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Public Statements

The Debt

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, there has been a lively debate on the floor concerning our 2011 budget. Now we are starting to talk about the 2012 budget. I think it is important to point out what I hope is the obvious, which is that the budget of our Nation represents our vision for our future. It is a policy document that speaks to what our priorities will be. It provides the financial tools for us to be able to meet those objectives.

I know we are in very difficult fiscal times, but this is not the first time in the history of America. I remind my colleagues that in the 1990s we were confronted with a large budget deficit. I happened to have been in the House of Representatives during that time. We saw, through the leadership of President Clinton, that we were able to bring our budget into balance, and we did that from large deficits. We did it in a way that maintained America's priorities and maintained the priorities for our children and our future because we continued to fund those essential programs that allowed our Nation to grow.

As a result of what we did in the 1990s, we saw unprecedented growth in our economy because we did our budget the right way, speaking to America's future and to our priorities, and doing it in a fiscally responsible way. I think President Obama was correct when he stated in his State of the Union Address that America will meet the challenges of international competition, and we will do that by outeducating, outinnovating, and outbuilding our competitors.

That requires a budget that speaks to those priorities, that speaks to educating our workforce, to provide the type of climate where America can continue to lead the world in research and innovation, that we pay attention to our infrastructure, whether it is transportation, water infrastructure, energy infrastructure, so we have the capacity to be able to compete internationally and that we can create the jobs that will be critically important for America.

We need more jobs and we need good-paying jobs. That is what President Obama's vision is about, and our budget needs to underscore that vision. Yes, we need to do it in a fiscally responsible way but in a way that allows America's future to be secure. That is why I so much opposed the budget that was sent over to us from the House of Representatives, the 2011 budget, H.R. 1, before the ability to reach a compromise. I did that because when you look at what H.R. 1 would have done--particularly in light of the budget agreement we have now reached on the 2011 budget--you cannot help but notice a huge difference between our visions for America. We all agree we have to have a workforce that can compete.

Look at the stark differences between the budget agreement and the House-passed budget. In NIH research--and I take pride in this, since NIH is headquartered in Maryland--most of the funding for basic research, which is critically important for innovation--you cannot get to the applied research unless you have the basic research, and you cannot get good high-tech jobs unless you invest in basic research. Thanks to the budget agreement we reached, most of the funding will be able to be maintained for the basic research at NIH. If the House budget would have become law, it would have been $1.4 billion less. That would have been a huge hit on America's ability to be able to compete in this global marketplace. You also need to have a trained workforce. You need job training and Job Corps programs. Most of the funding has been maintained in this budget agreement for our job training and Job Corps programs; whereas, if you look at the House-passed budget, they eliminated all funds for job training and a 40-percent reduction in the Job Corps program. That was restored under the budget agreement that allows America to have the competitive workforce it needs to meet future challenges.

Perhaps the area that I think people in Maryland and Minnesota may recognize the most is what happens to Pell grants. Most students cannot make it today, unless they have help in higher education. It is too expensive to be able to afford without the help of programs such as Pell grants. You need to have education beyond high school if you are going to be competitive today. Well, the House-passed budget would have reduced Pell grants by 15 percent. I can assure you that tuition isn't going down by 15 percent this year. Tuition at colleges and universities is going up and up.

I am proud we were able to, in the budget agreement, maintain the maximum Pell grants at $5,550. We maintain funding for Race to the Top funds because we want excellence in K-12. The House-passed budget would have zeroed out the Race to the Top funds.

To me, if you talk about a budget that speaks to America's values, to give young children the chance to succeed in school, Head Start has never been a

partisan program. It has been supported by Democrats and Republicans because there are proven results in Head Start. People who participate in Head Start will do better. We have those results, so it is in our economic interest.

The Republican-passed budget in the House would have knocked 218,000 children off the Head Start Program. It would have reduced 55,000 teachers and aides from Head Start Programs around our Nation. I am pleased to see that the agreement we will be voting on shortly restores all the funds for the Head Start Program, so our children can get the Head Start they need to succeed in K-12.

The budget speaks to our energy policies and transportation policies. It is interesting to look and see that the agreement reached by our negotiators restores more than $268 million in renewable energy and alternative energy sources. If we are going to be able to be competitive, we need an energy policy that makes sense. If we are going to keep jobs in America, we need an energy policy that makes sense. If we are going to be secure, we have to get ourselves off foreign oil. We need alternative energy sources.

The compromise restores a lot of the funds that were not in the House-passed budget document. I might talk about one issue that is very important to the people living in this region. We made a commitment years ago that the Federal Government would participate with the surrounding jurisdictions in the funding of the Nation's transit system, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit System, which is critical to getting Federal workers to work and to our Nation's Capital. Our government committed $150 billion a year to modernize that system. Taxpayers of Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia are contributing also to the modernization of a system that is aged and critically important. We live in the second most congested area in the Nation, as far as commutes are concerned. The House of Representatives, in the Republican-passed budget, took out that $150 million--took it out. I am proud the compromise reached restores that $150 million.

Our budget speaks to our health and our environment. The Health Resources Services Administration was severely cut in the Republican-passed budget. It would have affected care in each one of our communities. Our negotiators restored $900 million to that budget. What does that mean? It means the 11,000 community health centers, located in all our States, will be able to continue the services they are currently providing.

I took the floor before and talked about the Greater Baden Center, located just a few miles from here, and how they have expanded service this year to deal with prenatal care. In Maryland and in America, our infant mortality rate is too high. For a wealthy nation and State to have the type of infant mortality rate we have is inexcusable. It is because we have low-birth-weight babies. Some die and others survive and have complications and have a tough time in life and they are very expensive to the health care system. In our health centers, we are doing something about that. At the Greater Baden Center, they are now going to provide prenatal care so pregnant women can get the attention they need and can deliver healthier babies. Under the House-passed budget, they would not have done that.

The math is simple. We invest in the health of Americans. We understand that. That is our budget. The Republican-passed House budget would have cut off those funds. The affordable care act will be able to implement it. We are not going to be stopped by the effort made in the Republican-passed budget.

As far as the environmental protection riders we have talked about, these are the policy riders. I know this is confusing to people listening to this debate, and they understand that the House-passed budget by the Republicans had a lot of policy issues that had absolutely nothing to do with the budget.

They blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment. Let me say that again. They blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment. They couldn't enforce the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. For the people of Maryland and this region, that means blocking the enforcement of the Chesapeake Bay Program--a program that enjoys broad support from the people not only of our region but the Nation.

Well, I am pleased to say the budget we will be voting on later this week eliminates those restrictions. All of them are out. Thank goodness they are because they should never have been in the budget document to start with.

I will make it clear, Mr. President. I am very disappointed by many of the provisions included in this compromise. It is a true compromise. It is not what the Democrats would have written, I can assure you of that, and it is not what the Republicans would have written. It is a true compromise, and that is what we had to go through, I understand, but I feel compelled to at least let the people of Maryland know the cost of the compromises.

For example, the General Services Administration will have $1 billion less to deal with government construction. What will that mean? Well, at White Oak, MD, we have the FDA's expansion. That will be put on hold. That will not only affect my community, but it will affect our country because we are talking about public health and food safety.

There is a rider that was attached that did survive that deals with the delisting of the great wolf under the Endangered Species Act. That is not how we should be acting. There is a remedy for dealing with the delisting. There is a process we go through. We shouldn't go down a dangerous precedent that starts congressional or political action on delisting species that are included under the Endangered Species Act.

The cuts for the community development block grant are much more than I would like to see. These are programs that are important for our urban centers. During these times, when their budgets are being hit the hardest, I think it is very unfortunate to tell them we are just going to add to their challenges. We should be helping them during these times. We shouldn't be taking resources away from them.

The Federal Transit Administration has a major cut in this budget. I find that regrettable, particularly as it relates to their new start budget. I come from a State that has major new transit projects we want to get moving--the purple line to connect our suburban areas around Washington, the red line in Baltimore, Carter City's transit way to connect the 270 corridor for high-tech jobs. All those depend upon us continuing to move forward with sensible transit projects that, quite frankly, I think are in jeopardy as a result of the compromises that were needed to be made.

Teach for America is eliminated. The Federal participation in that is eliminated. On Monday I had a chance to teach for Teach for America. I was in a high school in Baltimore with some very dedicated young people willing to give up their lives so America can compete in the future. We certainly should have continued the Federal partnership in Teach for America.

I talked about the Environmental Protection Agency, but I didn't point out that the Republican budget in the House cut that agency by 30 percent--30 percent. We restored half of those funds, but the cut is still going to be pretty severe.

So I just wanted my colleagues to know that, whereas I am very pleased that many of the decisions made in this compromise for the 2011 budget will allow us to be able to move forward as a nation for America's vision--being able to out-educate, out-innovate, and out-build our competitors--there are challenges as a result of the compromise that have to be faced. Mr. President, these discussions will continue now to the 2012 budget.

We are already seeing that happen. In the House they are already starting to act on what is known as the Ryan budget, which we think is pretty much inspired by the tea party. It is pretty extreme. It is pretty radical. It is not a credible plan, in my view. It is not a credible plan to reduce the Federal deficit.

Now, why do I say that? Well, the Ryan budget concentrates on domestic spending. It doesn't touch military spending, and it doesn't touch our revenues. Let me correct that. It does deal with our revenues, but it deals with it in the wrong way. It not only extends every tax break that is currently available, providing tax relief for millionaires, but it provides additional tax relief. It lowers the highest rates.

Now, how is that going to be paid for? Well, they are expecting they are going to take more out of middle-income families. That is bad for middle-income families, but my guess is they will not even be able to reach those targets, and we will have huge deficits as far as the eye can see. It is not a credible plan.

The deficit commission taught us if we are to have a credible plan to deal with the deficit, we have to deal with domestic spending. We have to deal with military spending. We have to deal with mandatory spending. And we have to deal with revenues. We have to deal with all of them. The Ryan budget does not.

It is going to be hard for middle-income families, it protects America's wealthiest, and it attacks our seniors--attacks our seniors. The Ryan budget would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Now, I can tell you what that means in dollars and cents. It means our seniors, who currently have--currently have--the largest out-of-pocket costs for health care than any other age group of Americans, will see their health care costs go up dramatically--double. Some of us remember how it was for seniors to get health care before we had Medicare. We had to fight with private insurance companies. Private insurance companies are not interested in insuring people who make a lot of claims. Guess what. As you get older, you make a lot of claims.

What the Republican budget would do is tell our seniors: We are going to give you a voucher. It is a limited amount of money. Now you go find a private insurance plan out there. Whatever it costs, you are going to have to fill up the difference. We know it is going to cost a lot more than the voucher we are giving you.

That is what they are doing. They are making it more expensive for our seniors to afford health care where they are asking us to reduce their costs, not make it more expensive.

Then the Ryan budget goes further by block-granting the Medicaid Program. That means, quite frankly, Medicaid will not survive. We can talk about the hardships it will have on providing health care in our community, how it will have more and more people using the emergency rooms rather than using preventive care or seeing doctors, and that is all going to absolutely happen if we ever block-grant Medicaid.

Let me follow up on our seniors. Many of our seniors depend upon the Medicaid system, and their families depend upon it for long-term care--nursing care. That will not survive if we block-grant that to our States. So the Ryan budget not only is not credible as it relates to dealing with the deficit, it also is very punitive against our seniors.

What I find probably the most disappointing is where I started this discussion, saying our budget is our vision for our future, that it speaks to our priorities for our future. The Ryan budget leaves our children behind. If we are going to succeed, we have to take care of our children. They are our future. We have to deal with their education and with their health care. The Ryan budget puts them in severe jeopardy. It is a philosophical document that I don't think represents the values of America. I think our values are in our children and in our future and in our ability to meet those economic challenges.

I think there is a better way. President Obama is calling for a comprehensive progrowth economic strategy that will invest in winning the future. I would hope all of us could embrace that. Don't we want a comprehensive progrowth economic strategy that invests in winning in the future, that invests in our children, that invests in education and in innovation?

As President Obama says, he wants to meet our values for the dignity of our retirees. Think about that for one moment. How we treat our retirees speaks to what we are as a nation--the dignity of our retirees. Think about a retiree trying to find an insurance company that will take care of their insurance needs because we dumped the Medicare system. We can't let that happen. We can't let that happen.

There is a better way. Sixty-four of us in the Senate have said there is a better way. We have said: Look, it is time for us to be serious about a credible plan for our deficit, and we are prepared--64 of us: 32 Democrats, 32 Republicans--to not only cut our domestic spending, but we will look at bringing down mandatory spending, and we will look at military, and we will look at revenues. There is a better way to do this. I think we can represent the best of America's future in our budget by providing education, innovation, job growth, health and environment policies that make sense, and we can do it with fiscal responsibility. That is our mission.

So I know a lot of my colleagues come down to say we have to take care of the deficit--do the deficit--and I agree with that. But, remember, our budget document is our statement about America's future. It is our policy document, and America needs to stand up for quality education, for the best health care in the world, and for encouraging innovation that will give us the jobs of the future so that America can continue to lead the world. I think America deserves nothing less, and I intend to continue to fight for that type of vision for America.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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