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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. I thank the chairman, Senator Conrad, for his leadership on this important issue.
I would note for the record that with the conclusion of Senator Toomey's remarks, following Senator Reed, I think for the first time in the history of the Senate we had back-to-back presentations by two separate Senators who were graduates of LaSalle Academy in Providence, RI--noteworthy, perhaps, in Rhode Island.
I did note in his remarks his references to the magnitude of this challenge, to the full-blown crisis he perceives, to the completely unsustainable nature of our outward debt, that this is too big and too important not to address, and that this is the single most pressing problem our country faces--all of which might lead one to conclude that this would be the most important thing they would pursue. Yet we know it is less important to them to address our debt problem than it is to protect oil and gas subsidies for Big Oil at a time when their profits are unprecedented; it is less important than protecting tax loopholes that allow high-income individuals to incorporate themselves and avoid paying FICA taxes; it is less important to them than protecting special tax rates that allow people making $100 million a year to pay a lower tax rate than a family making $100,000 a year. So it seems that when you actually look at practice--what their priorities are--this isn't quite the priority they claim it is.
I agree there are other priorities we face as a country. This July, unless we move quickly, student loan interest rates will double, which will hurt our economy, our growth, and it will hit families across this country. We brought forward a plan to keep those rates down, but our colleagues
filibustered it. Our Nation's highway program will expire next month, jeopardizing millions of jobs. We voted overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis to reauthorize the highway bill and move forward on it, only to have our bipartisan highway bill stalled by House Republicans. Republicans may talk about jobs, but they are busily stalling the most important jobs bill we have. That stalling and delay will cost jobs because of the summer building season in so many of our States.
One thing that has not been urgent has been to pass a budget. Why is that? Well, it is because we already have one. This whole exercise today rests on a false premise. The false premise is that we have no budget. Last summer Congress passed and the President signed into law the bipartisan Budget Control Act, which sets binding discretionary spending levels for a decade and establishes budget levels for the current fiscal year and next, which our appropriations committees are now working under--Republicans and Democrats together. But you would not know this when listening to Senate Republicans. Instead of focusing on real issues, where real jobs are at stake, they are wasting a day of floor time on extremist tea party budgets. They also plan to force a vote on what they describe as the ``Obama budget.''
I plan to vote against all of the motions to proceed for the simple reason that we already have a budget in place that we voted on and agreed to for next year. Today's votes are nothing more than a Republican attempt to promote a radical and unwelcome agenda of slashing middle-class programs while protecting and enlarging tax giveaways for the ultrarich.
Let's make no mistake about what this would do to middle-class families. The House Republican budget would start by cutting taxes for big corporations and the ultrarich, adding $4.6 trillion to our national debt. To pay for these extra tax cuts, the Republicans would decimate programs on which regular American families at some point in their lives come to rely. They start by ending Medicare as we know it. Beginning for workers who retire in 2023, the House Republican budget would make it a voucher system, which, according to the nonpartisan CBO, will add an estimated $6,000 in annual out-of-pocket costs for each retiree by 2050. In Rhode Island, the average annual Social Security benefit is about $13,600. It is hard to imagine how future seniors living on a fixed Social Security income will be able to maintain health care coverage with that kind of extra cost dropped on them individually. At the same time that they would slash Medicare, the House Republican budget gives those making over $1 million per year an average tax cut of over $150,000.
If you are getting older or you are a working family and you are going to need Medicare one day, you will get an end to Medicare as we know it. If you are making over $1 million, you get an average tax cut of over $150,000. Those are not real priorities for the people I represent in Rhode Island.
It doesn't stop there. They repeal the affordable care act, which would reopen the doughnut hole. The affordable care act has helped nearly 15,000 Rhode Islanders save an average of $554 each last year just by closing the doughnut hole partway, and soon it will be all the way. That made a difference to people such as Olive in Woonsocket, whose husband fell into the doughnut hole last July. Thanks to the new law, they saved $2,400. Under the House Republican budget, they would be stuck paying that $2,400 as an out-of-pocket cost to the big drug companies.
The radical House budget would slash funding for Pell grants, and it would increase interest on student loans. We have all heard people say here that they don't want to encourage the increase in student loan rates we are facing. But while they say that, they, of course, are filibustering our effort to do that. In their budget, they build in the increase in the interest rate. So they speak from two notions.
The House budget requires only $1 trillion in additional and unspecified cuts, and that will be Draconian. Senator Paul's budget, which we may take up today, would also slash middle-class programs, including Social Security. He includes an eventual 39 percent cut to Social Security benefits and would end Medicare for all seniors in 2014. If you want to put an end to Medicare in 2014, the Paul budget looks like a really great opportunity for you. But that is not what I think anybody really wants in this country. I think almost every American wants to see Medicare strengthened and supported.
We should move on from this unnecessary budget messaging exercise and resume our work to keep student loan rates down and support good-paying highway jobs--bills that are being delayed that we need action on now. When we turn to a real debate about deficit reduction, I hope my colleagues will unshackle themselves from the tea party and put forward a budget that doesn't put Big Oil subsidies ahead in priority of taking care of our real budget problems. They have to get over putting the priorities first of protecting Big Oil subsidies.
With that, I yield the floor.
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