducing the deficit, it wants to enact policies that favor the rich. They would rather dismantle Medicare, cut Social Security, cut Medicaid for seniors and the poorest among us in nursing homes who have no other place to go rather than solve our long term deficit problems in a fair and balanced way.

It wasn't long ago that the budget was, in fact, balanced--during another Democratic administration--when we had budget surpluses as far out as the eye could see.

How quickly we forget. The day Bill Clinton left office he handed the incoming president a $236 billion surplus with a projected surplus of $5.6 trillion over the next 10 years.

When President Bush left office he had turned a $236 billion budget surplus into a $1.3 trillion budget deficit with projected shortfalls of $8 trillion over the next decade and handed the new President an economy headed off the cliff.

Now, our Republican colleagues want to go back to the same failed policies. They want to give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, subsidies to Big Oil while they end Medicare as we know it, and gut Pell grants and all they mean to our economic future.

They insist on tax cuts that will cost $700 billion on the revenue side over the next 10 years, and trillions more by slashing tax rates for corporations and millionaires. Those making more than $1 million a year will see a windfall of $125,000 each from the tax cuts, and tens-of-thousands-of-dollars more from the proposed rate cuts. While people in my State lose $34 billion in health benefits and 400,000 New Jerseyans end up without health coverage at all. They want to shift the balance to millionaires and billionaires, while making draconian cuts to make up for the deficits they created--cuts that do not reflect our values as a people and a nation.

The fact is ``balance'' is not about subsidies to Big Oil while ending Medicare as we know it. It's not about $1 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, while slashing Pell grants by18 percent.

Balance means fairness. It means evenness and equality. It denotes a state of equilibrium, an equal distribution, a proportionate approach. It implies symmetry--not a lopsided view that protects those who need no protection, but does not protect the interest of middle class families struggling to make ends meet.

The Republican notion of ``balance'' not only ignores the concept of equality, fairness, shared responsibility and shared burden, but it flies in the face of the fundamental concept of American community articulated in our motto--E Pluribus Unum--Out of Many, One.

That we are all in this together and should benefit together, sacrifice together--each of us working together for the betterment of all of us.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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