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Public Statements

Concurrent Resolution on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2014

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise to talk about the budget we are proposing. It has three basic guiding principles: First, we must protect our fragile economic recovery by creating jobs and investing in economic growth.

I remember when we did this during the Clinton administration. President Clinton proposed as a deficit reduction package raising income taxes on those who earned above $250,000 at 39.6 percent. Every Republican voted against it, and many of them went on record saying it was going to cause a recession. Some Members of this body voted against it saying it was going to cause a recession and it would be Clinton's recession. So 22.7 million jobs later there was no deficit. We had a surplus.

This idea we hear from the other side that every time we raise taxes we hurt the economy just defies history. All we have to do is look at recent history, and especially now, at a time when there is a growing disparity in income in our country.

What we are trying to do is to promote growth. We promote growth by investing in that which creates growth. We know what they are. One is education. We are going to cut Pell grants? When my wife was 18 months old her father died in a car accident. He was a decorated World War II vet, leaving her mom widowed at age 29, with 5 kids, four girls and a boy. The boy, my brother-in-law, went into the Coast Guard and he did 20 years in the Coast Guard and he still works for the Coast Guard. He is an electrical engineer in the Coast Guard. He is the second most important man in my son's life. My son was able to get a master's degree in mechanical engineering from MIT.

My three sisters-in-law and Franni went to college on Pell grants and scholarships. At that time the full Pell grant paid for 85 percent of a public college education. Now it pays for less than 35 percent. The Presiding Officer knows, because my mother-in-law ended up going to the University of Maine. But the Presiding Officer knows that today, kids who go to the University of Maine have debt. All of us know our kids, our students have debt. In Minnesota the average debt is $29,000.

My wife's family lived on Social Security survivor benefits. My mother-in-law went to college on the GI bill. She got a loan on the GI bill. She became a teacher, teaching title I kids--because of Social Security, because of the GI bill. My wife's family was able to just barely get by. They barely made it. Sometimes there wasn't enough food on the table. Sometimes they turned the phone off, but they made it.

We have people now--they all made it into the middle class. The ladder was there. We are trying to preserve that. They tell us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps in this country. Sometimes people just need the boots first. The government gave my wife's family the boots, and they are all productive members of our society because of programs.

We had a hearing in the HELP Committee, and we had a witness whom the Republicans called, and he testified about what creates the middle class. They called a witness who was from the American Enterprise Institute. They are good people at the American Enterprise Institute. The witness's testimony ended with the idea that government can create jobs is a myth. So when it got to my turn to question him, I said: Have you heard of the Erie Canal? He had. The Erie Canal opened the Midwest to Europe. It made shipping our timber and our agricultural goods 97 percent more efficient. I asked him if he had heard of the Interstate Highway System. He had. I asked him if he understood that we were on C-SPAN, as we are right now, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network. I asked him if he knew who put up the first satellites; it was the Defense Department.

I noted that he had gone to the University of California at San Diego. I asked him if any of his professors had helped him at all. He said they had. He got his doctorate at UCLA. I asked him if he had heard of the Internet. He had.

By the end of my questioning, he said: To say that the government can't create jobs would be absurd. It started with the idea that government can create jobs is a myth, and he ended his testimony with saying: To say the government can't create jobs would be absurd. There was a 180-degree difference except he added absurdity. So he injected it. That is what I used to do. I used to identify absurdity.

There is absurd stuff going on and being said here. We are hearing things cited that have been disproved so many times.

The budget we are proposing today is based on three guiding principles. First, we must protect our fragile economic recovery by creating jobs and investing in economic growth. Second, we must tackle our deficits in a responsible way. And finally, we need to honor the promises we have made to our seniors, our veterans, and our middle class families. This budget does all of those things--and in doing so, it reflects our values and our priorities. In contrast, the budget being debated in the House provides massive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, while slashing critical investments that will endanger our economic recovery.

Everyone agrees we shouldn't saddle our children and grandchildren with insurmountable debt--addressing our debt is a responsibility we take very seriously. But 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 and grandchildren will inherit an equally unacceptable burden.

Drastic cuts to infrastructure, innovation, and education are penny wise and pound foolish. Even if we save a little on paper upfront, the realistic long-term effects are costly and devastating. That is why our budget includes a $100 billion infrastructure recovery plan that will get workers back on the job, repairing our crumbling schools and bridges, and building up our technology infrastructure, so schools and small businesses, even in rural Minnesota, can stay competitive.

It also lays the groundwork to pass a comprehensive 5-year Farm Bill that will provide certainty and support for Minnesota's farmers. This budget plan protects Head Start, early childhood education, and Pell grants--which make a quality education possible for all students, regardless of background, and will prepare our children for the 21st century workforce.

This budget demonstrates our commitment to responsible deficit reduction. Since the Simpson-Bowles proposal, Congress has reduced the deficit by $2.4 trillion--$1.8 trillion coming from spending cuts, and $600 billion from allowing tax rates for the wealthiest to return to prior levels. This budget builds on that deficit reduction with an additional $1.85 trillion. That is a total of $4.25 trillion in deficit reduction--which exceeds the goal set out in Simpson-Bowles.

This budget shares other principles of Simpson-Bowles--that deficit reduction should be achieved through a mix of spending cuts and new revenues, and that deficit reduction should not be done on the backs of the most vulnerable.

At one point in time, there was enthusiasm among some of my Senate colleagues from the other side of the aisle for Simpson-Bowles. One such Senator said, ``Say yes to Simpson-Bowles . . . I'm willing to say yes to Simpson-Bowles.'' Another said, ``Everybody knows what the solution is, and that's Simpson-Bowles . . . I mean, everybody knows that that's the template for what we need to do.'' Another called the plan ``a good starting point and should be seriously considered by Congress.'' Our budget exceeds the deficit reduction goal in Simpson-Bowles, and follows the same general principles--yet my colleagues on the other side have not yet come around to supporting it.

Finally, in addition to growing our economy and responsibly addressing the deficit, our budget honors the promises we have made to our seniors, our veterans, and our most vulnerable. This is in sharp contrast to the budget being considered in the House.

My colleagues and I pay into Medicare every month, and so we are entitled to Medicare benefits when we reach age 65. The fact that we are entitled to these benefits is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very important thing for millions of American seniors. In 1965, we created Medicare and Medicaid so seniors could count on having access to medical care in their retirement. As a nation, we promised our parents and grandparents they could count on Medicare and Medicaid as a safety net in their golden years. And the Senate Democratic budget protects that safety net.

However, the House Republican budget would undermine the very foundation of the promise, and end Medicare as we know it. Their budget would replace Medicare's guarantee of health coverage with a voucher, and would raise the Medicare eligibility age. In my home State of Minnesota, this proposal would shift costs to more than 800,000 seniors when they can least afford to bear that burden. It would end the guarantee of health coverage that Medicare has made for decades. In fact, it would end Medicare as we know it.

The House Republican budget would also turn Medicaid into a block grant. Now, a lot of people think Medicare will provide long-term care services for seniors since Medicare is thought of as the health care program for seniors. But it is actually Medicaid that provides those long-term services and supports. Medicare does not cover those.

So when the House Republicans talk about turning Medicaid into a block grant, what they are actually talking about is ending the guarantee that seniors can get the care they need when they need it most. In my home State of Minnesota, that means the nearly 100,000 seniors who depend on Medicaid would no longer be able to count on getting the care they need. Our Senate budget protects the Medicaid program so seniors can access that care when they need it.

I also want to talk for a moment about the SNAP program, or food stamps. The House Republican budget would cut the SNAP program by $135 billion. This could mean that as many as 13 million people would be cut from the program. More than a quarter of these people would be low-income seniors and people with disabilities. That is as many as 3 million seniors who would no longer have the assistance they need to buy food. Fortunately, the Senate budget protects the SNAP program so that seniors can continue to buy food.

This budget also keeps our Nation's promise to our veterans. We just marked the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. We have responsibly brought that war to an end. We remain in Afghanistan, where we have been for well over a decade, though we are also bringing our participation in that war to a responsible end. Well over 2 million Americans have deployed during those wars as part of our all-volunteer force.

The budget funds veterans programs so that veterans can get the education they need, the jobs they are seeking, the homes every American should be able to depend on, and access to the health care they have earned and deserve.

I am proud of our budget, and of the values it reflects. It reflects a commitment to the success of future generations, and to the middle class. It puts the interests of regular people above those of our most profitable corporations. It tackles our budget deficits in a way that will promote growth and prosperity.

I have also filed several amendments that reflect priorities for Minnesota--in particular, the expansion of rural broadband, the promotion of college affordability, encouraging public-private partnerships in workforce training efforts, expanding access to skills courses for the unemployed, and promoting clean energy on tribal lands.

I thank Chairman Murray for her leadership during this process, and look forward to carrying out this budget's priorities alongside her in the coming years.

I yield the floor.


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