(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today the U.S. Senate took up the conference report on the fiscal year 2004 budget. The conference report is the final step in the annual process of preparing the nation's budget for the coming year.

The House-Senate conference dramatically cut back funding that the Senate had approved when it passed its FY 2004 budget. Sen. Murray had succeeded in increasing funds for education and transportation, only to have the majority party cut that critical funding in conference in order to pay for a large tax cut for the few.

Sen. Murray released the following statement:

"I rise today to express serious concerns about the Budget Resolution Conference Report. This is a ten year blueprint for disaster that ignores the real priorities of working families. It eliminates all of the gains we made in the Senate that addresses the real fiscal challenges we face, while setting the nation on a course of fiscal irresponsibility. This budget's contents and consequences will hurt the health of our nation.

The Budget agreement before us, which I want to point out was filed late last night, takes us back to the failed economic policies of the 1980's that resulted in a tripling of the national debt. It also builds on the failed economic record of this Administration.

Since the President took office in 2001, we have lost 2.6 million private sector jobs. Many of these jobs were in the high tech and manufacturing industries so important to Washington state, which is one of the reasons our state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. The number of people unemployed for 6 months or longer has tripled. Real business investment has fallen. And finally, the $5.6 trillion ten year surplus that this Administration inherited has been converted to a $2 trillion deficit in a little over two years.

America's finances are deep in a hole, but rather than reaching for a ladder, this budget proposes a bigger shovel. Rather than trying to reverse the downward spiral, this budget drags us deeper and deeper into debt.

The agreement is also deceptive and uses parliamentary tricks to achieve a $550 million tax cut for the few. It also calls for hundreds of billions more in tax cuts to make permanent the failed 2001 tax cut. After two years, we are still waiting for the "economic stimulus" that was promised from that tax cut.

Despite the claims of my Republican colleagues, these new tax cuts will provide little relief to working families and will have little if any economic stimulus. We need a real economic stimulus plan now. We need to invest in the American workers and businesses now, not five years from now. The only way to get this economy going is to invest in economic development and growth, not in ineffective tax cuts targeted to the most affluent.

This budget agreement not only fails our families, it will leave millions of children behind. When the President signed the No Child Left Behind Act, he made two promises. First, schools would be held accountable for their progress. And, second, schools would be given the resources to meet these new requirements.

These two always went together – otherwise schools can't make real progress. But the Republican leadership in Congress and the President have broken their promise to our children by not providing the necessary resources.

I was proud that the Senate accepted my budget amendment to increase funding for No Child Left Behind by $2 billion. But the House conferees have stripped out even that modest increase in education.

Congress still has an obligation to fund the new requirements that we imposed on local schools. This commitment means we must provide $9 billion to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act. Unfortunately, this budget agreement will reduce funding for education over the ten years. It holds domestic spending on education to roughly half the rate of inflation over ten years. That means that each year our commitment to education will be less than the rate of inflation. This is the wrong direction. In order to strengthen our economy, we need to invest in tomorrow's workforce by investing in education.

This budget agreement also falls short in supporting our transportation infrastructure. We know that transportation problems plague our biggest cities and isolate our rural communities. In my home state of Washington, our inadequate transportation network is hindering our economy, our productivity and our quality of life.

When we make sound investments in our transportation infrastructure, we create good jobs today, and we build the foundation for our future economic growth. Making our transportation systems more efficient, more productive and safer, we will pay real dividends for our economy and our communities.

This agreement provides little hope to seniors for a comprehensive, affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit. This agreement will allow for the block granting of Medicaid and the elimination of the entitlement. It offers no long term increase in the Federal match for Medicaid. In my home state of Washington, Medicaid could be faced with a $2 billion shortfall. This will mean cuts in programs for the uninsured and massive reductions in nursing home reimbursement. I fear this could lead to hospitals and nursing homes being closed, and that more doctors could refuse to see new Medicare and Medicaid patients.

There are many of us in the Senate who have worked hard to strengthen public health and increase our investment in biomedical research. This is a commitment in prevention and long term savings in health care. We have seen the results of doubling NIH and the impact this is having on conquering diseases like cancer, MS, Parkinson's and diabetes. Yet, this agreement leaves little hope that we can maintain this investment.

I would have to echo the comments of the Senator Conrad. This budget is reckless, extreme and backwards. Perhaps the saddest conclusion is that this budget fails to invest in our families and our communities.

I urge my colleagues to oppose this dangerous course and work today to strengthen our economy and invest in real economic development."