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Concurrent Resolutions on the Budget for Fiscal Year 2006 - Conference Report

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise this evening to strongly oppose this budget resolution, and I do so regretfully as a Member of the Budget Committee. I appreciate the courtesies of our chairman. I also very much appreciate the leadership of our ranking member, who has been so articulate and so committed throughout this process to a responsible budget resolution.

The individual pages of this budget resolution contain a lot of numbers and complicated legislative language, but, taken as a whole, this budget resolution is our Nation's values document. It is about the values and priorities of the American people, our shared values and priorities.

This budget reflects the wrong values and the wrong priorities for our country. The guiding values in our country are responsibility, opportunity, community, and security.

This budget is not responsible. In fact, it is incredibly irresponsible. It contains the largest deficits in the history of our country. Think about that: the largest deficits in the history of our country. It will add $1.4 trillion to the national debt over the next 5 years.

This budget will force our children and our grandchildren to pay for the misplaced priorities of this President and this Congress. This is reckless, this is wrong, and it does not reflect real American values.

The idea of America is based on optimism, that tomorrow can be better than today. We all want our children to have it better than we did. We all want to leave them with a good economy, not a stagnant one saddled with a large national deficit. We want our children to have great jobs, not a great big debt.

Unfortunately, since 2001, this administration and the Republican majority have turned a surplus of $5.6 trillion, created under the Clinton administration, into a deficit of $5.2 trillion. Back in 2001, I was very pleased to be part of a bipartisan group of Senators, including Senator Snowe and Senator Bayh, who urged our colleagues to put in place something that would prevent us from sliding into this massive debt. We warned our colleagues and the administration about the possibility that our $5.6 trillion projected surplus may not hold up if we enacted large tax breaks for our wealthiest Americans.

In order to prevent this from happening, Senator Snowe and Senator Bayh and I offered an amendment that created a trigger to the 2001 budget resolution that would have prevented overspending on either tax cuts or new spending. Despite support from Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and a few of our Republican colleagues, our trigger was rejected by the majority.

I might add that, in coming before our Budget Committee, Chairman Greenspan once again talked about some kind of a mechanism that would get us back into balance, something like a trigger that should have been put in place at the time.

Unfortunately, as a result of the administration's reckless economic policies, we now have the highest deficits in the history of the country. We are borrowing money at a record pace, much of it coming from countries such as China and Japan who now hold 50 percent or more of our foreign debt, which has implications economically for us in our ability to bring trade actions and hold them responsible for following the rules. That has implications in our national security policy.

The value of the dollar is weak overseas, and our economy is basically stagnant after record job losses in the last 4 years. Our manufacturing sector, quite literally, is in a depression in my home State of Michigan, despite hard-working businesses and individuals. These large budget deficits and the stagnant economy are ruining opportunity in our country--opportunity, one of the basic values on which America was founded.

Older workers are losing their jobs and their health insurance. Younger workers have less hope for employment in most of our traditional industries that pay well and provide health insurance and other benefits.

There is nothing worse than ruining the American dream for our children. We can do better than this. Unfortunately, this budget undermines our children's chances to succeed by taking away opportunity. This budget saddles them with a massive national debt and a bad economy. It cuts the very programs that help them succeed, such as education and job training and, I might add, over the objections of this Senate, where the majority of people voted against many of these education cuts before the resolution passed the Senate.

This final document underfunds our public schools. It eliminates critical student financial aid programs for college students. As most people know, the cost of a college education is soaring. Now is not the time to be cutting assistance. Now is the time to increase it.

This is about creating opportunity for our children to succeed in a new global economy where skills are more important than ever. I remember Chairman Greenspan coming again before our committee, and in his written statement he expressed great concern about the growing skills gap between those who now have skills and those who do not have the skills they need to compete.

This document does not invest in our future. It takes away opportunity rather than investing in opportunity. When the cost of a college education becomes out of reach for our families, it will be harder and harder for our children to contribute to our economy and live the American dream. That is what this is all about. It needs to be what it is all about, making sure we are making critical investments as an entity together, as a Congress, as a Federal Government, as we do in our own families making investments for the future, as a businessperson would do making investments for the future.

This budget also helps break up our country's sense of community. It does so by undermining the commitments we have made to our veterans, our seniors, as well as our farmers.

When our service men and women risk their lives overseas, we make a promise to them. We make a promise to them that, God willing, they will come back alive and we will provide them the quality health care they need and deserve. In essence, we are saying, as a country: Thank you for your service. We want to help you as you come back and resume a civilian life.

Unfortunately, this budget makes cuts in veterans health care programs. Unbelievably, at a time of war, when more and more people are coming home and changing one cap for another, this conference report does not provide the full funding for veterans health care. Even though more and more of our brave men and women are coming home with extensive medical needs, even though many veterans have to wait up to 6 months to get into certain hospital services, this budget still cuts veterans health care. I believe this is morally wrong.

This budget also makes cuts in Medicaid health care. The Medicaid Program not only provides health care for low-income working families, but the majority of our Medicaid spending goes to pay for long-term care for our seniors and people with disabilities. Again, we stood, a majority of us here in the Senate, and said no to that proposal when it was in the Senate budget resolution. Now it comes back to us in final form, and we see billions of dollars eliminated from critical health care services.

Many people who are in long-term care facilities are seniors who worked hard their entire lives. They paid their taxes. They provided for their children. And now many of them are living out the twilight of their lives in nursing homes. They deserve to do this with dignity.

As my colleagues know, seniors are not eligible for long-term care under the Medicaid health program until they have spent down almost all of their assets. That means many of these seniors have already spent all of their savings and all of their retirement. They have sold their house, and every month they turn over most of their Social Security check to the nursing home. They are basically broke. All they are asking is to live out their lives in dignity, with the health care they need. We can do better than that.

We can do better than this resolution. These cuts in Medicaid health care jeopardize their nursing home care, especially when States already are faced with major budget problems, making it tougher for them to provide quality care for our seniors.

Right now in my State of Michigan, 26 percent of the budget is Medicaid health care, and now we are going to add more burden to the State and force more cuts in care. The cuts in Medicaid health care in this budget are devastating.

This budget also cuts assistance to our struggling family farmers, many of whom could be forced to give up their homes and their farms. Currently they are struggling with unfair foreign competition and low prices. So these cuts will only make their already bad situation worse. The American people know that farmers are the backbone of our rural economy. They are small town community leaders. They work hard every day and are simply trying to survive in today's harsh economic climate. I know because I grew up in one of those small towns in Clare, and many of my family members have been in farming. Family farmers need our support to help deal with unexpected low prices and natural disasters. Unfortunately, this budget will make it harder for them to pass down their farms to their sons and daughters who could someday become our next community leaders.

Breaking our promise to veterans, taking away health care for our low-income seniors and families, and additional hardships on family farmers who grow our Nation's food is not consistent with our real American values.

This budget also makes cuts in assistance to our first responders. I had an amendment, both in committee and on the floor, that would have stopped these cuts. Unfortunately, there was not the support to do it. But our first responders work hard every day protecting our families. Despite the 2-year-old bipartisan Rudman report that identified our Nation's substantial homeland security unmet needs, we continue to provide $15 billion less than what is needed to adequately defend our Nation with first responders. This is according to a bipartisan report. We are not doing what we need to do to support our police officers and firefighters and emergency responders to keep us safe. What sense does that make? What is the response in this budget? Decreasing funding for first responders. Again, what sense does that make? This makes our Nation less secure. This budget goes against our real American values--responsibility, opportunity, community, security.

Some of my friends on the other side of the aisle will downplay the size of the deficits and provide a myriad of statistics on why these deficits don't matter. But we need to make sure the American people know the reality of the deficits. The reality is that these deficits are massive. We are not going to balance the budget by cutting nondefense, nonhomeland domestic discretionary spending. In fact, only if we eliminated all of our domestic spending, every single penny, eliminating everything from the National Institutes of Health in health research, the Justice Department, all of our transportation spending, veterans health care, education, the list goes on and on, only if we eliminated every penny would we just barely be able to balance the budget. We would have to eliminate all of it except defense in order to balance the budget because the deficit is so huge.

Slashing critical investments in our future, in our American quality of life will not make a dent in the deficit, but at the same time it will take away our opportunities for the future for our children. We can do better than this budget resolution. Americans deserve better than this budget resolution.

I believe our budget should reflect our values and our priorities as a nation. When we do our household budget, we have to make tough decisions and forgo some things to balance the books. We all have to go through that in our daily lives. We do this because we don't want our children to have to pay for our debts. Parents across the country work hard to build up a nest egg for their children so they can have an opportunity to get a good education, the skills they need, and a start in life as adults with a great chance to succeed. That is what we all want for our children.

This budget does exactly the opposite of what we want for our children, for our parents, for our communities. It does nothing to close egregious tax loopholes or ask our wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of the costs of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. At the same time, it pushes all of our soaring debt onto the shoulders of our children and grandchildren. This doesn't represent who we are as Americans. We believe we should help make a better country for our children and grandchildren. Because of the reckless budget priorities of the last 4 years, our children and grandchildren will inherit massive debt, high interest rates, and a sluggish economy.

We can do better. We can move toward a balanced budget. We can make critical investments in the future--in opportunity, education, innovation, homeland security, health care. We balanced the budget in the 1990s. We can do it again if we work together. American families deserve better than this budget resolution. I urge a ``no'' vote.

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