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Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004 - Continued

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to add my name as a cosponsor to the Harkin-Clinton amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I commend my colleague from Iowa for his stalwart commitment year after year and month after month as it relates to education. I thank Senator Harkin for his leadership particularly on this issue, as well as special education, as well as other critical needs for our children and our communities.

I rise today to lend my support—and it is a pleasure being a cosponsor—to the Harkin-Clinton amendment and to indicate my support for and cosponsorship of the Dodd-Jeffords amendment supporting special education which is long overdue. If we can do one thing to help our schools increase operating dollars, it would be to keep a commitment that was made over 25 years ago for 40 percent of the cost of special education to be borne by the Federal Government. That has never actually happened. If we were to do that, in 1 year alone, it would be close to $500 million additional resources coming in for Michigan children, not only to help special education but to help general education students as well. This is critical, as is the Harkin amendment.

I also wish to speak as a cosponsor to an additional amendment, the Kennedy-Collins amendment, to increase Pell grants.

First, as in anything else we do in this Senate or in the Congress, this is an issue of priorities. It is an issue always of values.
I am a member of the Budget Committee, and this week we heard a midterm review of where we are in terms of the budget, with huge looming budget deficits. In fact, we are paying this year $322 billion in interest. That does not fix one school. It does not send one more young person to college. It does not fix a road. It does not help pay for Medicare prescription drugs. It is $322 billion in interest which, by the way, is almost as much as the entire—if you take away
defense—nondefense discretionary budget of our country. It is amazing, astounding, that the interest on the publicly held debt now almost equals the entire spending on health, education, the environment, law enforcement, and most of the homeland security efforts.

Why do I mention that in the context of these amendments? Because it is an issue of values and priorities, and in the Budget Committee—and we hear over and over from esteemed witnesses, from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to the head of the CBO, from whom we heard this week—we hear over and over talk about what drives the economy. It is increased productivity, which is education and innovation. It is being able to have more technology, more people who have the skills, the brain power, and the training to create that innovation in technology. It means more opportunity for children to receive a quality education and for people to be able to afford higher education. That is how we get to increased productivity which drives the economy.

Instead of the policies that have been used in this administration of focusing on supply-side economics—in other words, you give to a few at the top; you give tax breaks to a few at the top; you focus only on the needs of a few at the top of our income levels in our country, which, by the way, is a policy that has now created the largest single-year deficit in the history of the country and an interest payment of $322 billion this year. Instead of that, if we were to focus and invest very small amounts of money, relatively speaking, in educating our children in safe, quality schools where they do not have buckets in the corner to catch the water, that have the latest technology at each and every desk, if we make sure the funds that have been committed through special education, through Leave No Child Behind, through the commitments of the Government that are actually kept, small amounts of money, comparatively speaking, with huge results in increasing opportunities for everyone, increasing productivity, increasing jobs, lowering the Federal deficit—all of these things happen by focusing on opportunity and education and innovation, and that is what these important amendments do.

Think of the comparison now: $322 billion paid in interest on the debt this year versus $1 billion for more school construction so that children not only hear us say education is important, but they see it when they walk into a quality school building with technology, with the infrastructure they need, or special education.

I am pleased to be a cosponsor of the amendment Senators KENNEDY and COLLINS offered, to give more opportunities for young people to go to college and to receive something called a Pell grant. Right now there are 145,151 students in Michigan who have the opportunity to receive some assistance to get a higher education, to go to college. It is an investment not only in the students but it is an investment in us, in our country, in our future.

Under the amendment proposed by Senator Kennedy and Senator Collins, in Michigan another 5,371 students would be able to afford to go to college—5,371 new opportunities for people to receive Pell grant assistance, and we would increase the average amount from $4,050 to $4,500 just to keep pace with the rising cost of higher education. We raise the amount a little less than $500 per grant per student, and we give more people an opportunity to go to college.

What would that do and what would that cost? That would cost $2.2 billion. I would say that is a very small investment for a very huge impact in terms of opportunity, growth, and productivity in the economy and strengthening our country.

Let me make one other comparison because right now, again, focusing on values and priorities, as we look at putting together this budget, we know that, in fact, $1 billion a week is being spent in Iraq to rebuild their infrastructure, to help them have health care, to help rebuild their schools.

While I certainly hope and pray that we will be successful in helping to rebuild Iraq and creating the climate for a Democratic process and an economy that can work in Iraq, should we do less at home? If we can spend a billion dollars a week in Iraq, and we are asking for a little over $2 billion for a year to increase the opportunity for Americans to be able to get higher skills, to get higher paid jobs, to increase that productivity we are hearing about from the experts that drives the economy and hopefully helps to lower this debt, is that not a small investment to make?

Two weeks in Iraq would address the funding needs in this amendment for students to be able to have Pell grant opportunities to be able to go to college.

One week in Iraq would fund the Harkin-Clinton amendment on school construction that is so critical. We can go right on down the line. We are talking about small investments, relatively speaking, for major impacts on real people. In the end it is, in fact, education and innovation that increases productivity and drives this economy and creates jobs that all of us want to make sure are there for ourselves and our families.

So I urge my colleagues to support these amendments, to advocate with us for a set of priorities to say to the American people we want to put opportunities for you and your children first; that we understand that creating opportunities for everyone to be successful through opportunities to go to college, through quality schools, through full funding of special education that guarantees the full range of opportunities to every child in our school, those things are an important part of making sure that everybody has a chance for the American dream.

We fight for that abroad. We need to make sure it is available at home, for every single young person who works hard, goes to school, plays by the rules, and wants to make it. They deserve a chance. We need them to succeed in order to be successful as a country.

I urge my colleagues to look at these amendments as important investments in the future for all of us.

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