BUDGET PRIORITIES -- (Senate - February 08, 2005)
Mr. HARKIN. President John Kennedy used to say that to govern is to choose. Certainly that is what a proposed budget is all about. It is about choices and priorities and the values that underlie them.
A budget is not just numbers. There are a lot of figures in there, but ultimately a budget is about people and priorities and what kind of an America we want. It speaks about the values of our country.
On that score, President Bush's proposed budget for 2006, sent yesterday to the Congress, speaks in the starkest of terms. Gone is any pretense of compassionate conservatism. Gone is any pretense of concern for the most needy in our society. Instead, what we see in the budget released yesterday is an unvarnished message that the far right rules, that the gloves are off, and future budgets will reflect traditional hard right priorities.
Specifically, the President's position is that the tax cuts for the very rich must not be touched. In fact, they must be made permanent. Moreover, two additional tax cuts for the very wealthy--tax cuts passed in the 2001 tax bill which become effective next year--must also not be touched. Meanwhile, President Bush proposes to slash critical life-supporting programs for veterans, schoolchildren, the sick, the poor, the disabled, the most vulnerable in our American family.
This proposed budget is the antithesis of compassionate governance. Yes, President Bush still trots out the conservative rhetoric about tightening our belt and making difficult choices in next year's budget. But he has a double standard. On the one hand he says times are tough. We can't afford to properly fund education for Iowa's schoolkids, health care for our veterans, economic development for rural communities or programs to keep police officers on our streets. On the other hand, the President says, times are not too tough for yet another tax giveaway bonanza for the wealthiest Americans.
Specifically, the budget released yesterday calls for implementation next year of two new tax cuts worth billions of dollars, with more than half of the benefits going to those making more than $1 million a year. In short, President Bush's proposed 2006 budget is easy on the rich and privileged and tough on children and the poor.
Hard-working Americans are looking at these proposals and saying: Those aren't our priorities. Those are not our values. This is not our idea of fairness or shared sacrifice. Why should a Wall Street speculator making more than $1 million a year get yet another big tax cut while kids in rural Iowa are getting kicked off of Head Start?
I made an inquiry about the slashes in Head Start. I was told: It is only 25,000 kids. The cuts in the Head Start Program in the President's budget would only deny 25,000 kids nationally to Head Start.
Only? I thought we were not going to leave any child behind. Yet we are going to say to 25,000 of the neediest kids in America: Sorry, we don't have room for you in Head Start. Only 25,000?
These are wrong choices and misplaced priorities, and they reflect bad values, values that are offensive to the basic decency and caring and fairness of the American people.
Let's be clear about the game being played here--only it is not a game; it is a deadly serious ideologically driven plan--the objective of this plan is best expressed by Republican leader Grover Nordquist who said his goal is to "cut government in half ..... to get it down to the size where we can [drag it into the bathroom and] drown it in the bathtub.'' That is their goal.
To that end, over the last 4 years President Bush has engineered a fiscal train wreck, a methodical, purposeful, deliberate train wreck. He has cut taxes by trillions of dollars, vastly increased spending on the Pentagon, spent hundreds of billions on the war in Iraq, rammed through an ill-conceived prescription drug plan costing half a trillion dollars, he has proposed borrowing more than $4 trillion for his scheme to privatize Social Security, a scheme that does nothing to address the long-term shortfall in Social Security, and now the President has the gall to point to this fiscal train wreck, his train wreck, and say the deficits are out of control, but since the tax cuts are untouchable, we have to cut programs for our most needy citizens: We need to cut education, cut health care, cut rural development, cut police officers, and firefighters.
In short, what the President is saying is, we have to tighten belts on members of our American family whose belts are already tightened to the last notch. But to those whose coffers are full, whose stomachs are full, he says: We will give you a bigger belt. In case you are down to the end notch, we will give you a bigger one.
Here are just a few of the most egregious cuts in the budget that was sent to us. First, there are deep cuts in education for the first time in 10 years, at a time when our schools are struggling to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind, eliminating funding for education technology, school counselors, alcohol abuse reduction, dozens of other education initiatives.
Secondly, at a time when U.S. workers are fighting for jobs in the global economy, the President's budget cuts job training by $330 million and eliminates vocational education funding.
Next, the budget would slash $1.6 billion in funding for local police, while eliminating drug task forces and the successful High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program which has been so helpful in fighting the meth epidemic in Iowa and other places.
Next, the budget calls for some 2 million veterans to pay a new $250 annual fee to receive health care, and it doubles the cost of their prescription drugs. Welcome home, Iraqi veterans, welcome home.
Rural America is singled out for deep cuts, cuts in programs to help family farmers and rural small businesses to survive, cuts in agricultural conservation programs, cuts in clean drinking water for our small towns and communities. The budget slashes funding for rural health programs by 80 percent. It cuts health profession training by 64 percent. It zeros out the block grants for preventive health care, the one thing we need to do to move from a sick care system to a health care system and have preventative health care block grants. It zeros them out.
Last, the budget calls for giving States more "flexibility'' under Medicaid. But this is nothing more than a code word for cuts, cuts of billions of dollars in health care for the poorest, for the mentally ill, those with disabilities.
These are the wrong choices, the wrong priorities, and the wrong values. Why in the world are the President's tax cuts for the rich untouchable? We are no longer in a recession. The President says the economy is strong and creating jobs. During the Clinton years, we created 100 times more jobs per month, and we did it not by cutting taxes but by balancing budgets. That is what a budget is. It is to impose some self-discipline. But the budget President Bush sent up yesterday refuses to impose self-discipline except on the poorest and the neediest.
For 2006, the President is demanding a $2.6 trillion Government, but he is refusing to raise any revenue to pay for it. In order to preserve the tax cuts, the President is saying: We are going to have to borrow at least $390 billion, an amount equal to the entire Pentagon budget, and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.
This does not reflect the values of working Americans who sacrifice every day to balance their own budgets. I intend to challenge the President's priorities. I do not accept his idea that tax cuts for the very rich are untouchable while essential programs for our most vulnerable citizens are fair game for cuts or zeroing out. It is wrong to put virtually the entire burden of deficit reduction on the backs of our poorest citizens, yet this is what is being done with this budget.
I know many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle share these concerns. The President's budget is deeply disappointing and disturbing. But the President's job is to propose a budget. We now know what President Bush's values are. We know how he wants America to look. That is what he is proposing. It is our job in Congress to write and pass a budget and to reflect the values and the choices that Americans want for their future. I appeal to my colleagues, let us join to write a budget that is fair, a budget that reflects the essential American values of fairness and shared sacrifice and compassion toward the most vulnerable in our American family.
In closing, I noticed last week an article in the newspaper that said "Bush prays for poor.'' It said: President Bush followed his State of the Union address with a prayer Thursday morning, saying that praying reminds the faithful to hear "the cry of the poor and the less fortunate.''
Well, I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But maybe the President's prayer is a little misplaced. Maybe who we ought to be praying for is the rich. Maybe we ought to be praying that those who have a lot in our society, those who have the biggest homes and the nicest cars, who have the biggest and the fattest bank accounts, those who are able to pass on wealth to their children, maybe we ought to be praying for them in this way: That in their hearts they will understand and know that what we are doing here is wrong; what we are doing to our American family is not in the best interests of fairness and decency and compassion.
Let us pray for those who have the most in our society, that they will get to this President and say: Mr. President, we have enough. We don't need any more. We need to pay our fair share. We don't need these two new tax cuts that are coming down next year. Take those off the table. Let's have shared sacrifice for all in our society.
And maybe those who the President listens to the most, the rich and the powerful, maybe if they could get to him with a change of heart, then maybe we can change our priorities. Maybe rather than praying for the poor, we ought to be praying for the rich to have that change of heart, to talk to this President, to talk to the leaders in Congress about fairness and equity and justice for the least in our society.
That is what a budget is about. It is not numbers. It is about who gets and who doesn't. It is about what kind of a structure our country will have. It is about hope. It is about giving hope to those who have the least--that they, too, can have a brighter future; that they, too, are members of our family; that they, too, are valuable.
And while these poor kids in Head Start don't have a rich parent to get them into a private school, to get them tutoring, who do they rely on for their kids to get that Head Start? They rely upon us--the Government--because they don't have a rich parent or a rich uncle. So, yes, this Government can give hope to people--not just the wealthiest but to those on the bottom. That is what this budget is about and that is why I intend to challenge the President on this budget, to make sure we have our priorities right.