America's Safety Net at Risk

Mr. Speaker, in the face of our $8.1 trillion debt, the House recently passed a budget reconciliation bill. This so-called Deficit Reduction Act cut spending by $53 billion by cutting programs like health care for the sick, education benefits for students, child support help for parents, and food stamps for hungry families. Even as supporters of the budget reconciliation bill applauded their own new-found frugality, they knew the savings would never be realized because today the House passed a tax reconciliation bill, erasing the 3-week-old savings of $53 billion with $70 billion in new tax cuts. And most egregiously, the lion's share of these tax cuts benefit the most prosperous among us.

At a time when one in seven Americans have no health insurance, the budget bill cut $11 billion for Medicaid, the most basic part of America's safety net. It further empowered health care providers to turn away patients who are unable to pay. This was not only uncaring but fiscally unwise. It will cost our Nation more certainly in the long run when significant health problems are left untreated.

Mr. Speaker, with a Federal debt now of $8 trillion, every American owes $27,000. Americans understand that the inability of the administration and Congress to balance the budget will have a disastrous effect on future generations. Imagine leaving our kids with an unpaid $27,000 credit card bill and more interest on the way.

But holding back medical treatment for chronically ill children is not the way to restore fiscal discipline. Neither is making cuts to education that will close the doors of opportunity to a generation of students. The budget bill cut student loan programs by more than $14 billion. With new fees and higher interest rates, educational opportunities will be lost, and all of the stimulus to the economy that would have been generated by all those new engineers and scientists will be lost with them.

Does our Nation truly benefit economically or otherwise by pushing so many deeper into poverty, or by closing the doors to higher education? In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and all that it revealed about the persistence of poverty in America, can we really have a more secure future with a less effective safety net?

I am proud to be a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate and conservative Democrats concerned about fiscal responsibilities. I join my Blue Dog colleagues in seeking ways to reduce the debt; but we were compelled to oppose this bill because it was a sham, a debt increase that made the poor poorer, the rich richer, and the country's future even more precarious. Any reasonable look at the numbers will easily reveal the truth: these bills result in an increase to the national debt.

As a Nation, we have gone from an $86 billion surplus under President Clinton in 2000 to a record $412 billion deficit last year. Our fiscal house is more than out of order; it is spiraling out of control.

What we need right now is a balanced budget strategy and one that honors the values of the American people, that rewards work not wealth, that requires the sacrifice of all Americans for the common good and not the sacrifice alone of the poor, the young, or the infirm.