(Washington, D.C.) – Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) voted against a Republican budget reconciliation bill that would cut $35 billion from America's priorities, reduce healthcare for the poor, cut agriculture support, undermine pensions, increase the federal debt, and allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Despite Murray's opposition, the bill passed the Senate 52-47.
"This budget has the wrong priorities," Murray said. "I believe we should be providing greater investments in the tools that spur economic growth and help all Americans – education, health care, transportation, and job training. Unfortunately, the package before us today does just the opposite. It cuts $35 billion from areas like healthcare and education."
Murray also said Republicans were cutting the budget this week to make way for a new round of tax cuts for the wealthy.
"Something is clearly out of whack. The Senate Leadership wants to impose painful cuts on average families today. Why? So that in a few weeks they can give massive tax cuts to the most well off. That is wrong," Murray said.
The Republican budget package would cut healthcare for the poor by $27 billion. Senator Murray tried to improve the bill by offering an amendment to ensure that vulnerable Americans don't lose their drug coverage as the new Medicare prescription drug program is implemented in the coming months.
Murray's speech | Murray's amendment was defeated Thursday on a procedural vote.
Senator Murray's Statement on the Republican Budget Package Follows:
Mr. President, to make our country strong again, we need to invest here at home, and that is why I oppose this budget. It's a bill that will cut $35 billion from America's priorities and burden our children with massive debt. Simply put, I think America can do better.
Mr. President, I will vote against this flawed budget, just as I did in the Budget Committee last week, because it starves our highest priorities. Not only that, this bill opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, which will not solve our energy problems. And I have serious concerns about a House proposal -- which could be added to the House version of this bill – to split the Ninth Circuit into two smaller circuits.
We Need to Invest in America
Mr. President, a budget is a statement of priorities. As I look at the challenges facing our country – and as I listen to people in my home state of Washington – it is clear that our top priority now must be making America strong again. To do that, we need to invest here at home.
People Don’t Feel Secure
Today, too many people don't feel secure. They feel like they're one step away from losing their job or their pension or their healthcare. They're worried about high gas prices and how they're going to heat their homes this winter. They're worried about the men and women in uniform, who are returning home and can't find a job or healthcare. They're worried they won't be able to afford college tuition for their children. Mr. President, many people are worried about the new prescription drug program, which will make life harder for so many vulnerable families.
Today people across America worry about being safe here at home. They look around their communities and see aging and unsafe highways, roads and bridges. After what happened in the Gulf Coast with Hurricane Katrina, they're worried their own communities are not protected. Mr. President, there is a coastline, or a volcano, or a fault line, or an aging dam in every state in this nation – and this budget doesn’t make the right investments in prevention or protection.
This budget has the wrong priorities. I believe we should be providing greater investments in the tools that spur economic growth and help all Americans – education, health care, transportation, and job training. In short, we should be making Americans more secure. Unfortunately, the package before us today does just the opposite. It cuts $35 billion from areas like healthcare and education.
Cuts Today - Tax Giveaway Tomorrow
And what’s more, this is only the first step in the reconciliation process. You won’t hear much about it from the other side of the aisle, but in the coming weeks, the Senate is scheduled to take up the next piece of the reconciliation process – a massive tax giveaway that's even bigger than the cuts we're considering this week.
So what's happening here today is we're being asked to make painful cuts for average Americans so that in a few weeks we can turn around and give massive giveaways to the most well off. That's what's really going on here.
The massive tax cut package that's coming soon would give billions away to the richest people in our country. Multi-millionaires and special interests will reap the benefits from these budget-busting tax breaks, including capital gains and dividends tax breaks. In fact, the upcoming tax breaks exceed the spending cuts we’re considering this week by more than $30 billion. And who benefits? 53 percent of the benefits of capital gains and dividends go to those with incomes greater than $1 million. Listen to the facts. On average, those who make more than $1 million would get tax cuts of more than $35,000. But those with incomes under $50,000 would get just $6.
Something is clearly out of whack. The Senate Leadership wants to impose painful cuts on average families today. Why? So that in a few weeks they can give massive tax cuts to the most well off. That is wrong.
Mr. President, today people are hurting on the Gulf Coast. People are concerned for their safety – be it by terrorist attack or flu epidemic and instead of meeting these important priorities, the Senate will cut spending, give away tax cuts, and increase the amount of debt each American owes.
Taken together, these efforts represent the core values and priorities of the Republican Congress, but not of the American people. America can do better. The bill before us this week cuts important programs while doing almost nothing to address the real priorities facing our nation.
First let me talk about Medicaid – a health care program, a safety net for our country's most vulnerable and sickest. This bill cuts Medicaid spending for those least among us by $27 billion. At the same time, Republican members of this body are refusing to take up and pass bi-partisan Medicaid relief for Americans affected by Hurricane Katrina, they want to slash spending on the program here today.
What about agriculture – programs that make sure we can feed our nation? This bill also cuts agriculture investments by $3 billion, and that will have a painful impact on our family farmers who are struggling today. Just last week, I sat down with farmers from Washington state, and I can tell you they are reeling from drought and high fuel and fertilizer prices. This bill makes their lives even harder by retracting the support that helps family farms get by and will impact our country's ability to ensure we will be able to feed our nation and keep our country strong. These farm families need our help, but Republicans just say no.
This bill also undermines the pension plans of millions of hard-working Americans. This is a top anxiety for people everywhere I go. Is my retirement gone? What happened to my security?
Mr. President, this bill will increase the financial burden on companies and drive more employers into bankruptcy and out of the defined benefit pension system. It more than doubles the Pension Benefit Guaranty premiums, and it will index those payments in the future.
This budget we are debating today undermines the carefully crafted bipartisan pension reform bill that the HELP Committee bill recently passed unanimously. America's pension policy should be driven by what is best for American workers, retirees and employers, not by the need to meet an arbitrary budget target.
Drilling in ANWR
And of course, Mr. President, this budget opens ANWR up to shortsighted drilling. This misguided effort is especially troublesome, and is worth a few minutes of time here on the Senate floor. Mr. President, we are all concerned about the high cost of energy. It's a tremendous burden for families, businesses and farmers. We should use that concern to make wise choices that will actually help our country. Instead, this bill takes shortsighted steps in the wrong direction. The responsible way to address our energy problems is to focus on long term solutions like reducing our need for oil, and investing in clean, renewable energy sources.
I oppose drilling in ANWR because the potential benefits do not outweigh the significant environmental impacts. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an important and unique national treasure. It's the only conservation system in North America that protects a complete spectrum of arctic ecosystems. It's the most biologically productive part of the Arctic Refuge. And it's an important calving ground for a large herd of caribou, which are vital to many Native Alaskans. Energy exploration in ANWR would have a significant impact on this unique ecosystem.
Further, development will not provide the benefits being advertised. Proponents claim that energy exploration has become more environmentally friendly in recent years. While that may be true, there are still significant environmental impacts for this sensitive region. Exploration means a footprint for drilling, permanent roads, gravel pits, water wells, and air strips. We recognize that our economy and lifestyle require significant energy resources, and we are facing some important energy questions. However, opening ANWR to oil and gas drilling is not the answer to our energy needs.
And let's keep in mind that drilling in ANWR will not make us less dependent on foreign oil. As a nation, the only way to become less dependant on foreign oil is to become less dependant on oil overall. The oil reserves in ANWR are not enough to significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
There are better ways meet America's energy needs – including boosting fuel efficiency, expanding the use of homegrown renewable and alternative fuels, investing in new technologies like fuel cells, developing and deploying more energy efficient technologies, and improving conservation and energy efficiency. Drilling in ANWR is not a serious answer to our country's serious energy challenges, and it should not be included in this budget bill.
This Budget Could Get Even Worse in Confernce
Now Mr. President, another reason I'm voting against this bill is because it will clearly get much worse in conference – through steeper cuts in critical investments. This budget bill already cuts $35 billion from America's priorities. And on the House side, leaders are working to cut an additional $15 billion from infrastructure, education and healthcare. That would move this bill even further in the wrong direction.
Splitting the Ninth Circuit
Finally, Mr. President, I'm very concerned about a possible attempt in the House – which we may see next week – to split the 9th Circuit. As a member of the West Coast delegation, I strongly oppose this change.
The House proposal is not warranted by the facts and is not supported by the judges on the circuit. Back in 1980, when Congress split the 5th Circuit, all of the judges supported that move. But today, that is not the case. I understand that a majority of judges on the 9th Circuit oppose the split. I've spoken with some of them, and they've said a split could create new problems.
They pointed out that splitting the circuit would impose new costs for facilities, staff and administration. The efficiency we have today would turn to duplication tomorrow if the circuit is divided. There would be significant costs to establish a new circuit headquarters and to create a duplicate administration system. In an era of limited budgets, this makes little sense. As the Ranking Member on the subcommittee that funds the Judiciary, I know we don't have extra money to spend to duplicate administrative services.
Mr. President, a split would also lead to a duplication of cases. Today, by deciding cases for 9 states, the circuit provides clear, uniform guidance to district courts. That prevents a duplication of cases. If the circuit is divided, issues decided in the new 9th Circuit would have to be decided again in the new 12th Circuit, doubling the use of judicial resources and costing even more money.
And in addition to the massive cost associated with splitting the 9th Circuit, the change would split the West Coast Technology Corridor into two different circuits. That could have a paralyzing effect on IT and technology growth since there would be a weaker judicial foundation.
Mr. President, I share my concerns about this because next week there may be an effort in the House of Representatives to attach the judicial provision to the House version of this bill. I want House members to know that as a member of the affected delegation – and as the Ranking Member of the subcommittee that funds the Judiciary – I oppose this change.
So Mr. President, this budget plan has the wrong priorities and that is why I'm voting against it. We need to make America stronger and invest here at home. This budget does just the opposite – cutting key investments in the things that our people need. Why? To have money for tax cuts for the wealthiest? America can do better. I urge my colleagues to reject these flawed priorities and work to invest in the things that will make our country and our people strong.