Senator calls for targeted savings; investment in workforce, infrastructure, education
Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressed Budget Chairman Patty Murray to do everything possible to craft budgetary priorities that cut our deficit while spurring economic growth in Minnesota and nationwide.
The text of the letter is below.
March 4, 2013
Dear Chairman Murray,
Few Americans were spared the effects of the recent economic recession-thousands of working families in Minnesota lost their homes and their jobs, and devastating financial impacts were felt by everyone up and down the economic ladder. As the Senate considers the Budget Resolution for the upcoming fiscal year, we must commit to tackling our massive debt in a way that also strengthens our economic recovery and protects middle class Minnesotans. This is an enormous and complex challenge, and I commend your leadership during this process.
Meaningful deficit reduction is critical and necessary, and our budget resolution must reflect tough choices and tough cuts. Deficit reduction must be achieved in a commonsense way that doesn't just shift costs to our seniors, or parents raising children with disabilities. That's why deficit reduction efforts should maintain a balance between targeted spending cuts and new revenues from closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and wealthy individuals. In recent years, Congress has achieved substantial deficit reduction of $2.4 trillion - 70 percent of which has come from spending cuts. Everyone agrees that we shouldn't saddle our children with insurmountable debt. At the same time, if we fail to make the necessary investments in economic growth, public health improvements, quality education, rural development, and clean energy, our children will inherit an equally unacceptable burden. With this in mind, I respectfully request that the Budget Resolution reflect the following priorities.
As we grow our economy into the 21st century, Minnesota's businesses are creating 21st-century jobs. Yet too many positions are going unfilled because businesses can't find workers with the specific skills that they need. According to one survey, almost half of Minnesota manufacturers want to hire but can't find workers who possess the necessary skills. In order to continue modernizing America's workforce and get people back on the job, I urge you to maintain funding for workforce investment and job training programs in the budget.
In addition, America's technology infrastructure needs to keep up with our changing economy. Broadband access is absolutely essential to compete in the global marketplace. Without access to high-speed Internet service, rural health care clinics can't communicate with specialists, farmers can't check market prices, and small businesses can't sell their products online. More than 226,000 Minnesota residents don't have access to broadband service. The federal government should do whatever it can to expand broadband service to rural communities through programs such as the USDA's Rural Utilities Service. I request that the budget reflect strong investments that will help build broadband infrastructure and promote broadband adoption.
Another pivotal component of 21st-century commerce is our ability to develop new sources of energy. Robust funding for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Programs at the Department of Energy will encourage the development of better, safer, and cheaper ways to meet our energy demands in future years. I request that the budget reflect funding levels that provide strong investments for these programs.
Many Native American tribes stand to benefit from abundant renewable energy resources. In order to develop these energy resources and create jobs, I urge strong funding for the Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs at the Department of Energy.
A perfect example of effective investments that can also contribute to deficit reduction is a new, five-year Farm Bill. The Senate passed such a bill in the last Congress, but unfortunately it was not enacted into law. Prioritizing passage of a full, five-year Farm Bill is a crucial component of a responsible budget.
Providing high-quality education opportunities to all our students, regardless of their background or where they live, is equally essential to maintaining American economic competitiveness in the 21st century. Many of our nation's students currently do not have access to such high-quality education opportunities, and without access to these opportunities, students will not be able to find family-supporting jobs, save for retirement, or provide for their children. Increased federal investments in key education programs such as Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund, Promise Neighborhoods, school counseling programs, special education programs, career and technical education programs, and Pell Grants will help to make sure all of our nation's students have an equal chance at success in life.
We can also reduce future federal spending on health care through smart reforms. Minnesota is a national leader in improving public health by providing high-value health care. Nationally, we can maximize the value of our health care dollars by investing in preventive health care and early intervention in order to reduce the burden of health care costs while improving the health of all our communities. In addition, allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices would dramatically reduce federal health care spending and reduce the deficit. I urge the committee to preserve the Prevention and Public Health Fund which supports programs such as the evidence-based National Diabetes Prevention Program, and also request robust funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration that would support community mental health providers and schools expanding access to behavioral health care for their students. Further, a budget that accounts for the full repeal of the medical device tax will spur medical innovation, promote new treatments for patients, and support Minnesota and the national economies, without harming the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
In the area of national security, we also must maintain our essential commitments and find savings for deficit reduction. As we draw down our participation in the wars of the last decade, we must make sure we are fully addressing the needs of those who fought on our behalf - as well as those who fought in our previous wars. I therefore request that the budget include funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs that reflects our commitment to our nation's veterans. Because so many of our service members have returned home in the midst of an economic crisis, the budget should fully fund veterans employment programs. That should include making sure there is funding should we succeed in passing the Veterans Jobs Corps Act or similar legislation.
The wars of the last ten years also contributed to our debt because they were not paid for. We should not make that same mistake again. The budget should embody a requirement that future Overseas Contingency Operations be offset rather than debt financed. We can also reduce our deficit by reducing the nuclear weapons budget. We can maintain an effective deterrent while reducing the role in our defense of nuclear weapons that we will never use. Finally, sustaining and building on the fragile stability that has been established in Somalia is both an important American security interest and of deep concern to the many Minnesotans who hail from Somalia and still have loved ones there. I therefore respectfully request that the international affairs budget include sufficient funding related to Somalia and the Horn of Africa to help preserve and promote stability and the well-being of those who have suffered so much in the region.
Finally, we must ensure that women and children are safe from the horrors of domestic and sexual violence. Ample funding for programs administered under the Violence Against Women Act-in particular, those protecting rape survivors from being forced to pay for forensic medical exams and supporting transitional housing for women and children fleeing danger-will send a clear message that domestic violence is not tolerated in America. I request that funding levels in the budget reflect the strength of our bipartisan commitment to ending domestic and sexual violence in this country.
Thank you considering these priorities as the Committee prepares the budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Smart investments and reforms are essential to addressing our long-term deficits while moving our economy forward into the 21st century.
United States Senator