FISCAL YEAR 2006 BUDGET RESOLUTION
Mr. President, I rise in strong opposition to this budget. As I have listened to the arguments of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle in favor of the budget, I am reminded of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each could feel only one portion of the elephant, so each came to wildly different -- and wildly inaccurate -- conclusions as to what it was.
Similarly, it is hard for me to believe that those who are supporting this budget are looking at the whole picture. How can they call this budget fiscally responsible, when it would increase deficits $130 billion over where they would be if we did nothing at all? How can they brag that the budget tackles the difficult issue of entitlement reform, when nowhere is there mention of Social Security and Medicare, our two largest entitlement programs?
How can they refer to this as a blueprint for Congressional action, when it leaves out major spending and tax initiatives that we know the leadership wants to pursue: funding for the Iraq war beyond 2006; the cost of fixing the alternative minimum tax; the multi-trillion dollar cost of the President's plan to privatize Social Security?
No one can defend this budget as a reasonable or complete response to the serious fiscal challenges this country faces. No one can defend this budget as accurately reflecting the priorities of our nation -- for on those grounds, it is indefensible.
The President -- along with Alan Greenspan and countless other wise pundits -- have focused our attention on the severe budgetary consequences of the coming retirement of the Baby Boomers. Entitlements are growing at an unsustainable rate -- and the time to address their growth is now.
Congress should act to strengthen Social Security now, rather than wait for the moment of crisis. Social Security can pay full benefits for another 40 or 50 years. After that - even if nothing is done - Social Security could still pay 70 to 80 percent of promised benefits. But if we act sooner rather than later, Social Security's long-term financial imbalance can be fixed through relatively modest adjustments. At the same time, we need to recognize that growing budget deficits will strain our ability to sustain not just Social Security, but other important programs like Medicare and Medicaid. We need to look at the entire Federal budget and act to bring these deficits under control so we can preserve programs that will put a strain on our budget in coming years.
How -- given the President's crusade to "save" Social Security with private accounts, given the coming retirement of the Baby Boom -- can this budget ignore Social Security and Medicare? Not a dollar assumed saved from either. Not a penny paid back to the Social Security trust fund. Not even an acknowledgement of the huge cost of the President's plan to divert Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts. Either this budget is incomplete or it is insincere.
I suppose we should be relieved not to see any provision made in the budget for the President's proposed private accounts. The President has chosen to make Social Security his top domestic priority, but so far he has only proposed the idea of private accounts, which he admits would do absolutely nothing to improve Social Security's finances. Borrowing to pay for the transition cost would add up to $5 trillion to the national debt. And because the President has taken all other options off the table, the private accounts would require massive benefit cuts to achieve solvency.
Obviously, Social Security reform -- or entitlement reform in general -- is not a priority to those who support this budget. And obviously, continued tax cuts financed with reductions in important government programs and with debt are. The budget puts on the fast track $70 billion in tax cuts -- and not one penny of offsets. In fact, the Senate rejected Senator Feingold's amendment, which I supported, that would have prohibited using debt to finance this sort of raid on the Treasury.
Instead, the Senate chose to expedite tax cuts that would disproportionately affect the wealthy. The budget facilitates the extension through 2010 of tax cuts on capital gains and dividend income. Nearly half of this will benefit households with incomes in excess of $1 million; in contrast, only 12 percent of the cuts will benefit families with incomes under $100,000. It is fiscal irresponsibility in truest form, to speed tax cuts through the Senate that will directly add to our growing deficit. In addition, the $70 billion figure includes permanent estate tax repeal. This provision, despite the fact that its true effect won't be felt until 2011, carries with it a price tag of more than $9 billion -- $9 billion that will truly benefit the wealthiest Americans.
And while the budget finds plenty of room to reward millionaires with billion dollar tax cuts, it nickels and dimes the government programs the average American family relies on.
American seniors pay the highest drug prices in the world. Our seniors deserve a Medicare prescription drug benefit that gets the best prices for their medication. But the Medicare prescription drug law actually prohibits the Federal government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. This is a missed opportunity and a waste of taxpayers' dollars. Now, in light of the growing concerns over the rising cost of this benefit -- more than $57 billion than originally expected -- every effort should be made to save our seniors and taxpayers dollars. We missed a golden opportunity in the Budget today to accept an amendment that I was proud to cosponsor and require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use the tremendous purchasing power of the 41 million Medicare beneficiaries to assist the private drug plans in getting the lowest price for seniors. The savings provided by this amendment would have gone to pay for deficit reduction.
Unfortunately, this commonsense effort to lower prescription drug prices and reduce the deficit was rejected.
However, I do applaud my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for having the courage to stop the proposed $15 billion cut to Medicaid. Stopping these drastic cuts will ensure that thousands of poor families, disabled Americans and the elderly get the proper medical care they need. The proposed $15 billion Medicaid cut would have translated to a loss of $300 million for Wisconsin. It would be extremely difficult for Wisconsin and other states to absorb a cut of this magnitude while continuing to provide the level of services 53 million Americans depend on. Now, there should be a thorough discussion about how Medicaid can work better to serve low-income Americans. But we should never force arbitrary cuts in Medicaid without first taking the time to consider the future efficiency and operation of the Medicaid program. Medicaid is an essential source of health care for millions of our nation's most vulnerable citizens, and any changes to the program should be driven by informed, reasoned policy and not by arbitrary budget targets. I am pleased to have cosponsored the amendment that passed the Senate to protect Medicaid from these drastic cuts.
We have a continuing responsibility to meet the health care needs of our children, families, and elderly. But -- even with the improvement in the Medicaid policy, the cuts proposed in this budget do not match those needs. Older Amercians Act programs are level funded even as our population ages and the need for services grows. LIHEAP funding is cut by $182 million as more families and seniors face higher energy costs. Funding for health professions training has been reduced by 64 percent at a time when we face health care workforce shortages. And funding for rural health programs has been slashed by 80 percent when rural areas are in desperate need of adequate health resources.
Perhaps the worst failure of this budget - it fails our nation's children. This budget proposes the first cut in education spending in a decade. Yet again, this budget fails to fully fund No Child Left Behind, leaving the Act under funded by $39 billion since enactment. It fails to set special education on a glide path to full funding -- it is slated to be nearly $4 billion short of what was authorized four months ago. This budget should reflect our values and needs in education. It clearly does not.
This budget still fails to fulfill our commitment to our veterans. The American people made a promise to our men and women in uniform that when they had completed their service, the Veterans Administration would be there to help them meet their health care needs. When we made that commitment, it was not conditional, and it did not involve high fees. Today we seem to be slowly changing the terms of service. We now say to our veterans that they will have to wait months for an appointment, and some veterans are of such low priority to the system that they may never receive care at all. I supported an amendment that would have bridged the funding gap between the President's budget and the funding level that the veterans' groups believe is necessary. Unfortunately, Senator Akaka's amendment was not agreed to. With that "no" vote, the Senate made a decision that some veterans did not deserve the benefits they had been promised.
I am also disappointed over the funding levels for transportation in this bill. I am especially disappointed that the Senate did not remedy the shortfall in funding for Amtrak. I was proud to cosponsor an amendment that would have fully funded Amtrak's basic needs at a level of $1.4 billion. The President's budget zeroed out funding for Amtrak, providing only $360 million to the Surface Transportation Board -- and that's would only be provided if Amtrak is forced to shut down in the Northeast Corridor. What the Administration fails to recognize, is that ridership in other areas of the country has increased; in Wisconsin, this means that 540,000 used Amtrak this past year. To force these 540,000 people onto our overcrowded roads and airports would be irresponsible, and I hope the Senate will reconsider before the end of the fiscal year.
While I am glad that we put the Senate on record opposing cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program, it is up to the Appropriators to decide whether to reverse the $2 billion cut in this vital program. CDBG and the 17 other federal community and economic development programs which the Administration proposed consolidating in the Commerce Department provide funds that are critical to meeting the needs of distressed and underserved communities. In my state of Wisconsin, at least 19 entitlement communities and many other smaller communities across the state are slated to lose millions of dollars if we do not stand firm and reverse this proposal.
I also regret that the Senate has decided to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. In the past a bi-partisan group of senators came together to protect this fragile ecosystem, but this year we failed to beat back drilling. By using the budget rules in a new, and some would say questionable, way a place that had been set aside as too valuable to be spoiled by drilling was opened to potential environmental degradation. The real tragedy here is that the oil we get from ANWR will have no impact on the price of oil. There is simply not enough oil in Alaska to have any real impact on the worldwide price. We have decided to risk irrevocable environmental damage but gained no additional control over our thirst for foreign oil. Until we aggressively address our domestic demand for oil, we will never be able be able to end our dependence on OPEC.
Following the Administration's lead, the Senate Budget Committee allocated $187 million to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) budget, which is about $173 million less than what we appropriated last year. I am particularly disturbed that the Senate Budget Resolution assumes complete elimination of the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program (JABG) which received $55 million last year. JABG provides funding for intervention programs that address the urgent needs of juveniles who have had run-ins with the law.
The same is true of Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Program, the only federal program solely dedicated to juvenile crime prevention. The Senate budget assumes a $50 million cut to Title V -- penny pinching now that will cost us dearly in the future. According to many experts in the field, every dollar spent on prevention saves three or four dollars in costs attributable to juvenile crime. And who can put a dollar value on the hundreds, even thousands of young lives turned from crime and into productive work and community life by the juvenile crime prevention programs supported by Title V? Following the President's lead, the Senate Budget Committee also drastically cuts the programs most important to state and local law enforcement. Congress appropriated a little more than $700 million last year in both discretionary and formula funds for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program. The Budget before us assumes no funding for this program at all. Byrne grants pay for state and local drug task forces, community crime prevention programs, substance abuse treatment programs, prosecution initiatives, and many other local crime control programs.
The COPS program is another victim of this budget. The Budget assumes $118 million for the COPS program -- that is down from $388 million last year. What's worse is that, within the COPS program, popular initiatives like the COPS Universal Hiring Program and the COPS Technology Grants Program are zeroed out entirely. We should remember that just three years ago, the overall COPS program received more than a billion dollars. Of that amount, $330,000,000 was for the hiring program and roughly $154,000,000 for the COPS technology program that helped fund critical communications upgrades in cities -- like Milwaukee and Madison -- and many other towns -- like Ashland and Onalaska -- across Wisconsin and the nation.
Finally, The Senate budget assumes cuts in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program from $227 to $100 million. The HIDTA program is a vital collaboration between federal, state and local law enforcement to combat drug trafficking through intelligence-gathering and cooperation. This proposed cut in the overall HIDTA program threatens the future of smaller HIDTAs like the one in Milwaukee -- a program that has been extremely successful in stemming crime. The downward spiral of juvenile justice and local law enforcement funding is a disturbing budget trend with ugly real world implications. As a result of the Byrne, COPS, JABG, HIDTA and Title V programs, we have enjoyed steadily decreasing crime rates for the past decade. But, if we do not, at a minimum, maintain funding for crime fighting, we cannot be surprised if crime again infests our cities, communities, and neighborhoods.
That is why I offered an amendment with Senators Hatch and Biden to restore this dramatic loss of juvenile justice and local law enforcement funding. Cuts to these programs total more than $1.2 billion. Our amendment restores $1 billion of that -- not enough to make these important crime fighting programs whole, but enough to keep them functioning and working to keep our communities and families safe.
For rural America, this budget leaves so much to be desired that it's hard to know where to begin. If you assume the President's vision on discretionary spending is carried out, as this budget proposes, basic agricultural research will be slashed beyond recognition. Rural housing, rural development and conservation will suffer. Nutrition for kids and food stamps for the working poor will be on the chopping block. And the fundamental fabric of rural America will be put at risk.
Mr. President, a budget is a statement of who we are as a nation. I do not believe we are a country that takes from the poor and sick to make the rich richer. I do not believe we are a country that steals from our children's future to indulge ourselves today. I do not believe we are a country that ignores threats to our prosperity and stability. I do not believe we are who this budget says we are, and I will vote against it.
Let me make one final point. Often, we hear that it would be irresponsible for Congress to reject a budget. Not this year. If we reject this budget, -- if we do nothing at all -- deficits will be $130 billion less than had we acted. A vote against the budget is a vote for deficit reduction. It is also a vote for responsible accounting, for honoring our commitments to our seniors and our children, for compassion towards those who are hungry, sick, or just struggling to raise a family in an uncertain world. For that reason, I will vote against this budget, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.