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Debbie S.
Democrat MI

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  • Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013—Motion to Proceed—Continued

    by Senator Debbie Stabenow

    Posted on 2013-03-12

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    STABENOW. Madam President, as I rise to talk about the budget that was released in the House of Representatives, I want to first commend our chair Senator Mikulski and ranking member Senator Shelby for working together. I could not agree more with what Senator Shelby said about getting back to regular order and getting back together. This is an example of what we need to do. I want to commend both Senators.

    We obviously have very different points of view. People can come together and listen to each other and be willing to compromise, which is not a bad thing. I don't know any part of life where we don't compromise. I have been trying to figure that one out. When you have children, wouldn't it be nice not to have to compromise? Somehow we always have to. I want to commend both of our leaders on the Appropriations Committee.

    I am very hopeful we can return to regular order and hash out our very different perspectives and very different views of the country. I think we have seen that today with Chairman Ryan with the Republican budget. We will see a different view tomorrow with Chairman Murray coming through with a budget as we work through the budget in committee this week and then on the floor. This way reasonable people can sit down and listen to each other and find a path forward.

    Most importantly, I think if we listen to the American people we represent--their values and their priorities--we can move forward. I do feel strongly that what has been released today in the House is the wrong set of values; it is the wrong approach. Actually, I am surprised we are seeing the same kind of budget we have seen for the last couple of years come out of the House--particularly one where the public spoke so strongly against the foundations of what is in that budget. It has been called a balanced budget. It is anything but balanced.

    Overall, it is my understanding that there is an identification of some $5 trillion that will be cut in spending, but nobody says where. Then they say: Oh, the budget is balanced. Well, as our leaders on appropriations know, we actually have to get in and say where it is going to be cut so we can balance the budget, which this does not do. It does not balance the budget, and it is certainly unbalanced when it comes to the values represented in the budget.

    I have to start with the one issue that is so concerning to me, and that is the whole question of Medicare. Once again we are seeing in the Republican budget of the House the effort to eliminate Medicare. It basically eliminates Medicare as an insurance plan. It basically says: You go out and find private insurance. They changed the names to different things. They tried to make it sound better, but it all comes down to the fact that people will be given a voucher. Good luck trying to find private insurance.

    It was the private insurance sector and the lack of affordable insurance for seniors which created Medicare in 1965. As we get older, we lose more health care because we are more expensive to cover. Before Medicare, it was very difficult to find affordable insurance. In fact, it was impossible for many people. As Americans we came together and said: If you are 65 or older or if you are disabled in this country, you have the right to have insurance and health care available and affordable to you. We created a health insurance system called Medicare. By the way, Medicare costs dramatically less to administer than any private sector plan. We are talking 3 percent or 4 percent to administer Medicare as opposed to 15 percent, 20 percent, 25 percent going to administrative costs and profits and so on. So it is very efficient.

    There are issues we need to address, and we have been doing that. In fact, we have put in place cost savings over the next 10 years by eliminating overpayment to insurance companies that do what is called Medicare Advantage. It is interesting that while Chairman Ryan and the House Republicans say [[Page S1698]] they are going to do away with Medicare, they put the $700 billion we saved by stopping overpayments to insurance companies--as well as doing other things for prevention and cost savings--in their budget. After criticizing it, they want the savings, but they turn around and want to eliminate Medicare. It is a very interesting combination of things here that is a hocus-pocus kind of approach with smoke-and-mirrors as far as how they are coming up with their budget.

    The bottom line is very clear: It guts Medicare. It guts Medicare, but not in order to fund or strengthen Medicare services or health care services in some way. The astounding thing is they continue to put forward a budget that guts Medicare in order to continue tax giveaways for the very wealthy and well-connected people in this country. It makes no sense. It makes no sense, and our budget will be very different than this one.

    Medicare has been a great American success story. Medicare and Social Security have lifted a generation of Americans out of poverty. It has given them the ability to live longer and healthier lives. It has allowed my mom, who is on her way to 87, to play with her now great- grandchildren. By the way, my three grandchildren are the most beautiful children in the world. My mom is able to play with them and be healthy and active because of something called Medicare which was put in place to give her the opportunity to pay into a system so she could have health care and be able to live a longer life. That is a great American success story.

    We know we are living longer. The greatness of Medicare is that people are healthier and living longer, and so we know we have to do some refiguring here and have some savings. We are already doing that. Over the next 10 years we are putting in place $700 billion in savings by focusing more on prevention. We are focused more on wellness visits and helping people on the front end before they get very sick, as well as cutting overpayments.

    We are now hearing that Medicare is going to have a $500 billion savings as well, and that insurance rates and growth have actually slowed. We are seeing the actuaries reconfigure the savings. CBO, the budget office, reconfigured the cost of Medicare and Medicaid to create more savings because of things we have begun to do. Thanks to health care reform we are able to focus more on prevention and people being able to see a doctor. We are able to do all those things that save money without cutting health care for people.

    We are very committed to making sure we have savings in Medicare and that we strengthen Medicare for the future. Whatever decisions we need to make, we need to do that for Social Security and other areas as well. The difference we have is, we think it should exist. We think it should exist as a health insurance plan. I cannot imagine any way in which our Senate majority would ever vote for what is in the budget that was released by the Republican caucus today. So we are looking at very different priorities.

    In the area of Medicaid, we are also looking at very different priorities. The majority of Medicaid, in terms of the number of people, are children; the majority of money under Medicaid is actually spent on seniors--on nursing homes, people who are in extended care facilities, and so on. Again, when we think about the budget being released in the House of Representatives by Chairman Ryan and the Republicans, they go right to Medicare, eliminate Medicare as an insurance plan, and then they block grant and cut Medicaid, which goes to the poorest seniors in nursing homes, so they get a double whammy in the budget that has been released by Chairman Ryan and the House of Representatives.

    We also know they are slashing investments for middle-class families as well as the vulnerable, as well as public safety, police, and fire. I just left my mayors from Michigan coming in and talking about what has happened to them on the frontlines. We have trickle-down cuts, and they end up with it all in their laps, having to figure out how to provide local services. When we talk about the fact that there would be dramatic disinvestments or cuts in public safety, police, fire, and so on, they are appalled and desperately worried about how they are going to make sure they can respond to the people who live in their communities.

    In education, cuts, of course, to Head Start, financial help for people to be able to go to college, all of which are good things.

    Roads and bridges.

    Another piece that is very concerning to me is our nutrition programs which have been put in place for families who have challenges. People have lost their jobs and they need some help with putting food on the table for their families. We are seeing that program, the SNAP program--Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program--gutted with $160 billion--$160 billion in cuts that would leave millions of children, millions of families without help. Interestingly, the spending on the nutrition programs, on SNAP, is actually going down. Why? Because it is there when people need it, when they have a crisis, and then the spending is not used when families go back to work. So we are seeing over $11 billion in decreases in spending because the economy is improving and people are going back to work. That is the way we want to bring spending down.

    Interestingly, within my purview as chair of the Agriculture Committee, I am also deeply concerned about the cuts in the Republican budget in the House to crop insurance. Within our farm bill, we have two disaster assistance programs. One is for families, which is nutrition assistance. It goes up and down with the economy. The other is crop insurance for farmers and ranchers, which goes up and down with the economy.

    We have had huge droughts and late freezes on our orchards and others where folks have been decimated, but because of crop insurance this year, rather than doing ad hoc disaster assistance all over the country, we have crop insurance. People buy crop insurance are covered if they need it, and we have been able to see farmers sustain themselves because crop insurance has worked. So crop insurance costs again go up and down based on whether there are disasters. Supplemental nutrition goes up or down whether or not there is a family disaster. Both of those are hit in this budget and make absolutely no sense.

    I can assure my colleagues that in the farm bill we will present again to colleagues as we did last year--and we are so grateful for the bipartisan support we had--we will strongly support efforts around crop insurance as well as nutrition.

    Finally, let me just say that very different values are presented in the budget presented by Chairman Ryan and the Republicans in the House by going after the middle class, actually raising middle-class taxes in order to fund more tax breaks for the wealthy and the special interests in the country; gutting Medicare and using that money for additional tax cuts for the very wealthy; gutting our investments in science, innovation, and education to grow the economy in order to pay for more tax cuts for the wealthy.

    This story seems to go on and on and on. It always comes back to the same place: The wealthy, the well connected, the special interests do very well. Middle-class families get hit, seniors get hit, the vulnerable get hit, children are hit and are asked to pay the tab for trying to bring down a deficit that, frankly, they didn't create. So that is the story in the House.

    Our chairwoman of the Budget Committee, Senator Murray, will present a very different story tomorrow, one that is focused on growth in the economy, supporting the middle class, protecting Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security for the future, and making investments that grow the economy.

    One of the things I know after working on the issue of jobs for a long time is that we will never get out of debt with 12 million people out of work in this country, so we better be focused on jobs and supporting the private sector to create jobs--large businesses, manufacturers, small businesses, partnering on innovation, education, and so on. That has to be part of our long-term strategy to get out of debt as well as making smart cuts and other kinds of smart investments.

    Again, I come to the floor to commend colleagues who are on the floor showing the right way to do things--to work together, to listen to each other, to work across the aisle on a bipartisan [[Page S1699]] basis to get things done. We have a very different picture going on in the budget committees. We have a long way to go when we start with eliminating Medicare as we know it, but the House Republicans are saying, no, we want to strengthen Medicare for the future and keep it intact for seniors. All the other issues we are in a very different place. But I think it is very important that we make a commitment to listen to each other and do our best to find a path forward. We need to find a path. People are counting on us to get things done. They are counting on us to both grow the economy and create jobs and have a strong middle class and they are counting on us to reduce the deficit, all of which we can do if we are willing to work together and listen to each other and find a path forward.

    I thank my colleagues for giving me the time. I wish to congratulate them again on the work they are doing. I ask that we work together as we go forward in completing the task on growing the economy and reducing the deficit.

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