Washington, DC - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid delivered the following statement on the floor today. Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. President, I rise to express my strong opposition to the budget reconciliation conference report. Rather than share the sacrifices needed to get this nation’s fiscal house in order, this Republican budget and this legislation target ordinary Americans by cutting programs like student aid, Medicare, and Medicaid, all to partially pay for another round of budget busting tax breaks for special interests and multi-millionaires. It’s an attack on the middle class and those in greatest need, on behalf of lobbyists for the powerful.
“This budget is un-American. In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s immoral.
“Mr. President, before I get into the details of the legislation, it’s important to step back and consider what’s happening in America today. Middle class Americans are being squeezed. Their wages have been stagnant for several years now. Meanwhile, their costs are increasing for everything from health care, to college tuition, to home heating, to gasoline. As a result, more Americans are struggling to make ends meet.
“Mr. President, this Administration and this Congress ought to be helping middle class families deal with these pressures, and Democrats have developed a variety of proposals to do so. Unfortunately, our proposals have repeatedly been blocked by the Republican majority. And now we are debating a reconciliation bill – the centerpiece of a Republican budget that not only fails to address the middle class squeeze, but makes it worse — and saddles our children with billions in additional debt in the process.
“This legislation includes the largest student aid cut in our nation’s history. The costs of college have skyrocketed in recent years. But instead of helping middle class families struggling with these increased burdens, this bill would increase their costs. Rather than opening the doors of opportunity to all Americans, this bill would close those doors for many. It imposes higher fees on students. It increases the interest rate on student loans. And it weakens the financial foundation of our higher education programs.
“Mr. President, forcing middle class families to pay more for college in order to partially pay for another fiscally irresponsible round of special interest tax breaks isn’t just unfair. It’s also bad economic policy. In today’s global and high tech economy, America’s competitive edge depends increasingly on our commitment to education. We should be increasing that commitment. Instead, this bill goes in the opposite direction.
“Beyond the cuts in student aid, Mr. President, this bill also contains harmful health care cuts that will increase costs and deny access for million of Americans. For example, Medicare Part B premiums will go up for all seniors. Home health services are cut. And while at the last minute the Republican leadership decided to insert provisions to protect certain favored health care interests, they didn’t provide such protections for ordinary American seniors.
“Even more troubling than the cuts in Medicare, Mr. President, are the cuts in Medicaid. This bill targets Americans with the greatest needs and the fewest resources by forcing them to pay more for health care, cutting benefits, and making it harder for them to get the prescription drugs they need. Many of these people are hurricane survivors who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost their communities….lost everything. They’re struggling just to survive. These people need more help with their health care. Instead, this bill would cut what little health coverage they have, if any, and increase their costs. All to pay for another round of tax breaks for special interests and multi-millionaires. That’s immoral.
“Mr. President, the bill’s cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are largely why this legislation is strongly opposed by the AARP, the largest seniors’ organization in America. Their CEO, Bill Novelli, wrote the following:
‘The final conference agreement does not ask for shared sacrifice to achieve budgetary savings. Rather it protects the pharmaceutical industry, the managed care industry, and other providers at the expense of low-income Medicaid beneficiaries and Medicare beneficiaries who will foot the bill.’
“That was Bill Novelli, CEO of AARP.
“Unfortunately, Mr. President, this bill’s Medicare and Medicaid reductions aren’t the only cuts to our nation’s safety net. This bill cuts funding for child support enforcement. It cuts foster care. It cuts programs for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. And it reduces the availability of housing for families in need.
“The legislation also badly weakens the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which helps move low-income Americans from welfare to work. There was an overwhelming bipartisan consensus in the Senate that we shouldn’t change TANF in this fast track bill. But the Republican leadership ignored that, and decided in the dead of night to make the most significant change to welfare policy in almost ten years. While it will take some time to understand all its implications, the bill apparently includes very expensive and unfunded new requirements on states, reducing their already limited flexibility. Meanwhile, the legislation badly underfunds the child care that parents will need to move from welfare to work.
“Mr. President, while the Republican leadership is more than happy to harm those with the greatest needs, they’ve gone out of their way to accommodate lobbyists for special interests. For example, lobbyists for HMO’s won a huge victory when conferees rejected the Senate’s proposal to eliminate the discredited HMO slush fund. Lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry saved their industry from adjustments in Medicaid rebates. And lobbyists for certain types of medical equipment won special accommodations, as well.
“Mr. President, all these favors for special interests shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, this is the most corrupt Congress in history. Not only have there been charges of individual acts of corruption by some of Congress’s highest leaders, but the policies being pursued by this Congress are a corruption of our nation’s values.
“How can it be that we’re about to cut student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, and then turn around and provide even more tax breaks to special interests and multi-millionaires? Have we no sense of decency? Have we no sense of shame?
“Mr. President, the capital gains and dividend tax breaks called for in the Republican budget that are so important to President Bush and the Republican leadership would provide almost half their benefits to those with incomes greater than $1 million. They’ll get a tax break worth more than $30,000 a year.
“Meanwhile, the losers won’t just be the ordinary Americans who will suffer cuts in student loans, Medicare and Medicaid. All Americans will lose. Because the tax breaks backed by the Republican leadership will cost substantially more than their spending cuts will save. As a result, the deficit will go up. Interest rates could rise. Our economy will suffer. And the burdens on our children and grandchildren will increase.
“To sum up, Mr. President, this budget is wrong on many dimensions. It’s wrong to target middle class families already struggling to send their kids to college. It’s wrong to target Medicare and Medicaid, which serve seniors and Americans with the greatest needs. It’s wrong to use those cuts to help pay for tax breaks that largely benefit those with incomes over a million dollars. It’s wrong to do all this while handing out all sorts of favors to special interests and their lobbyists. And it’s wrong to approve a budget that will increase the deficit and burden future generations.
“Mr. President, this isn’t a budget based on mainstream American values. It’s an ideologically-driven, extreme budget. It caters to lobbyists and an elite group of ultra-conservative ideologues in Washington. All at the expense of middle class Americans, those with the greatest needs, and future generations.
“Mr. President, this budget will be approved unless enough reasonable Republicans stand up and do the right thing. I hope they will. And I hope that we can finally persuade the Republican leadership that it’s time – it’s long past time — to stop catering to special interest lobbyists, and to start putting the American people first.”