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Video of Sen. Murray's Remarks

(Washington, D.C.) - Today Senator Murray (D-Wash) introduced her amendment to the tax bill to provide aid to struggling states and support for health care.

States are facing dramatic budget deficits and are cutting education, health care and law enforcement. States are also facing shortfalls in Medicaid, which could leave more Americans without health insurance.

Senator Murray's amendment would provide $40 billion to state and local governments. $20 billion would go to states through general revenue sharing. Another $20 billion would help state Medicaid programs.

Murray's amendment would offer an immediate stimulus to our economy and help states make it through the crisis.

Senator Murray's remarks offering her amendment on the Senate floor follow:

Madame President, I call to the desk the Murray Amendment, Number 564.

I rise to offer an amendment that will help address the real needs of families in cities and states all across the country. I want to thank my cosponsors, Senators Daschle, Baucus, Rockefeller, Wyden, Kohl, Schumer, Edwards, and Corzine.

Madame President, as I look at the current tax proposal, I don’t see much that will provide an immediate stimulus to our economy or help working families who are struggling during this recession.

In fact, today’s Washington Post said that even some Republicans consider this plan “bizarre and economically suspect.”

This tax bill ignores the real needs that families are facing, and it dramatically increases the deficit – all to give massive tax cuts to the few. That’s an approach that has already failed us. Simply put, this tax bill fails America’s families.

Today I am offering an amendment to put some stimulus and relief into this no-stimulus bill.

The Murray Amendment provides direct help where it’s so badly needed – in our states and our local communities. And my amendment addresses a crisis in health care that jeopardizes access for all Americans.

Currently, the underlying bill offers $20 billion in aid to the states. That funding is only there because Democrats fought for it. That’s a major accomplishment considering that the President’s plan included nothing for our ailing states and that the House also failed our states.

But while $20 billion is a victory in our current political environment, we all know that it is still not enough to help our states recover quickly. So my amendment offers an additional $20 billion for our struggling states and local governments.

In total, my amendment provides $40 billion in immediate assistance to the ailing states.

Here’s how the money will be divided:

$20 billion will go to general revenue sharing. Of that, $16 billion is for state governments including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. $4 billion is for local governments. Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million.

The other $20 billion goes to states for Medicaid relief. This provision would temporarily increase the federal matching rate for Medicaid.

If we’re going to help our economy recover, we need to help our state and local governments get through this crisis.

All of my colleagues know the plight of our states. My home state of Washington continues to suffer real economic problems and illustrates the importance of passing the Murray Amendment.

Washington has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation at 7 percent.

Since the spring of 2001, we have lost tens of thousands of jobs.

One in nine Washington residents does not have health coverage.

150,000 people in my state have lost health insurance in the last 2 years.

In the last two years alone, we have faced an earthquake, an energy crisis, declines in the technology sector, the downturn at Boeing, and the loss of thousands of jobs.

Now, we face a state budget deficit of $2.7 billion.

That could translate into dramatic cuts in education, health care, transportation and social services.

These programs are more important than ever because times are so tough.

Unfortunately, many other states are facing similar challenges.

Today our states are experiencing the most severe economic crisis since World War II.

Nationwide, states are facing deficits totaling $70 to $85 billion.

Experts warn that 1.7 million people nationwide risk losing Medicaid coverage as states cut their budgets.

In Washington state – according to our Insurance Commissioner – 60,000 children will lose access to healthcare unless we help out. That’s 60,000 children in Washington State alone.

Unlike the federal government, states don’t have the option of deficit spending. Instead, states are forced to cut existing programs or raise new revenues to balance their budgets.

To add to the state’s budget crises, the federal government has created costly new mandates in areas like education and homeland security.

The “No Child Left Behind” Law required states to implement new accountability measures, but the assistance that was promised at that time was never delivered.

On Homeland Security, state and local law enforcement must work overtime whenever the threat level is raised.

For many states and localities, homeland security is on the verge of becoming another unfunded mandate.

Unfortunately, in response to the crises in our states, the President proposed nothing to help them.

It’s like the famous newspaper headline: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”

The House of Representatives followed the President’s lead in leaving states in crisis.

It took Democratic efforts in the Senate to build bipartisan support for our states.

I am proud of the work that Democrats have done to add $20 billion to the tax legislation to help our states get through this difficult time.

I also commend my colleagues on the other side who are working on this issue. I applaud their work in the face of strong opposition from the President and the Republican Party leadership.

My amendment will help states deal with education, as many state universities and community colleges are facing double-digit tuition increases.

My amendment will also help states address their Medicaid shortfalls by temporarily raising the federal share of Medicaid payments.

Given the fiscal crisis in our states, this additional support is critical today.

This aid will allow our states to maintain health care coverage for our most vulnerable citizens.

Now some of my colleagues may hear the word Medicaid and think I’m just talking about helping low-income families. It is much more than that.

Yes, Medicaid does provide coverage for more than 42 million low income, disabled, and elderly Americans.

But let’s not forget that Medicaid plays a major role in America’s health care delivery system.

It pays for about half of all nursing home care. It pays for 17 percent of prescription drugs. Hospitals, doctors and clinics in every state rely on Medicaid as a significant source of revenue. Cuts in Medicaid could close nursing homes. Cuts could make it harder for middle class families to pay for long term care for their aging parents or relatives. It could mean lower wages for nurses in long-term care facilities. Finally it could have a major impact on women because 70% of Medicaid beneficiaries over age 15 are women.

Unless we address the Medicaid shortfall, we’ll feel the impact everywhere.

When poor kids, families, and moms don't have health care, kids show up at school sick, moms can't care for families, and parents don't go to work.

It will add to the 41 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. And that will add to the costs we all pay for health care.

This affects families and businesses in the form of much higher insurance premiums.

Finally - when Medicaid is underfunded – it puts more pressure on our doctors, hospitals, and clinics that are already struggling. We are losing doctors and seeing hospitals close today.

We cannot afford to let things get worse.

So Madame President, we need to improve the underlying tax bill so it addresses the real challenges facing families in our states and local communities.

States are facing a fiscal crisis, and my amendment provides $20 billion in aid.

And states are facing a healthcare crisis, and my amendment provides another $20 billion to make up the Medicaid shortfall.

This amendment is a chance to improve what has been called a “bizarre and economically suspect” tax plan.

Before I close I want to clarify something that we may hear during this debate. I want my colleagues to know that this is not about bailing out states that have overspent.

We are talking about individual Americans and their access to services like vision and dental care, asthma medicine, hospice care, and physical therapy.

So when my colleagues blame the states for this crisis, they are choosing their words carefully.

They don’t dare blame the disabled, the elderly, poor children and their parents – but that’s who they’re really talking about – the people who will lose access to health care unless we pass the Murray Amendment.

And let’s not forget that our states have had to pick up the bills because the federal government has not done its job in certain areas.

For example, because we haven’t reformed health care at the federal level, states have had to deal with more and more residents on Medicaid. And because federal assistance for tuition has been cut, there is more pressure on state-funded universities.

To those pressures we can add the federal government’s failure to fund the education law and new homeland security mandates.

So this isn’t about bailing out states that have done something wrong. This is about recognizing our responsibility to pay for the things we’ve required at the federal level.

We know there’s an economic crisis in our states, and this is a chance to provide some critical support.

Unless we provide some real aid to our states, Congress and the president will just be passing the tax burden on to the local level. Let’s do the responsible thing.

I think that any senator who votes against the Murray Amendment will have a hard time explaining to their governor, their mayors, and all their citizens why they left their state hanging in order to provide a massive tax cut to the few, which will not result in immediate economic growth.

I urge my colleagues to vote for the Murray Amendment.