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Congressional Budget for the United States Government for the Fiscal Year 2006

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Location: Washington, DC

CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET FOR THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FOR THE FISCAL YEAR 2006 -- (Senate - March 16, 2005)

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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, let me thank the Senator from Alaska for those few moments to speak to what I believe and many of us believe to be a phenomenally important issue for the Senate to be addressing. Let me try to set the record straight.

I believe it is now the noon hour, in the middle of the day. The Sun is up. The lights are on in this Chamber of the Senate. We are in the middle of a workweek. And somebody says this is not the place or the time to debate this issue? It is not midnight. It is not in a smoke-filled room. The lights are not turned down. C-SPAN is on and the American public is watching and you darned well bet this is the right place and the right time to debate a critical issue for the American people. So don't suffer the illusion or play the rhetorical game that says, ``ain't never happened before.''

The chairman of the Budget Committee has just submitted a long list of times when the other side used the budget resolution to produce major public policy. So it is the right time, the right place, the middle of the workweek; and we are doing the job of the American people, to debate this very critical and important issue.

I am always amazed when someone takes the coastal plain of Alaska, where today it might be 60 below and the wind may be 40 miles an hour, and calls it an Eden. That is not my vision of Eden. I am not suggesting it is not a rare place--it is. It is unique to the world, and we recognize that, and all of the environmental safeguards are in place. If we are allowed to go there and find oil and bring it to the lower 48, there will not be any damage to the environment. That is a fact for anybody who has been there.

Let us adjust the vision of Eden just a little bit. I don't think we are allowed to interpret it every way every day.

My last thought is quite simply somebody said--I believe the Senator from Washington just said--it will not bring down the price of oil. It probably will not. What it might do is stop the price of oil from going up. I just paid $2.11 a gallon for regular gas in the District of Columbia. I drive a very efficient small car. It still costs me $25 to fuel it. I have the good fortune of having a pretty-good-paying job, but there are a lot of Americans who do not. Just keeping the price of oil down, not letting it go up, would be a major victory for energy policy in this country. And it would fill the refinery at Anacordis that is now operating at 50-percent capacity. It would provide the jobs in the State of Washington that the Senator from Alaska spoke to. That is the reality of what we are talking about today--getting our country back into the business of producing energy for every American, whether they have high-paying or low-paying jobs. We live on our energy and it is time we put our country back into full production. I strongly support the resolution.

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Mr. CRAIG. Madam President, we are on the floor today debating a very important portion of the budget resolution for the Senate. That is the moneys that will fund the Veterans' Administration and serve the millions of America's veterans who are in need of this service and new veterans coming in out of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.

All of us who serve on that committee and examine the needs of our veterans recognize the importance of new dollars and the importance of sustaining what we have been able to do effectively over the last 4 or 5 years, to tremendously increase the quality of health care coming from the Veterans' Administration and increase enrollment.

The question is, when you look at the Murray amendment versus the Ensign amendment, how much is enough? How much is enough to sustain the work and the quality of work that goes on and to accept the incoming veterans who are truly needy of and deserving of the services provided by the Veterans' Administration?

Let me show a couple of charts that are fundamentally important and that many fail to recognize. Because the Senator from Hawaii is absolutely right: In 4 years we have increased spending in the Veterans' Administration by 43 percent. During that time enrollment has gone up from 4.9 million to about 7.7 million from October 1, 2000. And the quality of health care has gone right along up. Now the veterans health care facilities are rated as some of the finest in the Nation, ranking with the quality delivered from some of the top private health care facilities.

Here are the numbers: Medical care, 2001, $21.07 billion; 2005, $29.64 billion, a phenomenal increase, not millions, not hundreds of millions, but billions of dollars that the American taxpayer has committed to the quality care of veterans.

Let's look at the other portion of the veterans budget called discretionary spending. We have not been absent from that either. During the Bush years, 2001-2005, $25.7 billion up to $37.1 billion, again, billions of dollars. What was happening during the Clinton years? In two of those years, 1998 and 1999, the Clinton administration said: Let's cut veterans. Congress said no. Bush said no. We said no. We plused up what our President offered us. This President's budget is an increase. But we don't like the level of increase or how he has arrived at the increase. So we are changing those numbers substantially.

But the bottom line still remains, how much is enough to sustain this quality, to assure the door remains open, to assure that our veterans are served effectively? Do we throw money at it or, in a tight budget environment, do we constrain ourselves a little bit? Do we shape the issues? And in so doing, do we sustain levels of increase?

Here is what has happened in the last 4 years. Those are the numbers--a 43-percent increase. Probably no other area of the Federal Government has gone up that much outside of defense, and it hasn't, to my knowledge, gone up that much. But it does show a clear recognition on the part of Congress as to the importance of veterans to all of us.

If I may, for a few moments, I will break down the reality of what we are doing because we recognize, as certainly the Senators from Hawaii and Washington, that there are needs out there and that those needs must be met. We recognized in the President's budget that there were items we simply would not advance--copays, a nonstarter. I was willing to look at fees for sevens and eights in certain categories with higher incomes. But collectively Congress says, at least on this side of the Rotunda, no to that also. I accept that.

Here is what I recognize and here is what the Ensign amendment does. The President pluses up the budget by $751 million. The chairman's mark pluses it up again by $40 million. The Ensign-Craig-Vitter-Hutchison amendment pluses it up another $410 million, a net increase without reconciliation instructions. And that is very important. While that may be inside language for those of us who work the budget, it is very important to know that those are real dollars hitting the ground, not compromised, new money to the Veterans' Administration. Total it all up, between the President, the chairman's mark, and the Ensign amendment, and you have $1.201 billion, a 3.7-percent increase in a tight budget year.

I must say, this is one chairman of what I believe is an important committee who says that is responsible. That is the right thing to do. And we don't raise taxes to do it. We go inside Government spending and find the resources. And we have offset them appropriately in an account that last year increased 12 percent.

The irony is in the fact that in attempting to undo the President's proposal to charge additional fees on higher income vets, the Murray amendment charges another type of fee on veterans--and all Americans, for that matter--in the form of higher taxes. The Ensign-Craig amendment goes elsewhere inside current levels of spending. It does not do that. Yes, veterans do pay taxes. They are out there, hard-working Americans like nearly everyone else. And if you raise taxes, you raise it on them, too. I don't dispute the worthiness of the argument. I do dispute the resources involved and whether they are actually necessary in a very tight budget year when we are struggling to keep this economy alive, rewarding that economy that more money stays out there in it that stimulates job growth. And it has and it has proven that it is working because those numbers keep coming up in America as more Americans go back to work.

We ought not penalize that sector of our economy while we are truly trying to help a sector of our economy that is less fortunate and, most importantly, that has served this country well.

The men and women in uniform of our services, who stood in harm's way, we recognize their service but we also recognize there are limits within the budget. In those limits, we will have to say there are certain things we will do and certain things we cannot do. That is the choice, and it is a tough choice that we as Senators are asked to make when we shape budgets. But it is a necessary and a responsible choice. So we have said no to the enrollment fees, no to the copays.

We have also said no to something else very near and dear to the heart of the Senator from Washington, the Senator from Hawaii, and me, and that is State homes. Those beds, 20,000 across the Nation, with 285 in my State, are a cooperative relationship between the State and Federal Government in assuring that the truly needy of our veterans have a place to go--in their final years, in many instances. The administration had asked to drop that per diem. We said no to that and ensured the stability and the strength of those homes, at a time when States' budgets are tight--certainly in many instances tighter than ours. So I believe that was the right and responsible thing to do.

Last week, we heard extensively from all of the service organizations. What were their greatest frustrations? The fees, copays, and the homes. What have we done? We have taken all three of those major frustrations away because we listened to the service organizations. We heard them during that series of bicameral hearings, held both in the House and Senate.

Let me go back to my original statement. The question remains, whether you are looking at the amendment of the Senator from Washington or the amendment of the Senator from Nevada, how much is enough? Is a 1.201 plus-up, with no reconciliation instructions, enough? Does it sustain this quality of health care? Yes, it does. Or do we go further by asking the American people to pay higher taxes for more money that is questionably necessary? We could throw a lot more money at the Veterans' Administration, and we might get greater results. But we would be going beyond what I think is necessary and appropriate today, and I think most of my colleagues agree with me.

So we sustain the work we have done. I ask my colleagues in the Senate to support the Ensign amendment, support the work of the committee, sustain the vibrancy of the veterans health care system, and to vote down the Murray amendment.

I reserve the remainder of my time.

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Mr. CRAIG. Let me again thank all who participated in this debate. There are differences as to how we approach providing for our veterans. You see those differences embodied in part in the two amendments that are before us, either the Murray amendment or the Ensign amendment. I think it is important, though, that we do, for the record, correct or at least add information to some of the statements. My colleague from Illinois is concerned, as we all are, about PTSD. The Ensign-Craig amendment would provide an additional $100 million that can be devoted to, of course, mental illness. It is of great concern to us as our veterans come home from Iraq, Afghanistan, possibly whole in body but not whole in mind. That is recognized both by the President, by the Veterans' Administration, and by all of us, and we plus up that budget substantially to do so.

Another area that has not been mentioned that is critically necessary for rural veterans who find themselves in an emergency environment and need to gain access to emergency rooms of the hospital and the community and not a veterans facility--we have $43 million in the budget to ensure that veterans who seek emergency care in nonveteran facilities are treated exactly the same as they would be as if they were in veterans facilities.

Let's do the numbers. The Senator from Washington says the President's numbers only include $80 million. That $80 million is general revenue and the balance is in collections and that is real money and that is there all the time and that is in the budget and that is $751 million. You have to do all the math, all the time. That is what we are doing here to make sure the numbers are accurate.

So you take the $751 million in the President's request, general fund revenue and collections, and you take the chairman's mark of $40 million, and you take the Craig-Enzi amendment or Enzi-Craig amendment of $410 million and add it up and it is a 1.201 increase, health care, 3.7 percent increase over last year. It is not a tax increase.

I always find the rhetoric interesting. My colleague from Washington says there are $70 billion worth of tax cuts in this proposal. They are not tax cuts. If you don't enact it, it is a tax increase. Those cuts are already in place. This is the assurance of the continuum of those tax cuts. Take them out, it is a tax increase. It is a matter of semantics. It is also a matter of fact. What is being offered by the Senator from Washington, as she pluses up the veterans budget, is gained by tax increases.

Let me put it this way: Taxes that would be asked to be paid by working men and women, America's workforce, America's veterans. They are not paying them now. They would pay them then. My suggestion is that is a tax increase.

Let me close with a couple of more analyses. We are mighty proud of what our President and what we have done over the last 4 years for the veterans of America and for the quality of health care and service delivery of the Veterans' Administration. Here it is, a 43-percent increase. We have gone from $48.8 billion in 2001 to $69.8 billion in 2005, and we are now plusing that up into the $70-plus billion range, $71 billion. That is total spending.

Let's look at health care for a moment. There are substantial increases there. We increased health care when veterans were asking for it. They went from over 4 million vets into the services in 2001 to now almost 8 million vets, and we have an increase from $21 billion in 2001 to $29.6 billion. In doing so, America now says the veterans health care service is one of the finest health care delivery services in the country.

The test for Senators ought to be: Do we damage it? No, we do not. Do we assure those coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan with the true needs of the services provided have access? Yes, we do. No question about that.

The President assured it. He approached it a different way. We assure it by approaching it from within the Federal budget instead of raising taxes to accomplish that.

I believe the Enzi-Craig-Vitter-Hutchison amendment does exactly what most Senators would want to ask of us in relation to the care for our veterans. It is a responsible approach. It is clearly a defensible approach. We believe that we have approached it in the right manner to solve the problems and retain the consistency of quality, of improvement and access to the veterans health care system.

I believe all time has expired.

I yield the remainder of my time.

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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, fellow Senators, you just voted to increase the veterans budget by $1.2 billion. A 3.7-percent increase over last year's spending meets all the service requirements, meets incoming new veterans out of Iraq, serves the needs of America's veterans. The amendment you are now being asked to vote on is nearly a $3 billion increase, and a major tax increase to offset it.

If you want to raise taxes, if you want to go way beyond what is necessary to keep the quality of veterans health care alive, you should vote for this. But I hope you would not only serve your veterans but would be fiscally responsible and wouldn't raise taxes on America's working men and women, especially America's working veterans.

We ought not have to tax them to serve them in their health care. But that is what the Akaka-Murray amendment does.

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