March 11, 2008

STATEMENT ON THE FY2009 BUDGET RESOLUTION

Our budget resolution focuses on job growth here in America. It invests in the people of this country so that we can compete internationally and keep jobs here in America. Our budget really helps the people of our country.
 
This budget resolution is really our blueprint. It's what we believe are the priorities of America - what we need to move this nation forward. We can judge how important this resolution is based on what happened last year. I heard a lot of comments about last year's budget resolution and whether it would make a difference in the lives of people in our country. However, when you look at the budget resolution that we enacted last year, based upon the President's submission, I think we have a right to be proud of how important this debate really is for the American people.
 
Let me just point out, if we didn't pass the budget resolution we did last year, the higher education bill that passed, was signed into law, and supported by almost all my colleagues here could not have happened. Thanks to the budget resolution, the higher education bill we passed is going to make a major difference in the ability of families to afford higher education. It was responsible for the largest single increase in financial aid since the GI Bill in 1944. So I think we should be very proud of what we were able to accomplish.
 
The President's budget would not have allowed us to pass the higher education bill nor did it make room for what we did last year to help our veterans with health care. Let me remind you that it was our budget resolution - not the President's - that made historic increases in veterans' healthcare a reality. What we include in our budget resolution is important because it speaks to the priorities of our country.
 
Last year we also had a significant bipartisan support - two-thirds of our members - that supported the children's health insurance program. We made room for that in the budget. I regret that the President vetoed it. The President was wrong. We're going to come back to that. But we, the members of the Senate, said loudly that it was a priority to take care of our children's health care needs.
 
What we did last year put this country on a glide path that's going to bring investments faster than the President's budget would have done. So not only are we investing in America's future, we're doing it in a more fiscally responsible way.
 
Specific to Maryland, cuts to Chesapeake Bay programs would have been very severe if the President's budget were passed last year. Fortunately, our budget resolution language allowed Congressional committees to provide adequate resources to allow the Federal Government to continue as a partner in the health and cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. I think this shows that this debate is very important and I think the budget resolution that is before us speaks to investing in the people in this country, speaks to job growth here in America.
 
Now, how is that done? Well, this budget resolution compared to the President's allows us to invest in education. Last year we did it in higher education. This year we can invest in teacher quality and in schools here in our community so that every child can get a quality education. That should be our goal. Our budget moves us to a federal partnership that will achieve those goals, whereas the President's budget would not let us move forward.
 
In energy, we all talk about how we're going to become energy independent, how we're going to become friendlier towards the environment. Well, our budget resolution allows us to move in that direction. Once again, if we followed the President's budget, it wouldn't happen. In health care, our budget provides for the expansion of the children's health insurance program. I know we have a difference with the President on this issue. We're going to win this battle. If it's not in 2008, we'll win it in 2009. We're right on this issue. In my state there are over 100,000 children who have no health insurance. The children's health insurance program needs to be expanded. We need to make sure that every child in America - quite frankly, I think that everyone in America - should have access to affordable, quality health care.
 
We also need to invest in America's infrastructure so that we can create jobs in this county. It's very important. I just came from a meeting with biotech leaders in my state where we talked about what the Federal Government can do as a federal partner to help in regards to the biotech industry and new creative innovations in America. We talked about the NIH budget and how the Bush Administration's budget would level fund, which is really a reduction in the number of projects in which NIH could participate. The budget resolution that we have before us today would invest in America to help keep jobs here in America. We would promote development of the type of technology that we know Americans are capable of developing. NIH has always enjoyed bipartisan supported and our Senate budget allows NIH to expand to cover more of the very worthy requests that they receive every year.
 
The Senate Budget resolution provides solutions for our current housing crisis. We have a continuing housing crisis across our nation. In my own state of Maryland, we have record numbers of foreclosures. There are people who just can't afford their mortgages because of the rise in their adjustable rates or are in subprime mortgages. Well, we can do better. We've already heard bipartisan support for giving the government more authority to deal with refinancing loans and giving better counseling to people who are in the market to buy a home and obtain a mortgage.  I also hope we can provide additional incentives so people can stay in their homes and that they can buy homes and homeowners can sell their homes. We need to do that for the sake of the individuals involved. We need do it to preserve communities and property tax revenues for local government, and we need it quickly to help spur economic growth. This budget allows for those types of programs to reach the floor of the Senate for consideration. The President's budget would not.
 
The Senate budget resolution provides for middle-income tax relief. You've heard the chairman of the Budget Committee talk about it, especially the Alternative Minimum Tax. It is very important that we extend AMT relief, otherwise hundreds of thousands of Marylanders will fall victim to a tax that we never intended them to have to pay. Our budget resolution provides for that type of relief.
 
One more thing about this budget resolution is that it actually moves us towards a balanced budget faster than the President's budget. Now, I could go back and talk about seven years ago and how we had all these surpluses and how the Bush policies led to these huge deficits. And I could talk with a lot of credibility on it because I didn't support the President's economic plans. I said it was wrong for us to spend the surplus before it was fully there. I said it was wrong for us to provide war funding without paying for it. It was wrong to give out additional tax cuts that would affect mostly wealthy people. I thought that was immoral. I was outvoted.
 
We can't rewrite history. It is our responsibility to balance the federal budget. The budget resolution before the Senate, offered by the Budget Committee, puts us on our glide path to balance the budget at a faster rate than the President's budget. So we are acting in a fiscally responsible manner, investing in America's future, investing in jobs, and doing it while providing appropriate tax relief for middle-income families.
 
I want to thank Chairman Conrad for his cooperation and his leadership. I particularly want to thank him for help on an amendment that I was able to get into the budget resolution that will help in providing dental care, particularly to our children. I mention that whenever I can, Mr. President, because a little over a year ago, a 12-year-old from Maryland who lived about six miles from here had a toothache. His mom tried to get him to a dentist. Social workers made numerous phone calls to try to find a dentist who would take care of his needs. This was in 2007 in the United States of America. In my own state of Maryland, they couldn't find a dentist who would take care of him. He only needed an $80 tooth extraction. Instead, he suffered from an abscess, went through two brain surgeries costing $250,000. And he lost his life because we would not invest in access to affordable dental care for our children. 

Well, I want to thank Chairman Conrad for allowing an amendment to be added to this budget bill that will allow the Senate Finance Committee to bring a bill to this floor that will make sure that we will have no more tragedies like this in America, to make sure that our children have access to dental care. It is the number-one leading disease affecting children. The number of children who have untreated tooth decay is alarming, particularly in our minority communities, in our rural areas. We can do much better, and this budget resolution will allow us to move in that direction.
 
I want to thank Chairman Conrad for allowing us to move forward with NIH research. In the 1990's, we were committed to doubling the amount of money for NIH. But the Bush budgets would have us fall back and lose our competitive advantage. The budget we have before us would allow us to continue to make progress on NIH research.
 
On Amtrak funding, I want to thank again chairman Conrad and the committee for allowing to us move forward. I know that Senator Lautenberg has been extremely effective in bringing this issue to our attention. We need to have an efficient rail system in this country.
 
We just read recently about how we have to monitor our clean water more effectively. Well, the budget before you allows us to do a much better job.  Bottom line:  Mr. President: this budget is a good investment in America's future so that we can become more competitive and we can pay down our debt, that we can provide the appropriate relief to middle-income families.
 
But it is about choices, and we made tough choices. We couldn't do everything we wanted to do. So I just would like to make this point: consider the legacy of the Bush deficits, consider the economic problems that confront this nation, consider the political realities in which there are serious differences between the majority in Congress and President Bush, consider the Bush budget and its tax relief for individuals I don't believe need it.  Considering all these issues, I urge my colleagues to support this resolution. I think it's worthy of strong support in this body, and I'm certain that when we pass this resolution and reconcile it with the House that many of the implementing bills are going to enjoy large bipartisan support. The budget resolution deserves that support, and I'm proud to endorse it and urge my colleagues to support it.