(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered the following speech on the floor of the Senate urging passage of the budget. Senator Murray is a senior member of the Budget Committee and represented the Senate in the budget conference with the House.
“Thank you, Madam President.
“Madam President, I want to start by commending Chairman Conrad for his leadership of the Budget Committee and especially for the hundreds of hours he and his staff have dedicated to getting this budget done and accommodating both the priorities and concerns of so many of us in this body.
“Putting a budget together is never an easy process, but I believe the Chairman has achieved a good balance that will set us on course to both reduce our deficit and invest in the areas that we know will make us stronger in the future: energy, health care and education.
“Madam President, a budget is a statement of priorities, and ours are very clear. We put the middle class first and we get our country back on track by investing in our future.
“To be clear, we have inherited great challenges. We now face the worst economic crisis in generations. Since December 2007, we have lost 5.1 million jobs – including 3.3 million in just the past five months.
“Before we consider where we’re going, it’s important to talk a little about where we’ve been. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have been bemoaning deficits and debt with not a moment of consideration for their own record on the issue.
“In 2001, Republicans controlled the full power of our government. Under the leadership of President Bush and Republicans in Congress, record surpluses created under President Clinton became record deficits. These Republican deficits grew and grew, and now add up to trillions of dollars in new debt that will be shouldered by future generations of Americans.
“With this perspective – which I hope our Republicans friends will start acknowledging and owning up to – we know that we have two choices: Choice one is to continue down the Republican deficit path. No investments in the future, a widening gap between the rich and the middle class, and more massive deficits.
“Choice two is represented in the budget before us today. Improve the economy by investing in energy, education and health reform so that we’re stronger in the future. Cut taxes for the middle class. And address the deficit so that our children don’t bear the burden of bad decisions well into the future.
“Well, Mr. President, after eight years of the Bush Administration’s shortsighted budgets and misplaced priorities, we are working with President Obama to invest in our needs and chart a new course for America.
“We’ve chosen a new path.
“Madam President, the American people deserve an economic plan that works for everyone in this country. Our budget makes responsible choices that will help get our economy rolling again.
“Let me just highlight a few:
“Madam President, we all know education and training are the keys to our future strength. And in the new global economy, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it’s a requirement for success.
“Madam President, we will not rebuild our economy and be competitive long-term unless we can both create jobs and ensure that America’s workers have the education and skills needed to fill them. This budget invests strongly in education and training. We also place a priority on ensuring that America’s students don’t fall behind as they make their way into the global marketplace.
“Our budget helps retrain America’s workers for careers in high growth and emerging “green” industries such as health care, renewable energy, and energy efficient construction so they can stay in the middle class.
“It makes strong investments in early childhood education and home visiting programs to make sure students are healthy and ready for school. It also invests in making college affordable and accessible for more students.
“We want all students to achieve a post secondary education credential – whether it be through registered apprenticeships, community colleges or universities – and this budget helps take us in that direction.
“As a nation, we have got to change the way we think about preparing young people for careers – starting with making education work better.
“The current economic crisis has cost us dearly. Every weekend I go home to Washington state and I hear about another business that is closing or another family that can’t pay the bills. But we know that if we make changes and smart investments, we can move our country forward. And investing in education and training is one of those smart investments.
“And that brings me to our next investment…As we are all aware, energy issues are some of the most pressing facing our nation today. Our dependence on foreign oil has left us beholden to other nations as middle class families pay the price at the pump.
“By making renewable energy a priority, we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy in the future, help create green jobs here at home and leave a cleaner environment for future generations.
“And Madam President, in an issue near and dear to my heart, I really want to commend both the Committee and President Obama for making our veterans a priority in the budget process. Our men and women in uniform and their families have served and sacrificed for our nation and after years of being underfunded and overshadowed, this budget finally does right by them.
“And this budget is honest with the American people about the cost of war – not just by paying for veterans care, but by paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on budget for the first time since they started over six years ago.
“Madam President, I also want to note that this budget meets our commitment to nuclear waste cleanup in my state and around the country. Workers at Hanford nuclear reservation and residents of that community sacrificed to help our nation win World War II. Hanford and other sites are still home to millions of gallons of waste and our government needs to live up to our promise to clean them up.
“As is the case in many states across America, farming, ranching and agricultural production is my home state’s largest industry. Protecting our agricultural sector is critical to our economy, environment and quality of life. We need to work to keep our rural communities strong and ensure a bright future for our farm families. Production agriculture, like Washington state’s wheat farming, is a volatile business, and a workable safety net, like in the Farm Bill, is vital to the security of family farms.
“And I’ve long supported the Market Access Program, which provides funds for our producers to promote their products overseas and expand into international markets. Especially in difficult economic times when foreign competitors are trying to limit our market access with tariffs, the last thing we should be doing is cutting programs like MAP that will assist our growers in a competitive global marketplace.
“I worked with Chairman Dorgan to ensure that these important programs are included in our budget. And as we work to get our country back on track, I will continue to work to find ways to support one of the staples of our economy: our agricultural community.
“And, Madam President, we all know our health care system is broken and it needs real reform. We have an historic opportunity to finally tackle this challenge. These investments are not luxuries - they are essential to our future strength.
“That’s why we need to prioritize the health professions workforce and access to quality care in rural areas. We also must ensure that preventative measures are given priority so that American families aren’t left with giant bills for expensive care down the road.
“Some critics of this budget argue that now is not the time to tackle health care reform. I believe that’s just shortsighted reasoning. There is a direct connection between our nation’s long-term prosperity and developing health care policies that stem the chronic bleeding in business and in our state and national budgets.
“A recent editorial in the Everett Herald newspaper in my home state makes this point:
‘Yes, the economy is the most urgent challenge. But our broken health care system and addiction to oil threaten to become our long-term undoing. They’re all intertwined: Failing to find solutions to our long-term problems will likely stunt future economic expansions, creating longer and deeper downturns.’
“Madam President, there has been a lot of talk over the past several weeks about the inclusion of reconciliation in the budget. Some following this debate are probably surprised that our Republican colleagues – who were so adamant about using this procedural motion when it came to passing huge tax cuts for the few while paying for it on the backs of many – would be arguing against its inclusion now.
“As I said earlier, there is a direct connection between America’s long-term prosperity and improving our health care system. Madam President, nearly 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance. One in five working adults lack coverage. A survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation this month found 6 in 10 American families put off care because of cost and 42 percent of respondents said they relied on home remedies instead of going to see a doctor.
“And Madam President, just this week the covers of newspapers across the country are filled with photos of people wearing surgical masks. Our TV screens are filled with commentators discussing the possibility of a new strain of flu crippling the country.
“I can’t think of a better time to be talking about the need to insure Americans, to focus on prevention and to make absolutely certain that when there is the possibility of a public health crisis that no one puts off medical care because they don’t have the means to afford it. But in order to do that we have got to work together.
“Democrats would strongly prefer to address health care in a bipartisan manner and by going through the regular legislative process. And it is our full intent to do just that. Democrats believe all Americans deserve high quality health care that reduces costs, makes care more affordable and creates jobs in the health sector. We believe in protecting existing coverage when it is good, improving it when it is not, and guaranteeing health care for the millions who have none.
“We know that the only way for our economy to fully recover is by making this critical investment. We are committed to working with Republicans to do so, but they must demonstrate a sincere interest in legislating because the stakes are too high and the cost of inaction is too great for us not to move forward.
“As long as Republicans want to be at the table, they have a seat. And we welcome them – this is simply too important an issue not to have their voices. But it is also too important an issue to stall using partisan tactics. We have got to address this crisis. And we intend to move forward this year.
“So, Madam President, I urge our colleagues to stop debating the process and instead join the conversation about how to move forward on an issue critical to America’s families today and to our nation’s future economic strength.
“Madam President, America has paid dearly for the Bush Administration’s failure to invest in our nation. We don’t have to tell that to the American people – they are waking up every day to rising health care costs, pink slips, crumbling infrastructure and bills and mortgages that they can’t afford.
“We’ve tried it the other way. It’s time to invest in America again. It’s time to give the middle class a break. It’s time for honesty. And it’s time to make bold decisions. This budget invests in our future and begins to get us back on track.”