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Senator Stabenow Rises in Support of Budget Amendment

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I join the distinguished Senator from Massachusetts in congratulating our leader on the Budget Committee, the Senator from North Dakota, for his ongoing leadership and the priorities he set forth. They are so important. He made them so clear on behalf of the American people. I cannot think of a more important amendment than the amendment of Senator Conrad at this time and on this day. I hope we will unanimously support this amendment. I hope we would not have to have a vote, that we could do this by voice vote today.

This amendment says exactly what we ought to be doing at this moment in time in our history. The amendment says, other than funding defense and homeland security and stimulating jobs and the economy, we are going to stop; we are going to wait on the rest of the budget; we are going to wait on additional spending. Certainly there are critical areas we care about. We are going to wait on any kind of a tax cut until we can pay for this war, until we know what the bill is. We know, if we do not do that, exactly how we are going to pay for it. We are going to pay for it by continuing to go into massive debt, depleting the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. That is how we are going to pay for it if we do not agree to this amendment.

This is absolutely critical. I think certainly the people in Michigan look at us in wonderment that we would be bringing up the budget resolution for the coming year, in which are the values and priorities of the American people, and we would not have any money set aside for a war in which we are about to engage.

How would an American family do that? If you were putting together your budget and you had a huge expense coming up in a couple of days, you wouldn't just ignore it. You wouldn't ignore it unless you just planned on putting it on a credit card, maybe. That is essentially what we are doing, is paying for the war through a taxpayers' credit card. That is not good enough and it is also not necessary. It is not necessary to do this outside the budget. This should be brought forward. We should at least put aside a reserve fund. We know at this point we cannot say exactly what it will cost. We certainly do not know what the reconstruction will cost. We do not know how long after the war we will be involved with Iraq, rebuilding Iraq. But we do know it is more than zero. We know that. We know it is more than zero.

We have a pretty good idea you could start somewhere in the $80 billion to $100 billion range and not be too high. So this says: Let's wait on other things. Let's wait and let's make sure we are covering the costs of a war that our President last night indicated most likely we are about to begin.

We also believe part of that is making sure we have dollars for those who are fighting on the front lines here at home. We all care deeply and stand united supporting our troops overseas. We know in this resolution we clearly indicate defense should be our top priority at this time, to make sure both our reservists and National Guard and their families are receiving what they need in terms of health care, and certainly recognizing their sacrifice, leaving their fulltime jobs and going to serve all of us at this time of conflict.

We have another group and that is the group that is serving us on the front lines at home. That is the group that answers the 9-1-1 call, the emergency medical personnel, the sheriff, the fire department. These are the people who have to respond. We, in fact, know the likelihood. Certainly there is increased risk right now they will have to respond.

So part of what we are saying is defense abroad but also defense in our hometowns needs to be the top priority. We need to pay for that, too. We are not yet doing that. We are seeing promises to other countries for their help in this effort, yet no willingness to provide assistance for those who are helping us on the front lines in our own hometowns.

Again, it just doesn't make any common sense. What we are saying through this amendment is we need to stop until we make it clear what the costs are for the war. We will focus on defense, homeland defense, and making sure we are stimulating jobs in the economy so in fact we are having a strong economy for our families and those fighting for us who will be coming home, so they will have that strong economy and jobs. But it is not the priority now to say that, among all the things we could be doing, we are going to give another round of tax cuts to those who make millions of dollars a year.

We look at shared sacrifice and we are being told we all have to sacrifice. I read an article not long ago about our Senate Republican leader going in front of a group of veterans. But while he certainly indicated supporting the veterans, he said: Veterans are going to have to sacrifice.

I would suggest veterans have already sacrificed and, in fact, we are creating war veterans whom we will be asking to sacrifice. But where is the sacrifice? Where is the sacrifice for those here at home who make millions of dollars a year, who already have one home, two homes, three homes, several cars, and are doing well? We welcome that. We would like that for every American. We certainly want an economy where every American can work hard and do well and move up the income scale.

But what happens when we say to people, those making $13,000 a year, serving us in the Army versus somebody at home whose life is not on the line or someone who is not a police officer or a firefighter or EMT worker, what do we say when we are saying we cannot fund homeland security, we cannot make sure you have health care that you need to protect your families if you are in the National Guard or Reserves? We are not going to budget for this war, but we are going to say that if you are blessed and doing well and are at the very top of the income earnings of America, earning millions of dollars a year, then we are going to put you ahead of everybody else; and we are going to say that you ought to be able to get a tax cut, even though it means we cannot pay for the war, that we have to go back into debt, even though it means we have massive debt that is eventually going to raise interest rates and make it harder for people to buy houses and cars and send their kids to college; even though it puts us in a situation where we cannot provide prescription drug help for our seniors, we cannot fully pay our share of the public school bill through the Leave No Child Behind; even though we have to leave veterans standing in line for months to see a doctor at the VA; even though there are all kinds of other issues where we are saying to people that you have to sacrifice right now. Children have to sacrifice, seniors have to sacrifice, veterans have to sacrifice, our families and small businesses that are not getting help with their health care bills have to sacrifice; but a few folks at the top do not. And they are not asking for that, either.

When I talk to folks who are doing very well at home, they say, we can wait. It is alright. We are not asking for this. We want to make sure our kids are safe at home, that hometown security is taken care of, the school systems are strong, and our troops have what they need overseas. They want to make sure that, in fact, those things are in place, which relate to our safety and security, and the economy, and the other issues that are very important for Americans, very important to keep us strong.

This amendment is incredibly important. It basically says stop. Our President says in less than 48 hours we are going to be at war, assuming Saddam Hussein does not leave the country. We believe we have an obligation and a responsibility to pay for that war, to make sure our troops have what they need, to make sure people on the front lines in our communities at home have what they need so we are safe first. We need to do that first. Then we can talk about tax cuts and how to structure it so the majority of Americans benefit.

We can talk about the important issues of health care and education and the environment and other critical needs in the country; but we need to stop now and focus first on the safety and security issues of our country and making sure our economy is strong with a stimulus so there are jobs. We need to start there, as any other family when you have to set priorities. Let's start with the bottom line priorities, given where we are now. Let's make sure we can pay for it, not be adding to the debt, and then we can debate other important issues that we all care about.

Again, I commend Senator Conrad for his leadership and for this very important amendment. I hope all of us can come together and show unity on this floor and send a message across the country that at this time we are going to put our safety and security first, and we are going to make sure we are not putting it on a credit card—we are paying for it—and that we are going to make sure our troops and front line people at home have what they need before other decisions are made about this budget.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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