“This budget must not repeat the mistakes of the past fiscal year and must include the priorities that are so important to my constituents,” Murray said in the letter. “This budget should also begin the process of restoring fiscal responsibility to the Congressional budget process. The assumptions of spending, revenue and economic growth should be honest and not used to hide the true deficit or the real costs of war.”
In her letter, Murray focuses on previously underfunded priorities like veterans’ health care, Hanford cleanup, and port security. Murray also presses the President to increase investments in education, transportation infrastructure and housing and urges an end to short-sighted Medicaid cuts.
“What the President said during the State of the Union matters much less than what he does next week when he sends his budget to Congress. That budget is a document of values, and it will tell us if he is investing in the future of America or just giving us more of the same,” Murray said.
The full text of Senator Murray’s letter to the President follows.
President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Bush:
As you prepare to submit your Fiscal Year 2007 Budget to Congress, I am writing to urge you to ensure that this budget meets the priorities of working families in my home state of Washington. This budget must not repeat the mistakes of the past fiscal year and must include the priorities that are so important to my constituents.
This budget should also begin the process of restoring fiscal responsibility to the Congressional Budget process. The assumptions of spending, revenue and economic growth should be honest and not used to hide the true deficit or the real costs of war.
Veteran’s Health Care
One of the most important things we can do for national security is to guarantee that our troops have the services and protections they have been promised while defending our country. This commitment cannot stop once these troops return home. We must honor their service and the sacrifice they made by fully funding VA health care. As you know, I have consistently fought for increased funding for the VA. I had heard from my constituents that care was delayed or even denied due to budget constraints. While I was hearing about these problems in Washington State, I was being told in Washington, DC, that there was no shortage of funds and that all veterans who needed care were receiving care. It was no surprise to me when the VA finally announced late last year that they were in fact running out of money.
Once the shortage was finally acknowledged, the Senate did act quickly and in a bipartisan manner to adopt my amendment providing emergency funding to the VA. But, we must learn from this experience and fully fund our commitment to the VA. Under-funding in your budget or delaying funding in your budget will only make it impossible for Congress to fully fund the VA and other important DOD quality of life programs. I urge you to send up a Budget that provides the resources for the VA to meet current future demands for quality, affordable care. Under-funding this commitment or shifting greater costs to our nation’s veterans is morally offensive and will make it even harder to maintain a strong voluntary military.
Hanford Clean Up
The Hanford site is one of the most polluted areas in the world. The cleanup of this area is a national priority and the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management budget request should be at a level equal to the challenge. The cleanup projects on the site are complex and function as a system. The Tank Farms, the Waste Treatment Plant, the River Corridor Closure are all examples of ongoing projects that need adequate funding to meet the federal government’s obligation to cleanup the waste and comply with the Tri-Party Agreement.
We cannot afford a repeat of the Fiscal Year 2006 budget process. The administration’s low budget request signaled a lack of commitment to the cleanup efforts. During the supplemental process, the only Department of Energy program singled out for a cut was the Waste Treatment Plant. It was characterized as a “lower priority federal program” and the suggested cut was $100 million. To request an inadequate level of funding and then declare the cleanup of waste left over from the Manhattan Project and the Cold War a “lower priority” is unacceptable. It is my expectation the Fiscal Year 2007 budget request will get the Hanford Site cleanup back on track.
Many of the families, businesses, and community leaders I talk to in Washington State are deeply concerned about the escalating cost of health care and the greater burden being shifted to working families.
The cuts to Medicaid in the Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Reconciliation bill will force millions of low-income patients to pay more for health care. These cuts will shift a greater burden of costs to those who have few resources. According to a new report from CBO, these changes will result in the loss of coverage for 45,000 enrollees. These are the most vulnerable and often those with the greatest health care challenges.
Where will these people go for care? Who will pay for this care? How can we help these patients be better consumers in purchasing health care when they have no access?
Instead of cutting Medicaid, we should be looking at innovative approaches to expanding access to health insurance and working to reduce health care costs. Deeper cuts in Medicaid does nothing to reduce the number of uninsured and will have no impact on reducing health care costs.
Access to affordable health care is a problem for all Americans. It jeopardizes our economic competitiveness and drives down real growth in wages. It is an issue that must be addressed. We can no longer afford to ignore this crisis.
When I am in my home state of Washington and here in our nation’s capital, I hear a lot of concern from the business community, local governments, and families that the United States runs the risk of losing some of its global competitiveness because we are not investing in our greatest asset – our people. Last year’s budget set us on that path by weakening the federal commitment to education at all levels, and I fear the Fiscal Year 2007 budget will do the same. The FY 2006 budget so constrained education that the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education appropriations bill failed once in the House and almost didn’t pass at all. At a time when schools are facing increasing requirements under No Child Left Behind and families are facing rising college tuitions, this is no time to be shortchanging education.
School districts are facing increasingly rigorous academic standards and must meet new requirements for highly-qualified teachers. However, funding for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was cut by 3 percent, or $13.1 billion below what was promised when we passed the bill.
The Fiscal Year 2006 budget also led to the federal government sliding backwards on its commitment to students with disabilities for the first time in 10 years. The federal share of special education costs dropped from 18.6 percent in FY 2005 to 18.0 percent in FY 2006. Funding for disadvantaged students or Title I didn’t even keep up with the rate of inflation. The FY 2006 funding level is $9.9 billion less than what Congress and President Bush committed to spending in that law. The bill would leave behind 3.1 million students who could be fully served by Title I if the program were funded at the committed level.
This year, $12.7 billion will be cut from student loans that help low-income and middle-income families pay for college. Seventy percent of those cuts will be paid for by students and their families. These cuts will not go for balancing the budget either – they will go to tax cuts for those that need them the least.
Tuition and fees increased this year by 7.1 percent for four-year public universities and 5.9 percent for private universities. Not only is cutting student loans the wrong priority for our country today, but it will cost our nation dearly in the long-term. Currently only one-third of the U.S. workforce has a post-secondary education, but it is estimated that 60 percent of new jobs in the 21st century will require a college education. Workers who have attended college on average have higher incomes and lower rates of unemployment than those who don’t. And those with a college education also are more likely to have jobs with benefits like health care, retirement and pensions plans.
We should be helping to break down the barriers to a college education, not building them up.
Since September 11, 2001, I have been working to strengthen the security of our ports. We know we are vulnerable and we have much to do to ensure that terrorists do not use ports of entry as a new line of attack.
The Commandant of the Coast Guard has said it would take $7.3 billion over 10 years to properly secure the 361 port facilities around the country. Yet, your Administration has requested only $46 million in port security grants since September 11, 2001. In fact, last year’s budget request would have eliminated the port security grant program entirely. Fortunately, Congress has consistently provided funding and support for this critical program. It is time for the Administration to join the Congress in recognizing that port security is vital to ensuring the safety and security of our communities and our economy, and provide $400 million in funding for Fiscal Year 2007.
Transportation and Housing
The budget is a statement of priorities and I believe that in order to make America stronger we need to be making investments here at home – in our people, in our infrastructure, and in our communities.
Everywhere I travel in Washington state I hear from families struggling to find a safe and affordable place to live. Whether it is a young couple looking to buy their first home, a family searching for rental housing near their job, or a senior citizen who wants better access to social services, it is harder than ever to find affordable housing. Across the country public housing agencies and non-profit organizations are working to help families find a place to call home. At the same time, they are contributing to community revitalization efforts that will bring new jobs and opportunities. But a lack of funding threatens the achievements that have been made and the work that is yet to be done. I urge you to include in your budget the resources necessary to address the housing affordability crisis facing our nation and ensure that our nation’s most vulnerable are not left out in the cold.
It is also critical that we continue to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. Recent cuts in transportation spending threaten to weaken airline safety, impose new transportation costs on American businesses, and cost tens of thousands of construction jobs. Investing in our nation’s transportation infrastructure will help reduce congestion, improve safety, and support continued economic growth. I urge you to support these critical investments.
I urge you to carefully consider these concerns and priorities as you prepare to submit your budget to Congress. These are the real priorities of working families in Washington State. I believe if you submit a realistic, fiscally sound budget, we can work in a bipartisan fashion to provide for our families, our communities and our troops serving with such honor.
United States Senator