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Senator Murray Warns that Budget Decisions Made Today Will Limit Our Ability to Help Families Tomorrow; Murray Says Budget Must Reflect Our Values & Priorities

Feb 07 2006

Senior Budget Committee Member warns, "You cannot vote for an unrealistic budget in the Spring and then act surprised in the Summer and Fall when painful cuts are required."


(Washington, D.C.) -- In a major Senate floor speech one day after President Bush released his FY 2007 budget request, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) warned that the decisions made in the Congressional Budget resolution this year will determine the government's ability to meet the needs and priorities of the American people.

Murray, who has served on the Senate Budget Committee throughout her 13 years in the Senate, said that the painful cuts and last minute pressures of the FY 2006 appropriations bills reflect the flawed assumptions and wrong choices in the budget resolution Congress passed last year.

"The budget decisions we make now will either empower us – or tie our hands – when we turn to write the appropriations bills," Murray said.

"The Federal Budget is the statement of our priorities as a people. It should be a moral, thoughtful document. It should carefully consider its impact on the nation's best-off and worst-off. Too often, I fear, this impact is overlooked in all the details and process. Its impact is lost in the time from the budget's passage to the enactment of the final appropriations bills."

"We need a government that reflects our values – and provides real economic incentives to encourage job creation," Murray said. "We can do that by investing in our infrastructure, providing affordable, accessible healthcare, supporting energy independence, providing education for all of our children, and protecting our ports and borders."

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

Mr. President, a week ago we all listened as the President laid out his priorities in the State of the Union. At the time, I noted that what he says in his speech is a lot less important than what he does in his budget. Yesterday, he sent us his budget, and I am deeply concerned about what it means for our country, our people and our future. Later today, I'll raise some of my concerns directly with the Budget Director, and I'll come back here to floor time and again to talk about what we should be doing.

But this morning, I want to step back and take a broad look at the significance of the budget and the choices before us. I want to remind my colleagues that what we do now will affect us – and the American people – months from now. The budget decisions we make now will either empower us – or tie our hands – when we turn to write the appropriations bills.

I'm speaking on the floor today to warn my colleagues that you cannot vote for an unrealistic budget in the Spring and then act surprised in the Summer and Fall when painful cuts are required.

At the end of every year, Congress crams several important pieces of legislation through in a rush to head home for the holidays. This past year was no different. In a matter of days, we finished appropriations bills, authorization bills, and even spending cuts.

Unfortunately, the logjam we experienced at the end of last year was not a surprise to many of us who work closely on the Budget process. Starting in March, many of us began raising concerns that we were headed in the wrong direction. We knew that there was no way we could:

  • honor our commitment to America’s working families,

  • enact huge cuts in entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid,

  • enact another round of tax cuts,

  • and continue to cut our nation’s deficit.

When you add in the growing cost of war and Hurricane Katrina, the legislative train wreck was entirely predictable.

But no matter what the hurry, make no mistake these bills have serious consequences, and their impact will be felt for years to come. They set funding levels, cut and grow programs, and set important policy for agencies and programs touching nearly every American.

But it is more than that. Collectively, they represent our priorities and reflect our values. They provide the direction we intend to lead the country. And what too few Americans know – and too few Senators seem to remember – is that one single document serves as the blue print for these additions, subtractions and everything in between each year. I'm speaking, of course, about the federal budget resolution.


Every year, with much fanfare and even more detail, the Administration sends Congress a spending and revenue plan for the next 5 years. Congress is required to draft a similar spending and revenue plan.

Our work begins on the day we receive the President’s Budget and is supposed to be completed by April 15th. From early February, until April we debate, mark up, and offer a multitude of amendments. Most of the time, we complete this process and move to the next phase of the Budget process on May 1st. The Congressional Budget Resolution sets the tone for the entire Budget process, including Appropriations.

I've served on the Budget Committee for my entire Senate career. It's a very important committee, one that I take great pride in working on. But its work is not often considered newsworthy or particularly interesting for the press and public.

While this process may not always draw front-page coverage, its importance could not be greater. This one document is more than numbers and charts. From health care to energy, security to the economy, this one document is the vehicle that allows us to act on each and every priority the government will have for an entire year.

The Federal Budget is the statement of our priorities as a people. It should be a moral, thoughtful document. It should carefully consider its impact on the nation's best-off and worst-off. Too often, I fear, this impact is overlooked in all the details and process. Its impact is lost in the time from the budget's passage to the enactment of the final appropriations bills.

That's why this year with the benefit of our action at the end of 2005, with upcoming votes on left-over items from last year, and with the President's new budget, I wanted to come here to the floor to ensure that we all know the stakes of this great debate.

And I intend to be back, saying much the same, I fear, in the weeks and months ahead. This year's budget, and the priorities is enacts, will not be lost to time, if I have anything to say about it. It is simply too important to forget.


As I listened to the President's State of the Union, I felt a real disconnect between his priorities and the challenges facing working families in Washington state, Americans across our country, and those fighting for our freedom abroad.

We all want America to be strong again and that means we must invest in our people and in our infrastructure. What the President said last week matters much less than what he does in his budget.

That budget is a document of values, and it will tell us if he is really intent on creating a brighter future for America or just giving us more of the same.

It’s time to put the needs of America’s working families first. We need a government that reflects our values – and provides real economic incentives to encourage job creation.

We can do that by investing in our infrastructure, providing affordable, accessible healthcare, supporting energy independence, providing education for all of our children, and protecting our ports and borders.

These are the priorities that will make our union and our families strong. We also have a moral obligation to ensure that our troops who serve and protect all of us have the resources they need on the battlefield and when they return home.

Unfortunately, if last year’s budget and this year’s speech are any indication, the President’s priorities are simply not in line with those of the American public.


Almost exactly one year ago, the President previewed his FY 2006 budget in the State of the Union address. He said, quote,

"My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results, or duplicate current efforts, or do not fulfill essential priorities. The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely, or not at all."

A week later, we received a budget from President Bush that slashed health care programs, punished veterans, cut education aid, and increased the long-term financial obligation we’ll leave to the next generation. His "non-essential priorities" were made quite clear.

In choosing to vote against that budget, I said:

Families in Washington state and across the country are concerned about the security of their jobs, their communities, access to affordable health care and a quality education. Unfortunately, rather than inspiring confidence, the budget we are voting on tonight leaves too many Americans questioning the future.

On issue after issue, this budget falls short of what our communities and our country need to move forward.

I know what responsible budgets look like because I’ve worked with chairmen of both parties to create them. Unfortunately, this Republican budget fails to create jobs, improve security and meet our country’s needs.

Mr. President, last year's budget proposal was a disaster. It cut Medicaid – the health care for our most vulnerable. It cut education. It cut veterans funding. And incredibly, once again it increased the deficit.

The president has rightly been focused on our nation’s security, but his budget didn’t reflect the type of priorities that keep Americans safe. Speeches are one thing, but they ring hollow if not matched with a real commitment of funding.

In fact, in his budget proposal last year, the President tried to cut Firefighter Grants, funding for U.S. Search and Rescue, and the Port Security Grants that help keep cities like Seattle and Tacoma safe. If we are serious about our security, then each of these should be priority for this president.

And after that budget passed – by the slimmest of margins, I might add – we felt the pain it inflicted. In appropriations debate after appropriations debate Democrats, and in some case even some Republicans, fought to provide the basic funding the services that make a difference in every American’s life most important programs needed.

Several times Republicans invoked the budget, saying we couldn’t provide the necessary dollars because of its constraints. The budget and the Bush priorities were taking their toll.


As if these painful cuts weren’t enough, the Bush team actually used the budget to ensure more hardship for the least among us -- while handing out more perks to the best-off.

Through reconciliation, Republicans "saved" billions of dollars on the backs of the poor. Again, by the slimmest of margins in each chamber, they cut Medicaid, Agriculture, and retirement security programs.

Reconciliation is intended as a tool for reducing the deficit. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership has pushed Reconciliation bills that actually make the deficit situation worse and pass the burden of tax cuts for the wealthy, and the costs of the war, on to the backs of poor children, the disabled and our nation’s seniors.

I’ll say again what I said when they brought this immoral bill to our committee at a time when communities along our Gulf Coast are hurting; when we are facing the implementation of a confusing new Prescription Drug Law; when our roads, bridges and railways are aging; when millions of Americans are concerned about how to pay to heat their homes this winter; and when the men and women who have sacrificed to serve us overseas cannot find healthcare or jobs when they return home, we should be focused on protecting our most vulnerable – not handing them further burdens.

Mr. President, there's one particular area that warrants mentioning because we've heard so much about it in recent days: health care. We heard the president talk a lot about his health care priorities in the State of the Union address last week. But all Americans know that actions speak louder than words.

One of the most serious challenges facing all working families is the escalating cost of health care. Instead of addressing the increasing cost of health care and its impact on the uninsured, last year’s failed budget strategy only makes the situation worse.

In the Reconciliation package that the House approved, half of the cuts will come from Medicare and Medicaid. We know from a recent CBO report that an estimated 65,000 enrollees in Medicaid will lose coverage under the Republican Budget Reconciliation bill.

The Reconciliation package shifts greater costs to working families and could reduce Washington State’s share of Medicaid funds by $185 million. The package requires higher co-payments and premiums for low-income children. It eliminates the focus on prevention benefits and early screening for children.

Medicaid is an essential safety net program for seniors, the disabled and children. Without Medicaid, there are few options available for receiving care. Nationwide, 40% of all births are paid for by Medicaid. Where will these people go for care? Who will pay?

The reconciliation bill cuts $35 billion from services that make America stronger and make our communities more secure - all while burdening our children with massive debt.


Rather than being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and helping our nation become stronger and more secure, and rather than paying down the debt, the Republicans are back up to their old tricks. They want to keep shoveling money right back out the door in the form of billions in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle like to point out that they cut spending by $40 billion. But they did so by cutting student aid, cutting health care for the poor and cutting other programs that are critical to working families. And the Republicans did it all while increasing the deficit!

As outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan once said, "If you are going to lower taxes, you should not be borrowing essentially the tax cut. That over the long run is not a stable fiscal situation."

I agree. Imposing painful cuts on hard working families in order to pay for more tax cuts, and then passing the cost on to our children is clearly wrong. We can and must do better. And let's not forget - higher deficits also mean a larger debt.

It is no surprise that we will soon be acting to raise the borrowing authority yet again for the Federal Government to over $8 trillion. This will mean less capital for small businesses to expand and higher interest rates for all working families. Once again, the budget and the Bush priorities take their toll.


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. That means taking care of education and health care, infrastructure and housing, safety and security. On each of these fronts, the Bush priorities have been – time and again – misguided, adrift, and downright painful for millions of Americans.


I believe that in order to make America stronger we need to make 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.


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 urged the President to support these critical investments and put action behind his good rhetoric.


When I am in my home state of Washington and here in D.C., I hear a lot of concern from the business community, local governments, and families over the United States losing its global competitiveness. In fact, we heard a great deal from President Bush the other night on this very subject.

But last year, the FY06 budget set us on that path by weakening education programs at all levels. This new budget does the same thing.

The FY06 budget so constrained education programs that the Labor, HHS appropriations bill failed once in the House and almost didn’t pass at all. In the end, programs faced one last hit – a 1% across-the-board cut further hindering education at all levels.

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. Last year’s budget resulted in funding levels that represented the smallest increase in education in a decade. This year, the President is proposing the largest cut to education in 26 years.

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 aid 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. It's estimated that 60 percent of new jobs in the 21st century will require a college education. Workers who have attended college 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.


Next I want to turn to veterans funding. With so many of our brave men and women fighting for us overseas, I believe that our most fundamental priority must be to take care of those who’ve sacrificed so much for all of us.

While I’ve said time and again that actions speak louder than words, it was nevertheless troubling that President Bush failed to even mention our veterans in his State of the Union Address. I hope he will not forget them again in his budget proposal.

I'm concerned that the President’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget is not based on real numbers and does not reflect the real demand for VA services. I am convinced without real budgets based on real numbers the VA will face another shortfall later this year. And more veterans will be denied the care they have earned.

The rising utilization rates, increasing costs of medical care, and the influx of vets from Afghanistan and Iraq will require more VA funding.

In addition, the new Medicare Prescription Drug Program, has added more demands on the VA. Many seniors who are veterans are being told they should go to the VA for their prescription drugs. Surely, this influx of new VA patients will have a major impact on the VA system and will delay access for veterans.

And finally, much of the increased demand on the VA system is due to the nationwide healthcare crisis. As veterans lose their healthcare coverage from their employers, they are coming by the thousands to the VA to get care for the first time.

The longer the healthcare crisis continues to grow, the more the demands will be on the VA to take care of the veterans population.

Last year, I was told that the VA did not need more funding. The Administration told me everything was fine, and that they could handle the demands brought about by the Iraq War.

I tried time and time again to increase funding for the VA in order to maintain veterans’ access to the healthcare. I was fought at every level. And then in June, Secretary Nicholson announced the VA was facing a $1 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2005 and that the VA had miscalculated demands in the VA by over $3 billion between fiscal year 2005 and fiscal year 2006.

In June, when I asked whether or not the Administration had adequately planned for the impact of the war, I was told that the VA underestimated the number of Iraq War veterans by over 300%.

I was able to work with my colleagues to attach $1.5 billion in emergency funding for the VA on the fiscal year 2006 Interior Appropriations bill, and another $1.2 billion in the fiscal year 2006 Military Construction bill to cover this shortfall.

Since the war in Iraq began there have been 2,245 casualties and 16,548 wounded soldiers, sailors, airman and marines. Our men and women in uniform -- past, present and future -- will time and time again answer the call to duty, and at the very least deserve a budget that fulfills our commitment to them and their families.

So in closing, I look forward to debating President Bush’s budget. I truly believe it’s one of the most important actions of the year, because it sets the tone for everything else we do. Tuesday night the President told Congress and all Americans that, quote, "In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country."

I could not agree with him more – our future and our character are at stake. A budget reflects our priorities and our values. Let's make sure our budget for the coming year reflects the best of both, and let's remember that the decisions we make now will tie our hands months from now.