House Republican Budget Cuts
Madam President, I wish to follow up on what was said by the majority leader. This exercise we are engaged in here, this conversation about how to finish this fiscal year which ends on October 1, is one that I think has gotten out of hand, and I will tell you why.
I know the debt is a serious problem facing America. I know the deficit is something that threatens our economy and our way of living. I also know there are sensible, thoughtful ways to deal with it. One of them was addressed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission which I served on and voted for in terms of their final report. I disagreed with some things, but that is the nature of a compromise and the nature of moving our Nation forward. What we tried to do in that commission was to take a look at this challenge and not solve it in a month or 6 months, but say, How can we solve this, do it in a sensible, responsible way, and still grow the economy?
Right now, a few feet away from where we are meeting, are some of the best minds in America. They are sitting in a room, meeting with Senators. They represent the high-tech industries of America. I just heard Mr. John Chambers, who is the CEO of Cisco, talk about the challenge we face and compare our status in the world to China today, the No. 2 economy in the world. He compared our situation today to what it was a few years ago.
We are in a position now where we have only one out of four startup companies that we had a few years ago, and it is an indication to me that if America is going to continue to lead in this world, we need to invest in that which makes us strong. I am not saying the deficit is not a problem. It is. But we will still have a Federal budget as we address the deficit and we should invest, through that Federal budget, in what is important, things that build our future.
This morning Senator Reid of Nevada talked about the vulnerable in America. Well, I couldn't agree more. We don't hear the words ``safety net'' around here anymore, and it is unfortunate, because we know that even in this prosperous society there are many unfortunate people. There are children who, through no fault of their own, were born into dysfunctional and poor families, kids whom we try to rescue from their plight and engage them in Head Start, to bring them into a learning atmosphere, a classroom. I have been there, all over my State of Illinois. I was there two weeks ago in Chicago. I went into one of the poorest sections of that great city and saw a room full of 40 of some of the cutest kids in the world from struggling families who were lucky enough to be in the Head Start Program. It means that for the better part of the day, they are in a safe, positive, learning environment. Is that a good thing? Of course it is. Whether it is my son or daughter or your son or daughter, it comes down to the basics. If we don't give our children the right lift-off in their lives, many of them struggle and, unfortunately, many fail.
So when the House Republicans say the way to deal with our deficit is to cut hundreds of thousands of these poor children out of the Head Start Program and to dismiss tens of thousands of teachers and staff, we have to step back and say, Are you sure? Has it reached that point? Are we at a point now where we have to deny these children access to the kind of learning experience that makes their school experience later on more successful? I don't think so.
An honest look at our deficit would not just go after education and research and investment in our infrastructure. It would look across the board, as the Bowles-Simpson commission did. How can we rationalize at this moment in time cutting Head Start for hundreds of thousands of kids across America, denying money to the poorest school districts in America where they literally struggle day to day to try to turn around the lives of children who are in very dire circumstances?
The House Republicans have suggested cutting Pell grants. Pell grants. Those are the grants given to college students from lower income families. I look back on my life and I guess I was one of those kids. My mother was a widow and I wanted to go to college, and it wasn't a family experience. I needed help. In those days, Pell grants didn't exist, but college loans did, and the Federal college loan came to my rescue.
Well, here I stand today because of that. And for hundreds and thousands of students across America, the Pell grants are their ticket to college. That is how they can get into college, earn a diploma, and succeed in life. When the House Republicans say we have reached the point where we have to cut that assistance to college students across America, you say to yourself, Is it that bad that we have to reach that far?
Let me suggest there are other efforts we ought to look at first. I happen to believe in this great, prosperous Nation that the most prosperous among us--the wealthiest, the people who have benefited the most from this great Nation--can be asked to sacrifice more. I think they should. Asking those at the highest income levels in America to pay more in taxes at this point in our history is not unreasonable and it is not going to kill the economy, and it is simple economic justice. If doing that means we can protect the most vulnerable and protect opportunity for education, I think that is fair.
I also question some of what we are doing. Look at the price of gasoline at gas stations across America today and then watch the next quarterly earnings report of the oil companies and tell me why we continue to funnel billions of taxpayers' dollars into subsidies for the oil companies. They are doing quite well, thank you. They don't need a subsidy that adds to our deficit. The same thing is true in my home State of Illinois. Let me get personal about this. I happen to believe that agriculture is critical to our Nation. I believe we need to be there as a safety net for farmers who can't predict what the weather will be or what crop prices might be, but there are parts of our ag
program that, frankly, need to be seriously reviewed and the Federal contribution needs to be reduced. At a time when commodity prices are the highest and farms are the most prosperous and profitable, the fact that we are sending so much money out of the Treasury to some of the largest farms in America is indefensible.
So I am bringing it home to the agricultural State of Illinois and to our Nation when it comes to oil and gas and saying that before we cut money for research, as the House Republicans suggest, at the National Institutes of Health, before we deny to doctors and scientists and the best minds in America the resources they need to find cures for diseases, to find the next wonder drug that will revolutionize life in America--before we do that, let's take an honest look at this entire budget. The House Republican budget goes too far.
Let me also raise a point relative to my own appropriations subcommittee. We have funded three watchdog agencies to make sure we never, ever enter another recession like the one we are in now. After Wall Street brought the economy to its knees, sent millions of hard-working Americans to the unemployment line, and took $700 billion from taxpayers--you will remember that $700 billion in bailout funds--the House Republicans are now fighting to prevent the cops from getting on the beat, those who are going to be there to make sure Wall Street can never wreak this damage again.
The Securities and Exchange Commission was tasked by our Wall Street reform bill to write new rules to bring more transparency to the stock markets. The House Republican budget would cut $231 billion from the Securities and Exchange Commission's budget compared to what the bill authorized. That is an 18-percent cut at the very time when this agency should be beefing up its ranks to keep an eye on what is happening on Wall Street and writing new rules for enforcement.
That may be good news for future Bernie Madoffs but not for investors and families across America who count on Wall Street and financial institutions across America to deal honestly.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission was tasked by the same Wall Street bill to bring some sunshine to what Warren Buffet called ``financial weapons of mass destruction, the credit default swaps and other derivatives that are mostly traded on shadowy over-the-counter markets today.
The House Republican budget would cut $174 million from the CFTC, compared to what the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended. That is a 69-percent cut, at the very moment when the CFTC needs better technology and many more investigators to handle its awesome responsibilities.
Then there is a third cut in the House Republican budget. They cut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is brand new, created by the Wall Street reform bill. The budget the House Republicans are pushing would cap the funding for the CFPB at half of what it should receive from the Federal Reserve under the Wall Street reform bill.
Since the day I introduced the first bill to create this bureau--in a different form but a similar goal--with the help of Elizabeth Warren, a professor from Harvard Law School, the House Republicans have fought to defeat this idea.
When President Obama signed the bill into law, the reformers--the people who want Americans to have access to financial services they understand to use to improve their lives--won.
As the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with the responsibility for funding these agencies, I have done my best to make sure they have adequate funds to protect American investors and maintain the sterling reputation of our financial institutions on Wall Street.
As an early champion of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I am going to continue that fight to make sure this agency has the power and resources it needs.
I will close by saying there is such a stark contrast in the vote that we will have today. We are going to be asked on the Senate floor whether Members want to vote for H.R. 1, the House Republican budget. The majority leader reminded us it is not just a spending bill; it is a bill that is fraught with every bumper sticker issue you can remember over the last 10 years.
The Republicans don't want to just cut spending, they want to inject themselves into the national debate on a myriad of issues. They want to take the spending bill and debate abortion, and they want to debate whether we will provide Federal funds for family planning, for Planned Parenthood across America. They want this spending bill to take funding away from National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They want this spending bill to take one-third of the resources from the EPA, which needs to make sure the air we breathe and the water we drink are fit for ourselves and our families.
That is what they are doing. You think to yourself, if this is about an economic emergency and budget emergency, why did the House Republicans let it devolve into this situation where it has become a cat fight over political issues? We can do better. The American people expect us to do better. I am still meeting with five other Senators--three Republicans and two other Democrats. We are trying to take the Bowles-Simpson Commission and build this into a thoughtful effort that will reduce our deficit in a meaningful way. It will take time. We are not going to finish in 6 or 7 months or lurching 2 weeks at a time this Federal Government. We need to address our responsibilities--the responsibilities to build this economy and, No. 2, to put America's fiscal house in order. We can do that, but we need to get beyond the current level of political fighting into a more constructive level. I hope this bipartisan group I am part of will be part of the solution ultimately. In the meantime, we will continue our efforts.
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