THE BUDGET -- (House of Representatives - April 27, 2005)
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Ms. BERKLEY. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from South Carolina for yielding. I so enjoyed the gentleman in Las Vegas and so did all of my constituents, because he was able to bring home to them and articulate to them exactly what the issues are when it comes to the budget and how it is going to affect them in a very adverse way.
I am here tonight to talk about why I am going to be voting against this Republican budget that is going to be on the floor probably tomorrow. But before I do, I have to comment on the last hour, because I had the opportunity since I was sitting here to hear some of the rhetoric from the other side when they were talking about Social Security and a bipartisan meeting with AARP that the Democrats were supposedly boycotting.
I think it is very important for people that are listening to know, at least from this Democratic Member of Congress, that until I heard that, I had never heard of such a meeting. I am married to a Republican. We practice bipartisanship in our home every single day. And I think if the Republicans were truly serious about working in a bipartisan fashion with the Democrats to craft solutions to the very serious problems that we have, we not only would sit down and talk about Social Security, not the privatization of Social Security, which we all know will do absolutely nothing to make this system solvent, but talk about the more immediate and pressing crises of Medicare and the health care system in this country. If you have tried to access the health care system in this country, you would know without me having to tell you that we do have a crisis.
So instead of creating a crisis and screaming about the partisan nature of the House of Representatives, maybe if they truly wanted to solve some of the solutions to make life easier for average American people, we would be sitting down at a table now, instead of the gentleman and I sitting here talking to each other. But we can talk about that some other time. I was just so taken aback by the attack that I felt I had to respond to it.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to be voting against this budget proposal that the Republicans have set forth, and it is very important that my constituents know why.
This is a very fiscally irresponsible budget. It is going to devastate numerous programs that many low and middle-income Americans depend on. I know they do in my congressional district.
Day after day we hear the President and congressional Republicans talking about fiscal responsibility and providing opportunities for lower and middle-income families in this country. But the priorities outlined in this budget tell an entirely different story. This is the perfect example of Republican rhetoric not matching the reality on the ground.
The Republican budget hides costs. We all know that. The gentleman spoke of some of the hidden costs. It threatens to put key programs like veterans health care, education funding and Medicaid on the chopping block.
The Republicans talk about keeping our promises to our veterans. I sit on the Committee on Veterans Affairs, and I have the fastest growing veterans population in the United States of America in Southern Nevada. The issues that affect our veterans are very important to me, and particularly health care, because my veterans do not get the health care that they deserve.
The Republican budget does not include enough money for veterans programs to keep pace with inflation over the next 5 years. To me this is an outrage. It is never acceptable to cut veterans benefits at any time, but it is especially not appropriate at a time when our country is depending more and more on the strength and morale of our Armed Forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and South Korea. We are stretched very thin.
These soldiers are going to be coming home to this country. They are going to be veterans and they are going to be expect the health care that this Nation has promised our soldiers when they become veterans, and I am afraid this budget is way short of providing the needs of our veterans, particularly not only health care needs, but mental health care, and that is going to be a major problem with our troops coming home from Iraq, a serious, serious problem.
I am not going to vote for any budget that threatens key programs, including health care benefits for the more than 160,000 veterans that live in my community. These men and women have served our country with dignity and valor, and I refuse to support a budget that shortchanges programs that are vitally important to them.
The Republican budget also fails students and their families in Nevada and across the country. It not only will not support current education programs and services over the next 5 years, but, again, since I have got the fastest growing student population in the United States, a budget that is even neutral and does not cut programs, although this one does, hurts my district disproportionately, because while our student population is growing, if education funding is going down, we take the biggest hit in the country.
Education should be one of the highest priorities in any budget. Our schools and our teachers and our students already feel the squeeze by budget cuts. To further cut funding is unfathomable to me.
The Republican budget cuts child nutrition programs. If you are a kid and you are not getting breakfast at home and you are going to school on an empty stomach, how are you going to learn? How are you going to concentrate on your studies when your tummy is growling? This cuts student nutrition programs.
It cuts student loans. I come from a family where my dad was a waiter when I was growing up. I depended on those student loans to get an education. That is how I went through college and how I went through law school. It took me many years to pay back those students loans, but without them I guarantee you I would not be standing here on the floor of the House tonight.
Vocational grants, so important for those students that do not go to college, who would rather go get a vocational education, which is also important for our economy in this country, those programs are getting decimated.
Also disability and pension programs. What type of Nation that prides itself on caring for its fellow citizens is going to cut pension and disability programs? But this Republican budget does exactly that.
Student loans. Let me get back to that, because I know firsthand how important they are.
They are vitally important to families in southern Nevada and across this country. Low and middle-income families in my district are not going to be able to send their kids to college without student loans. People think of Las Vegas and they see the fancy hotels and the wild night life, and we do have the glitz and the glamour in Las Vegas, but Las Vegas is populated by middle income people that are working in those hotels and trying to put a roof over their family's heads, food on their tables, clothes on their backs, and their children through college. They are entitled to have these student loans so that they can make sure that their children enjoy the American dream.
I am astounded that that is an area that this administration and this Republican budget is cutting.
Straining student loan programs will reverse the progress this country has achieved by sending millions of students just like me to college who otherwise could not afford it. This is unacceptable, must be stopped, and the American public should be rising up and complaining to the Republican Members of this House, telling them that this is unacceptable to them, because it hurts, and it is very painful.
The Senate restored funding for medicaid in its budget and, last night, the House the Representatives voted to instruct budget conferees to protect medicaid funding from the drastic cuts outlined in the President's budget. I hope that the House and Senate conferees do the right thing and leave the medicaid funding alone.
Medicaid provides crucial health services to approximately 159,000 people in my home State of Nevada. Any cuts to medicaid funding will make it much harder for low-income pregnant women, seniors, children, disabled, and families in Nevada and throughout the United States to get the health care they need.
I cannot stress enough how important medicaid is to the State of Nevada. Nevada's hospitals, nursing homes, community health centers depend on this funding. Medicaid pays for 65 percent of Nevada's certified nursing home residents. What are these seniors going to do if we lose this funding? It is going to be devastating for them. Are they going to be thrown out on the streets where they are going to die in the gutter? This medicaid funding must be restored, and it must be restored to the appropriate levels to take care of the people of this country.
I am going to vote against this conference report, because it fails to prioritize veterans, students, low-income and middle-income families. I want to remind my colleagues and the chairman that not too long ago, the Democrats offered a budget alternative that every Republican in the House voted against. And in light of the attacks that I just heard before we got up to speak about the partisan nature of the Democratic Party, I mean I find it a little shocking that not one Republican would cross the aisle and support the democratic budget proposal, because in that proposal, the Democrats not only talked the talk, but we walked the walk. Democrats provided an alternative that was fiscally responsible, would balance the budget by 2012, would reduce the deficit, and provide opportunities to all Americans that the Republicans only talk about. But if their budget is any indication of what they care about and what they are going to act upon, well, I am afraid it is a little light on helping their fellow man and taking care of the fiscal health of this country.
So I thank the gentleman very much for his leadership on this. There is nobody that presents our side of the argument better than the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Spratt), and I thank the gentleman for letting me be a part of this discussion tonight.
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