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Congressional Budget for the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2009 -- Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I will be supporting this budget resolution and would like to offer a few observations as we go forward.

I begin by expressing my appreciation to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, as well as their talented staff. Plotting a fiscal roadmap is a difficult task. While everyone may not agree on the outcome, I think we all appreciate and commend the dedication and expertise of those who are at the center of the process.

Sandwiched as it was, between Super Bowl Sunday and Super Tuesday, the President's budget generated only passing scrutiny beyond the beltway when it was submitted earlier this year. I believe the budget before us improves on that plan substantially.

The President put forward a $3 trillion budget with near-record projected deficits and the biggest defense expenditure since World War II. It recycled a number of ill-advised proposals that have been roundly rejected in the past. It put the squeeze on Medicare and Medicaid. And it shortchanged future generations. Congress can and will do better in addressing the challenges Americans face on education, health care, job creation, crime prevention, and high energy costs. I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans alike in developing bills that put the priorities of the American people first.

This budget invests in education by increasing resources for education and training programs. It provides for $13 billion in education tax cuts, which will help make college more affordable. It provides a $2 billion Education Reserve Fund to provide for school construction and facility improvements, as well as the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the extension of education tax credits and deductions.

This budget gives a little more hope for American families raising children with disabilities. The President's budget proposed $11.3 billion in funding for special education, which represents the lowest level of support since fiscal year 2002. Last year, over 56,000 Wisconsin students with disabilities did not receive needed services due to chronic underfunding of IDEA, and the President's budget sought to continue this shameful trend.

This budget is better for Head Start, a program that prepares low-income children to succeed in school. For every dollar invested in Head Start, Wisconsin reaps $15 in future higher earnings, fewer crimes, and less remedial education. Head Start's funding has not kept pace with inflation or had any cost of living adjustments. In fact, Head Start has been cut by 11 percent since 2002.

This budget resolution rejects the President's proposal to eliminate 48 education programs, including vital student financial aid programs like Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and the Perkins Vocational Education Program. The President's proposal would have translated into a loss of $24 million in Federal aid for Wisconsin career and technical education.

This budget rejects the over $200 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that the President proposed. Such large cuts to these programs cannot be sustained without our Nation's health care safety net suffering. The result would be fewer people with access to health care, and that is not acceptable. In Wisconsin, this would have meant $1.3 billion in cuts to hospitals over 5 years, decreased enrollment in BadgerCare, and drastic cuts in Medicaid. I am pleased that my home State of Wisconsin will not see President Bush's unrealistic health care funding cuts implemented.

This budget resolution provides for more funding for the National Institutes of Health and other health care programs. I believe we must continue to invest in the NIH.

This budget anticipates a $4 billion allocation for the Community Development Block Grant Program, an increase of $68 million from last year. The CDBG Program is the largest program that helps cities and states create job opportunities and affordable housing. For Wisconsin, that would translate into approximately $74 million if the increase is enacted. Given the current housing market crisis, a program like CDBG is vital for communities to combat rising foreclosures and create more affordable housing units through rehabilitation of those properties.

This budget resolution would allow restoration of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, MEP, at $122 million. MEP helps manufacturers streamline operations, integrate new technologies, shorten production times and lower costs, leading to improved efficiency. At a time when we want to increase economic activity and strengthen the manufacturing base of our Nation, the MEP is a fiscally sound investment of Federal resources.

I am especially pleased that the budget resolution includes a reserve fund to address child support enforcement. This gives Congress the leeway to repair the damage done under the Deficit Reduction Act which slashed funding for the child support enforcement program. Counties in Wisconsin are feeling the crunch of those cuts--and so are families relying on child support to make ends meet. I am hopeful that Congress will take the opportunity laid out in the resolution to help these families by restoring cuts to the child support program.

And finally, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, I would be remiss if I failed to draw some observations about the President's budget and the situation we face on the WIC Program. I would like to insert for the record a letter which I recently sent to the Secretary of Agriculture. WIC provides essential nutrition assistance to pregnant women, infants and children. It is widely recognized for the impact this has on early childhood development. It is a critical discretionary program that is underfunded in the President's budget.

Our Nation faces extraordinary challenges. War and terrorism demand resources and attention. An aging population struggles to find the money to educate the next generation while battling increased health care costs. Our economy is struggling to create jobs. We need a budget that does better on all these counts. We need one that sensibly faces these challenges. This budget may not be perfect, but it gets us closer to that goal and therefore earns my support.

I ask unanimous consent that a letter dated March 12, 2008, be printed in the Record.


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