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Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act, 2008--Conference Report --

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, first, I wish to express my strong appreciation to the Senator from Iowa, Mr. Harkin, and the Senator from Pennsylvania, Mr. Specter, for the work they have done on the Labor-HHS conference report. This appropriations bill is of enormous importance. Our national security gets attention, but so much of what makes a difference in the strength of our Nation is our investment in our people. When we talk about investment in our people, we are talking about education, we are talking about health care, we are talking about job safety, job training programs which have been tested and tried, examined and evaluated. The Appropriations Committee has done just a splendid job in allocating resources to these priorities. They have done it in a bipartisan way.

Now as we see this whole process on appropriations moving forward, we know this will ultimately be decided this evening with a Senate vote. It will then go over to the House of Representatives and down to the White House to the President where he has indicated he is going to veto this legislation.

I wish to take a few minutes to go over this legislation so the American people and our colleagues, as we are looking at a variety of proposals that are coming at us at a furious pace in the Senate, have a very clear understanding and awareness as to exactly what this legislation is about and its importance to American families. This is family legislation, it is children's legislation, it is health care legislation. It is about our ability to compete in the future.

We hear much talk about the challenges we are facing globally, and we are facing serious challenges globally. This legislation deals with making sure American workers are going to have the kinds of skills which are necessary so they are able to compete.

Global competition is going to be a knowledge-based competition. That is why it is so important we invest in education. That is why it is so important we have a healthy population, and why it is so important we have individuals who have the skills so we can have a knowledge-based economy and be able to compete internationally. This legislation is the heart and soul of that effort in the Congress of the United States.

Again, I thank old friends and individuals who, for a long period of time, have been strongly committed to these issues on education, health, and training.

When we look over these particular items, it is important to know, since we are talking about priorities, a billion dollars--and a billion dollars is real money, that is true--we are talking about a total budget of over $2.8 trillion. The amounts we are talking about certainly are very modest, indeed, particularly when one looks at the total scope of our budget. And particularly when one looks at what we are spending in Iraq, the amounts we are spending in this bill are basically trivial. That is why it is so discouraging, I find, that the President of the United States believes we have to effectively pay for the war in Iraq by vetoing programs that make a difference in the quality of education, health care, and training of American workers.

Let's look at these items in some detail. How can we take this President seriously when he says he will leave no child behind, when he vetoes funding for education? How can we take the President seriously when he says he is for children's health, when he vetoes funding for children's health care? How can we take this President seriously when he announces a new food safety initiative such as he did yesterday and says he will veto funding for food safety? The President may have the wrong priorities,

but in Congress, we have worked together, Democrats and Republicans, to pass responsible new investments in our schools, the health care systems, and our jobs.

Here is what is at stake if the President vetoes this important legislation, and the American people deserve to know which of their priorities will fall to the cutting room floor when he rejects this bill.

First and foremost, this bill before us today provides long overdue funding for education. Over the past few years, the White House and the Republican leadership in the Congress have neglected the urgently needed new investments for better teachers, stronger schools, and college affordability. In fact, under the Republican-controlled Congress, funding for the education of our children has actually gone down.

This chart goes back to the last time we had Democratic appropriations bills and we passed No Child Left Behind. One can see the dramatic falloff rather than an increase in commitment to children all over this country. We saw the reductions. This reflects the final results of these battles. We can see the gradual reductions in funding. The red lines are what the administration actually requested. Here is President Bush's request, a reduction of $2.2 billion; and in 2008, a reduction of $1.5 billion. This is the difference between a Democratic resolution and a Democratic conference report, $3.2 billion. We are coming back in terms of increases. It provides $3.2 billion in new funding for education compared to last year.

The core Federal education initiative for helping schoolchildren who fall behind is called the title I program. Despite all the hype from the administration about leaving no child behind, title I funding has languished since passage of that legislation. The education funding before us today changes all that. It includes the largest increase in the title I program since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed.

Again, these are the annual increases in title I, part A funding, 2003. It was going down. In 2006, it was flat, 250. And now with this proposal, there is a significant increase, $1.85 billion, an indication of the Nation's priority of increased funding for title I.

Title I, as we all remember, goes back to 1965 when this country said we as a nation are going to make a priority the poorest children and neediest children in our society. We are going to give attention as a nation to do something about the poorest and neediest children in this country. That is what title I is all about.

We will have a chance to get into those in greater detail. We are all familiar with the challenges we are facing with school dropout and increased poverty among the neediest of children. We know money is not the answer to everything, but it is a pretty clear indication of a nation's priorities. And included in this legislation is title I funding.

Shamefully, we have seen the Pell grant stagnate as well. In the past 5 years, students and families have struggled as college costs have skyrocketed. What we have also stated as a country--there was a great debate actually going back to 1960, and was passed in 1965 in the Higher Education Act, that we as a nation say that any young person in this country who has the skill and the ability to be admitted to a college, that they will not be denied that opportunity. If they do not have financial assistance, they will have at least some assistance from a Pell grant, named after our former colleague in the Senate, Claiborne Pell. With the explosion of the cost of education, we still saw flat funding for the Pell Grant Program, and now we are seeing a gradual increase. In this particular appropriations bill, we have an increase in the Pell grant that will be effectively eliminated if this bill is vetoed.

The President should recognize that this bill finally delivers on many of the promises we made some 6 years ago. He should embrace the progress and sign the bill. Instead, the President has threatened to veto the bill and deny the help our schools so desperately need.

The President rejected this bill because it includes an increase of $4.5 billion for education funding over what he included in his budget. He has requested $158 billion for the war in Iraq this year--that is $433 million today--$158 billion for the war in Iraq. All we are talking about is a $4.5 billion increase for education. Mr. President, $4.5 billion for education gets a veto; $158 billion for the war in Iraq gets his signature.

Let's look at the choices and compare the choices of American families which are reflected in the legislation before us.

This chart reflects trying to help struggling schools turn around. American families want to use these funds to help the 9,000 schools most in need of improvement, to strengthen education for all of the children in these title I schools. This represents 1 day of the war in Iraq, and the President says no.

The most important ingredient is the education of our teachers. Having good teachers, well-trained teachers, knowledgeable teachers, committed teachers who will serve in our public school system is one of the highest aspirations that we see reflected on our fellow citizens.

We need to have good teachers in many of the underserved communities, and we need to provide help for those teachers. We need to give assistance to those teachers.

We have some $3 billion for the high-quality teachers. This would hire 30,000 teachers to help reduce class size and provide high-quality induction for 100,000 new teachers. This induction is assisting and familiarizing teachers in their classroom and in their homerooms. It has been enormously successful in the retention of high-quality teachers, these kinds of programs being included in this legislation. It provides high-quality professional development for 200,000 more teachers. Teachers want and need to have some time for their development, and this provides that help for their professional development.

Every other industrialized nation in the world provides this kind of assistance. Teachers need this kind of support. So we are providing important assistance to them. But, oh no, the President says, no, that will be vetoed.

We have $7 billion to help provide the high-quality early education through the Head Start Programs, which equals 16 days of failed policy in Iraq. We all know the importance of early intervention. Everyone should read ``From Neurons to Neighborhoods,'' the great book by Jack Shonkoff, who has done such an extraordinary amount of work pulling together these three great studies from the National Institutes of Health, which shows a snapshot of the child's early development, from birth to the very earliest years, and the difference in terms of cognitive skills and also social behavior. The earlier the investment we have in these programs, the better the results are.

We are not taking the time to reflect all that, but it is so. We have demonstrated it time and time again. But that $7 billion is going to be subject to the veto.

I wish to mention two very important areas. We are going through these areas quickly, but I wish to mention the area of health priorities. We have mentioned early education and education, but we strongly believe in the $4.9 billion in cancer research which would fund over 6,800 grants.

We are living in the life science century, with the extraordinary progress that has been made in DNA research and sequencing of the genes. The breakthroughs we have seen are absolutely mind-boggling. Over the recent years, we have effectively doubled the NIH research and the results coming through are extraordinary. At the same time, we are now finding that instead of taking advantage of these breakthroughs, we are beginning to cut back and cut back and cut back in terms of the opportunities in the areas of cancer and cancer research.

When you talk to families across this Nation about their priorities, No. 1 in the area of health care will be in the areas of cancer research. We have 550,000 who die every year from cancer. It touches every family in America either directly or indirectly. We know the challenges we are facing now with diabetes and the challenges with obesity. There is an explosion across the country in terms of diabetes.

We have $700 million for pandemic flu, to strengthen our health defenses. We know there are a variety of different strains that have been out there, both chemical and biologics, that could be enormously dangerous falling into the hands of the wrong groups and threatening American populations in a very significant and important way. We cannot be seeing a reduction in terms of our commitments to pandemic flu.

The Centers for Disease Control. Whenever we have a problem, look at the television news over the period of the last couple of weeks, what did we see when we had the problems over in the Far East and China? It is always the CDC that takes on the responsibility to go over and try to detect and find out what is happening in these areas. This is an enormously important health agency that has enormous capability and skill in terms of its personnel and commitment. We have all these various challenges--the increased amount of asthma that has effectively doubled over the period of the last 15 years, increasing obesity, and childhood immunizations. It is interesting there is a higher percentage of children in Iraq who are getting immunized for diseases like measles than there are in the United States of America. How do we justify that? Now we are seeing a reduction in terms of childhood immunizations.

The community health centers, which are the lifeline for some 15 million low-income Americans, we are cutting back on those at a time when we are seeing increasing numbers of Americans losing their health insurance. These are all programs that are tried, tested, evaluated and all extremely effective and programs the American people support. Immunization, the challenges of research in terms of cancer and diabetes and obesity, the challenges we are facing in those areas, the importance of investing in terms of education, all of these are extremely important.

Finally, I wish to mention worker safety and health spending, which is a fraction of the Iraq cost. One week in Iraq, $3 billion. These are the total expenditures for protecting the $500 million in terms of OSHA. Since the passage of OSHA, we have reduced deaths in the workplace by more than half. We have increasing complexity for OSHA, because with new techniques and new toxins being used in the workplace, there are new challenges for OSHA. We need to make sure that in the United States of America we are going to have safe workplaces as well as workplaces where individuals can be demonstrating increased productivity.

We all know the challenges that mine health

safety has faced, whether it has been out in Utah or West Virginia, this past year. We have $340 million to try to ensure safety in the mines. But that is going to be vetoed. To demonstrate this isn't out-of-control spending, we have OSHA last year and OSHA this year, which is a 2.8-percent increase over the President's request and some 12 percent in the area of mine safety. These are basic and reasonable kinds of expressions by the Congress in areas of public concern. Nonetheless, we are hearing this administration is going to veto it.

Let me also say we have seen an administration that is, over the past years, increasing the reductions in terms of training programs under the Workforce Investment Act. The Workforce Investment Act was bipartisan legislation. Senator Kassebaum, myself, and others were involved in the development and shaping of that, coordinating a variety of different job training programs. We had strong bipartisan support, and we had support from the workers and from the business community. It has made an important difference. In my State of Massachusetts, at the end of last year, we had over 92,000 jobs that are out there waiting for people to be able to take them. Yet we had more than 178,000 people who are unemployed. You would think it would make some sense to get the skills to those individuals who can work, who want to work, so they can fill those jobs, become taxpayers and productive members of our society. That is what we are talking about in terms of workforce investment. That is what happens when we have good programs such as this.

Nonetheless, we are finding out that even though this legislation restores some $500 million to the cuts we have had these last several years, this President is now committed toward vetoing.

So these are some of the items that are front and center in terms of this appropriations bill. As I mentioned at the outset, this is an extremely important piece of legislation. It is basically about the sole well-being of our fellow citizens. It is about educating our young, ensuring the health and well-being of our fellow citizens, about ensuring we are going to be able to have the kind of skills necessary so we can have a productive, expanding economy to be able to offer the hope and opportunity that good jobs, with good wages and good benefits, means to working families. That is what this legislation is about.

The numbers that have been included represent the best judgment of Democrats and Republicans together. Compared to where we are in terms of the expenditures we have over in Iraq, all Americans, I believe, say: Why aren't we investing in Americans? Why aren't we investing in our children, in our families, in education, in health care, in training? Why aren't we doing the things which are going to make this Nation stronger in the future? Why are we going to face a veto by this President on these important priorities?

Make no mistake, it is a major mistake for this President to do so. I hope he will reconsider his position.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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