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Public Statements

The Budget

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

THE BUDGET -- (Senate - March 19, 2009)

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I thank the distinguished chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee for her passionate defense of our natural resources. She is a constant ally of the very best we cull forth from each other as Senators where our most precious environmental concerns are engaged. It is an honor to follow her.

Before I yield the floor to the distinguished Senator from New Hampshire, who has already made an impact here, I wanted to say a few words about the President's new budget.

Across the country, families sit at their kitchen tables and talk and make tough choices about their own family budget, about what they can afford to spend, about what they have to save. What will they do when it is time for the kids to go to college? What will they do if the car breaks down? What will they do if an elderly parent becomes ill? How will they use their finances wisely to plan for the future? This year, those choices are more difficult than ever. We have families in Rhode Island, as I am sure we have across the country, trying to save their homes, to save their jobs, to save their health care. The bills pile up, and all too often there is not enough to pay them. Well, our country is in a deep hole too. But I would like to remind my colleagues that it was not always this way.

In January 2001, when George Bush became President, the Congressional Budget Office, which is the non-partisan accounting arm of Congress that does our budget outlook on a regular basis, projected that we would see surpluses straight through the decade. These budget surpluses, the product of President Clinton's responsible governing, were projected to be enough to completely wipe out our national debt by 2009, this very year. Imagine, a debt-free America this year. Well, President Bush fixed that.

Usually when American families have a surplus, they use it responsibly, they pay down credit card debt or make an extra mortgage payment. They put it away in retirement savings. They set it aside for college for the kids. Or they spend it on something they need, such as a downpayment on a car or a house. Well, President Bush chose tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, a misguided war he would not pay for--an irresponsible economic policy, leaving a mountain of debt to the next administration. He, of course, had the enthusiastic support of a Republican Congress which was with him every step of the way into this debt.

Today, the difference between the expected surpluses left by President Clinton and the actual deficit run up by President Bush is a staggering $8.9 trillion--$8.9 trillion on America from the Bush administration and its Republican allies in Congress.

So that is what President Obama inherited--a legacy of reckless borrowing, bad decisions, compounded by skyrocketing unemployment and now a deepening recession that only adds to our country's fiscal woes.

President Obama is trying to help us dig our way out of this mess by focusing his budget on the policies and programs that will repair our economy and create the foundation for long-term economic growth and success. He proposed, and we passed, an economic recovery plan to create jobs and support struggling families and make badly needed investments in our infrastructure during this recession. It wasn't perfect. It probably will not be enough. But it was a good start.

Now, the same Republican Party that thought tax cuts for the rich and an unnecessary war in Iraq were good uses of President Clinton's budget surpluses, the same Republican Party that ran up an $8.9 trillion debt on the country now has its leaders calling President Obama's plans ``the fleecing of America's children.'' It is hard to imagine that this irony eludes them.

President Obama wants to cut taxes for working families, invest in renewable energy, help more young people get a college education, and reform our broken health care system--key priorities for the future of America. But some Republicans who stood by while our country became more and more dependent on foreign oil, while the cost of a college education went through the roof, and while a crisis brewed in our health care system are calling these investments in our future ``a remarkable spending binge.'' Once again, the ``department of irony'' appears to be open late on the other side of the aisle.

Families in America know we will not get out of this mess with the same failed policies that got us into it--that it is time for new priorities. That is what President Obama's budget offers.

Perhaps our greatest challenge, certainly one of our greatest challenges and opportunities, is presented by our broken and dysfunctional health care system. Unless we take serious remedial action and soon, right away, this recession we are living through now will seem like an economic speed bump compared to what will happen when that $35 trillion in unfunded Medicare liabilities, against which we have set not one nickel, comes bearing down on us.

We had a lot of fighting in this body about that Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Recovery and Reinvestment Act was nearly $800 billion. Compare that to the Bush debt I talked about that they ran up of $8.9 trillion. Where was the complaining then? Compare that to the $35 trillion in unfunded liabilities we face for Medicare. Where are the serious ideas about how we address this problem?

When you put these problems to scale, you will see that wave of cost, that tsunami of health care cost coming at us is something we have to address. We are facing truly the financial ruin of our health care system and, if nothing is done, the financial ruin of our country. Every one of us should share the goal of making sure health insurance coverage reaches every American. President Obama's budget makes a downpayment on that badly needed reform. But it is not enough just to give coverage to everybody. It is not enough just to get everybody on board, if the boat itself is sinking.

We have two toolboxes out of which we can fix our health care mess. One reduces coverage, cuts benefits, pays providers less, and raises taxes. That is the old-fashioned toolbox. It will work, but it will be brutal. It will be wrong, and we should do everything we can to prevent it. The other toolbox reforms the health care system itself, making it more intelligent, sensible, helpful, and efficient; with an information technology infrastructure so every American can count on their own secure electronic health record, with improvements in the quality of health care so we maximize the effectiveness while reducing the cost; and with reform of having paid for health care so the health care we want is the health care we are paying for.

The President sees that all of this is doable--and that we need to start now. His economic recovery legislation put nearly $20 billion into health information infrastructure. But the President knows there is much more to be done, that these delivery system reforms in health care cannot be flipped on like a light switch. It will require complex workforce, regulatory, and infrastructure changes. Then those changes will have to be implemented and administered. It will take some years, and we need to start now. The Obama budget starts us on that course to fix our broken health care system.

I find it unfortunate that our Republican colleagues don't seem to appreciate the seriousness of these problems and have become a chorus of naysayers with no solutions. It is time to pass a budget that lives up to the expectations of the American people. I hope we will.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.

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