Concurrent Resolution on the Budget, Fiscal Year 2016—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator Amy Klobuchar
Posted on 2015-05-05
KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order
for the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to voice my opposition to this budget. Since being elected to the Senate, I have always stressed the importance of responsibly addressing our country's fiscal challenges. We have had bipartisan agreements before when we faced fiscal challenges. At the end of 2013, we passed the bipartisan Murray-Ryan budget agreement which then led to the passage of the omnibus spending bill. I was part of the group of 14 during the shutdown who came together with an idea for a fix that allowed us to get to the budget--seven Democrats and seven Republicans. We also saw some major bipartisan work on the farm bill, the Water Resources Development Act, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and we reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program and, as well as we know, recently, the Medicare sustainable growth rate. But today that is not what this budget is about. That is one of my major focuses today.
I would say, by the way, as a result of some of the bipartisan work that has been done in the past, since 2009 we have seen the deficit as a percent of GDP drop from nearly 10 percent--9.8 percent, exactly--to under 3 percent.
In this economic recovery, we have seen 61 straight months of private sector job growth and added over 12 million private sector jobs. Unemployment is at 5.5 percent nationally and 3.7 percent in my home State of Minnesota. The unemployment rate went down faster in 2014 than it has in any year since 1984.
With this economy not just stabilized but finally starting to show some signs of improvement--not everything that we need, not with everyone sharing in its growth; we know that--we are no longer governing from crisis. We are finally governing from opportunity-- opportunity for the people of this country, opportunity to compete in this global economy. My problem with this budget is that it does not give us that opportunity. This budget would make drastic cuts to the programs we need to seize this opportunity in the global economy, programs such as student loans, transportation, and heating assistance, just to name a few.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit is projected to drop to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2015, a cut of nearly two- thirds. Yet this budget would cut many of the programs that help our middle-class people, our families, our seniors, and those working hard to make ends meet. We have heard about a lot of the cuts in programs, but I want to focus on three key areas that I believe we need to invest in today so we can seize this opportunity when we finally have a stable economy and our country can grow and compete. The first is infrastructure, the second is investing in kids, and the third is research.
One of the best ways to boost our economy and create good-paying jobs is through investing in infrastructure. For far too long we have neglected the roads, the bridges, and the mass transit that millions of Americans rely on every day. According to the Federal Highway Administration, more than 24 percent of the Nation's 600,000 bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 report card, the United States scores a D-plus on the overall condition of our Nation's infrastructure.
Compared with other countries, we are falling behind. China and India are spending, respectively, 9 percent and 8 percent of their GDPs on infrastructure. How much are we committing? Just 2 percent. The effects of this shortsighted strategy are increasingly clear. No one knows that better than in my home State of Minnesota, where on August 1, 2007, a major bridge--an eight-lane highway--went crashing into the Mississippi River, and 13 people died. Dozens and dozens were injured. Dozens of cars were submerged in the water. As I said that day, a bridge should not fall down in the middle of America--especially not an eight-lane interstate highway, especially not a bridge that is one of the most traveled bridges in our State, especially not a bridge that is blocks from my house, a bridge that my family goes over every day when we want to go anywhere in our State--rush hour in the heart of a major metropolitan area.
When we have something like that happen in the State, we understand the importance of investing in infrastructure. The last thing we want to see is more cuts. Whether it is roads, bridges, rail, airports or waterways, the need to rebuild our infrastructure is critical to reclaiming our country's competitive edge. We want to get goods to market in this export economy. How do we do it? We do it with roads, with bridges, with rail. We do it with locks and dams. We do it with airports. Yet this budget would cut transportation and infrastructure by more than $200 billion over the next decade--a cut of 40 percent. That is simply unacceptable.
Education funding is something that is so important to me in my life. My grandpa worked 1,500 feet underground in the mines and never graduated from high school. He literally spent his life working, putting money in a coffee can in the basement to send my dad to community college. My dad went to community college and got a 2-year degree and then went on to the University of Minnesota--two public institutions. That is what education is about. Yet, we see cuts to education, cuts to Pell grants in this bill.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides critical funding to help offset education costs for States and local areas that are providing services to kids with disabilities. We are talking about our most vulnerable kids here. Yet this budget would cut Federal education funding by 2 percent in 2017 and 9 percent in 2025. IDEA funding--that funding so critical for kids with disabilities--would be cut by more than $15 million per year on average in Minnesota and more than $950 million nationally. Our kids deserve better than that.
Medical research--no one knows that better than Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic, home of the University of Minnesota. Yet what do we see with this budget? The cuts would mean a devastating $8 billion decrease at the National Institutes of Health over the next decade. This is simply unacceptable--cutting investment in medical innovation for cures that could cure Alzheimer's, for cures that could cure childhood diabetes, for cures and for research that could help people with autism; cutting investment in medical innovation is not a path that we can afford to take.
As Newt Gingrich said in an op-ed this last month, investing in health research is both a moral and a financial issue. The NIH is a beacon of hope for people across the Nation and in my home State of Minnesota. Just look at Alzheimer's. Right now, close to 5.2 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, including nearly 100,000 Minnesotans. These numbers will grow dramatically in the many coming years [[Page S2633]] with the aging of the baby boomer generation. We know there is good research being done through the Human Genome Project and the work that is being done at Mayo, where, if we can catch it earlier, our doctors might be able to figure out exactly what works and does not work. If you do not catch it early, how are they ever going to do the research we need to do to figure out what works and what does not work if you wait too long? That is some of the groundbreaking work that is being done right now. That is why I have worked with Senator Durbin on legislation to boost NIH funding. In contrast to this budget, the American Cures Act, of which I am a cosponsor, would reverse the trend of declining Federal investment in medical research and fuel the next generation of biomedical discoveries by providing a 5-percent annual increase at NIH and at other key Federal research agencies.
We need to see this as an investment. We know how expensive Alzheimer's is--and we know the heartbreaking stories of families where a family member gets Alzheimer's. Yet we cannot back away from the research that is going on right now--the research for things such as precision medicine. We are going to have targeted treatments helping patients to live healthier lives.
In conclusion, this budget would make cuts to infrastructure at a time when we need to invest and rebuild. This budget would make cuts to programs that serve kids with disabilities and slow the process of biomedical research and innovation. We have an opportunity now in this country. Through the work of so many businesses and workers across the country, we have been able to stabilize this economy. People in our country did not give up. But now is the moment to seize opportunities, and seizing opportunities means really taking back our place in America as a preeminent researcher, as the country that people go to when they want to cure diseases. We cannot do that by moving backwards. We cannot do that if we are going to cut the funding for our roads and bridges. We cannot afford to have another I-35W bridge collapse.
I urge my colleagues to oppose this budget and work together on a smarter budget, one that actually allows this country--America--to seize the opportunity before us so we can compete in this global economy.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.