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Ron W.
Democrat OR

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  • Concurrent Resolution on the Budget, Fiscal Year 2016—Conference Report—Continued

    by Senator Ron Wyden

    Posted on 2015-05-05

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    WYDEN. Mr. President, I rise reluctantly against this budget resolution. I want to pick up exactly where our colleague from Illinois left off with respect to the values that are really important for this debate. As I look at this budget, I see opportunities missed that would bring the Senate together, help us find common ground, and particularly help the middle class.

    The reality is there are tens of millions of people in Oregon and across America who day in and day out walk an economic tightrope, stretching every paycheck to the last penny. They want to climb the ladder of opportunity, they want to give their kids a brighter future, and the climb is not easy. My view is we ought to be trying to write a Federal budget that makes it easier for middle-class people to climb that ladder of opportunity and for those who aren't middle class to start moving up the rungs.

    This legislation before us misses out on several bipartisan opportunities that reluctantly drive me to say the bill is flawed, because in too many instances, it leaves our working families, our middle class, behind.

    Let me be specific. I offered, when the budget came up here, an amendment which stipulated that tax reform be built around the needs of our middle class so employers that would hire workers would have an opportunity to hire more, our workers would be able to get child care, and our students would be able to get educated. It was pretty straightforward. It said tax relief should be built around our middle class.

    A number of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle asked if this would allow for some approaches that [[Page S2630]] they would be interested in. I said of course.

    Chairman Enzi and I both have the honor to serve on the Senate Committee on Finance, so I offered an amendment that was built around some core ideas, recognizing my colleagues might have other approaches. A number of Republicans voted for that. It got more than 70 votes in the Senate.

    Today, as we debate this legislation, we don't hear anything about tax relief for middle-class families. As I look at the budget, it sure looks to me, given some of the other priorities, as though there is a real prospect that taxes could go up for our middle-class families, as if they are not getting hammered hard enough. We could be working on a budget proposal today that creates new opportunity for middle-class people, a proposal that includes something such as what was voted on in the Senate that got more than 70 votes. Yet it is not there.

    A second example deals with rural America. Again, in a lot of our rural communities there is enormous hurt. Many feel the policies of the Federal Government would pretty much turn them into some kind of economic sacrifice zone. So in the Committee on the Budget, I said: I think we have an opportunity to bring together programs such as the Secure Rural Schools Program, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Program, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and we could adopt a smarter approach to fighting wildfires. The fact is that, too, was bipartisan. In the Committee on the Budget, the vote was 18 to 4--an overwhelming 18-to-4 bipartisan vote for the kind of approach I offered which would bring these programs together and put in the budget secure rural schools alongside these other programs that are a rural lifeline.

    Once again, a bipartisan proposal--a bipartisan proposal that got resounding support in the Senate Committee on the Budget--somehow didn't make its way into the legislation we are considering today. So for communities in my home State, the message is: We are not really going to make your communities a priority.

    I was just in, for example, Roseburg, OR, which is Southern Oregon, where there are hard-working people who would like to both get the timber harvest up and have the funds for their police and their schools and their roads and basic services. But this budget says that even though in the Committee on the Budget we had something bipartisan to help those communities, gee, we are really not going to follow through. We are just going to have a partisan plan, No. 1; and No. 2, we are going to basically shuffle to the side these bipartisan proposals with respect to middle-class tax relief and rural communities that, in my view, could make a huge difference in the quality of life for millions of American families. Of course, these were bipartisan ideas.

    Now, a third area that has concerned me about this budget is the need for supporting programs such as Medicare and Social Security that keep millions of Americans from falling through the cracks. With this budget plan, the Congress ought to be protecting Medicaid so Americans of very limited means can count on having access to health care. Yet the budget that is being considered today would make, in my view, needlessly painful, needlessly arbitrary cuts.

    It just seems as if the budget doesn't recognize that weakening Medicaid will hurt the most vulnerable families in Oregon and across the country--those who are struggling so hard to climb that ladder of opportunity. Without Medicaid coverage, those who are vulnerable end up forgoing checkups. They end up passing on the preventive visits. In my view, they will end up with lesser care at a higher overall cost. A massive burden would end up getting shifted to hospitals and doctors and many Americans who simply pay insurance premiums through their employer.

    So if we make those kinds of cuts today--the cuts I have described as being arbitrary--we are going to have higher costs and more economic pain down the road.

    Finally, millions of seniors and those with disabilities rely on Medicaid to help cover what otherwise can be crushing costs--crushing costs--in the long-term care area. I was codirector of the Oregon Gray Panthers for a number of years before I was elected to Congress, and what I have seen over the years are nursing home costs going up and up and up. Even those families who worked hard and saved and never took that extra vacation, never bought that special car ended up being impoverished, and they and those who are disabled simply would not be in a position to get long-term care without Medicaid.

    Now, we know what used to happen years and years ago. There were poor farms, there were almshouses when savings ran out. It is pretty hard to do that with the demographic revolution of today, with 10,000 people turning 65 every day--10,000 people turning 65 every day for years and years to come.

    So my view is Medicaid, this lifeline for the most vulnerable people--a lifeline that keeps so many individuals, particularly seniors, from falling into utter destitution--should be protected rather than filleted, as this budget would do, and it is one of the major reasons I am in opposition.

    I will close by way of saying that I have gotten, over the years, to know Chairman Enzi very well. He is a compassionate legislator. He is a talented legislator. My hope is, though I oppose this budget today for the reasons I have described--the bipartisan opportunities missed with respect to tax relief for the middle class and the rejection of a bipartisan plan to help rural America--that in the days ahead, as we go to the Committee on Finance, in particular, and we look at these issues, we can return to what has always been the Senate at its best, which is working in a bipartisan fashion. We can do it on tax relief. We can do it for rural America.

    By the way, we can do it in terms of Medicare. We can protect the Medicare guarantee and hold down costs. Our colleague Senator Isakson from Georgia has joined me in an important piece of legislation that really starts to transform Medicare into a program that better meets the needs of those who will most need it, which is those with chronic disease--cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. But we would be protecting the Medicare guarantee, not, in effect, damaging Medicaid the way this budget would do.

    Mr. President, I am going to yield the floor now and just state, once again, that I hope we can go back to what makes the Senate function at its best, bipartisanship. We missed that opportunity thus far, and I hope we will return to it.

    With that, I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.

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