Mr. President: the federal budget is more than just a long list of numbers, which in this case add up to about 2.9 trillion dollars.
The federal budget, like any family budget or any company budget, is a statement of values and priorities. In fact, the federal budget in many ways is a statement of what our country is all about.
We would all, I think, find it irresponsible and strange if a family that we knew spent all of their money on an expensive vacation but, didn't have enough money left to pay the rent or the mortgage and found themselves living out on the street. Most of us would regard this family as acting with misplaced priorities.
Preparing the federal budget is exactly the same process.
It's about spending taxpayer dollars where we should and not spending where we should not.
It's about taking a hard look at the needs of our people and prioritizing the budget in an intelligent and rationale way.
Mr. President, let me take a quick glance at the economic reality in which tens of millions of American families are now living.
Since President Bush has been in office, more than 5 million Americans have slipped into poverty, including over one million children. Not only does the United States have the highest rate of poverty of any major country in the industrialized world, we also, shamefully, have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world at over 18 percent. 37 million Americans today live in poverty - 13 million are children.
Last year, 35 million people in America, the richest country on the face of the earth, struggled to put food on the table. And, the Agriculture Department recently reported that the number of the poorest, hungriest Americans keeps rising.
Mr. President, we have crisis in affordable housing in which millions of working Americans are paying 50 to 60 percent of their limited incomes to put a roof over their heads; while other families are sleeping in their cars or in fact out on the street.
Last year, there were 1.2 million home foreclosures in this country, an increase of 42 percent since 2005.
The cost of energy has rapidly risen since President Bush has been in office. Oil prices have more than doubled and gasoline prices have gone up by 70 percent since January of 2001.
This is putting a real strain on the paychecks of working people- especially in rural states like Vermont where workers are often forced to drive long distances to their jobs.
Mr. President, as is well known, millions of middle class American families are finding it increasingly difficult to afford the escalating cost of a college education with average tuition and other costs increasing by more than $4,300 at public universities and over $8,000 at private colleges since 2001.
In America today millions of American workers are working longer hours for lower wages and median income for working-age families has declined for five years in a row.
Today, incredible as it may seem the personal savings rate is below zero which has not happened since the Great Depression. In other words, all over this country working people and people in the middle-class are purchasing groceries and other basic necessities and, in the process are going deeper and deeper in debt.
Over the past six years, we have lost three million manufacturing jobs, including 10,000 in my State of Vermont. Many of the new jobs that are available to those displaced workers pay lower wages and have lower benefits.
Mr. President, our health care system is disintegrating. While health care costs are soaring the number of Americans without health insurance rose to a record high of 46.6 million in 2005, an increase of 6.8 million since 2000.
Today, 3 million fewer American workers have pension coverage than when President Bush took office and half of private-sector American workers have no pension coverage whatsoever.
Throughout our country American workers, who now work the longest hours of any other people in the industrialized world, are finding it harder and harder to get jobs which provide them with a decent amount of vacation time.
Mr. President, while the middle class is shrinking and poverty is increasing in our country, there is another reality that is taking place. And that is that the wealthiest 1%, the people at the very top of the economic ladder, have never had it so good since the 1920s. According to Forbes Magazine, the collective net worth of the richest 400 Americans increased by $120 billion last year to $1.25 trillion. The 400 wealthiest Americans are worth $1.25 trillion. Sadly, Mr. President, the United States today has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any major country and the gap between the very wealthy and everyone else is growing wider.
Today, the wealthiest 13,000 families in America own nearly as much income as the bottom 20 million and the wealthiest one percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.
Mr. President, I've given this thumbnail sketch of the economy in order to place the President's budget in context. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is shrinking and the President, in the midst of this has presented this to Congress. Let's take a brief look at that budget.
The President's budget would cut Medicare and Medicaid by $280 billion over the next decade lowering the quality of healthcare for approximately 43 million senior citizens and people with disabilities who depend on Medicare and more than 50 million Americans who rely on Medicaid.
At a time when our child care and early childhood education system is totally inadequate to the meet the needs of working parents, the Bush budget reduces the number of children receiving child care assistance by 300,000. In addition, the Bush budget provides a $100 million cut for Head Start, at a time when only about one-half of the children eligible for this program actually participate due to a lack of funding.
While hunger in this country is increasing, the President's budget denies food stamps to 280,000 families and eliminates nutrition assistance to over 400,000 senior citizens, mothers and newborn children.
At a time when Veterans all over this country are finding themselves on waiting lists in order to get into VA facilities and when the President has thrown hundreds of thousands of Veterans off of VA funding, the President is significantly under funding the needs of our veterans.
Mr. President, in this great country, with so many people struggling desperately to keep their heads above water, we should not be cutting back on health care, nutritional benefits, Head Start, affordable housing, the needs of our Veterans and educational opportunities for millions of ordinary Americans.
This is especially true when the President's budget provides $739 billion in tax breaks over the next decade to households with incomes exceeding $1 million per year. The average tax break for this group of millionaires will total $162,000 by 2012.
Mr. President, let me very blunt. In my view, it is wrong and it is immoral to give huge tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, the people who need them the least, while cutting back on the needs of the middle-class and working families of our country.
Mr. President, is this budget a reflection of the values of this country? Is this what we really stand for? Let me answer that with a resounding no.
We are told over and over again that we don't have the money to reduce childhood poverty in this country. We don't have enough money to wipe out hunger. We don't have enough money to make sure that every qualified student who graduates from high school can afford a college education without going deeply into debt. We don't have enough money to keep the promises made to our Veterans.
In other words, when it comes to the needs of ordinary Americans, we just don't have the resources to help them, but somehow in the budget of President Bush, when it comes to tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, we have unlimited funds available. We have tens of billions to shower on those who need it least and nothing for those who need it most.
Mr. President: Included in the President's budget, amazingly, is the complete repeal of the Estate Tax - which would take effect at the end of 2010. As you know, the repeal of the complete real of this tax would benefit would benefit only the top 2/10ths of one percent. Let me repeat that. The complete repeal of the Estate Tax, based on the changes and increased exemptions that Congress has provided in recent years, would benefit the wealthiest 2/10ths of one percent of the American public - families that are all millionaires or billionaires. In other words, 99.8 percent of Americans would not benefit from the complete repeal of the Estate Tax as proposed by the President.
According to the President's budget this action, the complete repeal of the Estate Tax, would reduce receipts by more than $91 billion over the next five years and more than $442 billion over the next decade. But the long-term damage to our treasury is even worse. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, repealing the estate tax would cost over one trillion dollars from 2012 to 2021.
In other words, if the President's plan to permanently repeal the estate tax succeeds, the children and family members of the privileged few will reap a massive tax break. Instead of closing the gap between the rich and poor and instead of addressing the huge national debt problem that we have we are making both situations worse.
Mr. President: I have brought with me a few charts to demonstrate who the winners and losers are in the President's budget.
Obviously fortunes go up and fortunes go down. The estimates that I am giving to you and the charts that I am using are based on two reports. The first is an April 2006 report by United for a Fair Economy and Public Citizen, entitled "Spending Millions to Save Billions" reflecting the financial position of the wealthiest 400 Americans in this country as compiled by Forbes Magazine from the year 2005.
The second is a May 30, 2006 report from the House Government Reform Committee entitled "Estimated Tax Savings of Oil Company CEOs."
Of course no-one can predict what the numbers will be in the year's to come, but these are the best figures available to us at this time.
Let's go to the first chart.
The granddaddy of all of the winners under the Bush budget is none other than the heirs to the Wal-Mart Fortune.
If the estate tax was repealed, the entire Walton family would receive an estimated tax break of $32.7 billion.
Meanwhile, the President's budget proposes to cut Medicaid by $28 billion over the next decade, driving up the cost of healthcare for tens of millions of Americans. In other words, one family gets a huge tax break, while tens of millions of healthcare consumers suffer.
This comes on top of the $28.3 billion, 10 year cut the Republican Congress and the President already enacted last year which have resulted in higher co-payments for healthcare services for 13 million Americans; higher co-payments for prescription drugs for 20 million individuals; and benefit cuts for 1.6 million people.
In other words, if the President's proposed budget passes, millions of Americans will lose, while the Walton family wins.
This may make sense to someone, but it doesn't make sense to me.
The second major beneficiary of the President's tax cuts are the heirs of the Mars Candy Bar fortune.
They are slated to receive an estimated $11.7 billion estate tax break, if the President gets his way. This is more than three times what the President wants to cut from the VA budget over the next five years.
Meanwhile, the President's budget proposes cutting the VA budget by $3.4 billion over the next five years. This comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of veterans are forced onto a waiting list to receive the healthcare benefits they were promised because of a lack of funding. Veterans lose under the Bush budget.
Another major winner in the President's budget is the Cox family, the heirs to the Cox Cable fortune. They will gain $9.7 billion if the estate tax is repealed.
Meanwhile, while the Cox family would receive almost $10 billion in tax breaks, the President wants to cut $1.5 billion in education. The President keeps talking about No Child Left Behind, while his budget continues to leave millions of children behind. They are the losers under this budget.
Another major beneficiary of the President's budget is the Nordstrom family, owners of the upscale department store chain. By repealing the estate tax, the Nordstrom family stands to receive an estimated $826.5 million tax break, according to the April 2006 report from United for a Fair Economy.
Meanwhile, the President has proposed eliminating one of the most successful poverty reduction programs in this country - the $630 million Community Services Block Grant Program. CSBG provides the infrastructure necessary to deliver services to 15 million of the lowest income people in this country, people who are hungry, people who are homeless, people who are struggling to stay alive. They are the losers under the Bush budget.
15 million Americans living in poverty lose. The Nordstrom family wins.
Another major beneficiary of the Bush budget is the family of Ernest Gallo, who would receive a $468.4 million tax break.
Meanwhile, the President proposes to cut $420 million from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). According to the latest available data, 5.4 million senior citizens on fixed incomes and low-income families with children receive help paying their heating bills through this program each and every year. Millions more qualify for this assistance, but don't get anything due to a lack of funding. They are the losers under the Bush budget.
One family receives a $468.4 million tax break, while we don't have enough money to help keep 5.4 million families warm this winter. The Ernest Gallo family wins, millions of the desperately poor lose.
Another major beneficiary of the Bush budget is the family of the former CEO of Exxon Mobil Lee Raymond. His family would receive a $164 million tax break.
One family in America would receive a $164 million tax break from the repeal of the estate tax, as the CEO of Exxon-Mobil wins again. Exxon-Mobil becomes the most profitable company in the history of the world, millions of Americans struggle to pay for gas at the pump, and Lee Raymond receives a $400 million retirement package. And, now the President wants to reward Mr. Raymond by providing his estate with an estimated $164 million tax break from Uncle Sam. Mr. Raymond's family is a clear winner under the Bush budget.
But, who loses? How about the 480,000 low-income seniors, mothers and newborn children? That's the estimated number of Americans receiving one bag of groceries a month through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. Last year, this program received $108 million. But, the President wants to eliminate this program because we don't have enough money. We have enough money to provide a $164 million tax break for Lee Raymond's estate. But, we don't have enough money to provide a $20 bag of groceries to 480,000 of the neediest senior citizens, mothers and newborn children in this country. That is unacceptable.
Mr. President, to sum up, when it comes to our federal budget priorities we have got to ask: Which side are we on? The rich and the powerful or the middle class and working families?
As a member of the Senate Budget Committee the choice is pretty clear to me. I will not be voting to provide a tax break to the heirs of the Wal-Mart fortune. Rather, I will be voting to substantially increase financial aid for low and middle class families so that every American, regardless of income, can receive a college education. I will not support another tax cut for the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil and his family.
Instead, I will vote to substantially increase funding for child care so that working families can find affordable and quality care for their children.
I don't think that the heirs to the Mars Candy Bar fortune should get a tax break. In my view, it is far more important that we keep our promises to the veterans of this country who now find themselves on waiting lists to get the health care they need.
If, as a nation, we are serious about addressing the long neglected needs of the working people of this country and creating a more egalitarian society, we have got to invest more federal resources in education, health care, housing, infrastructure, environmental protection and sustainable energy as well as many other areas. We also have to reduce our national debt.
Given that reality, Congress must develop the courage to stand up to the big money interests and roll-back the tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent, and demand that the wealthy and powerful rejoin American society.
We should do no less.