Casey: Budget is About People, Values and Priorities

WASHINGTON, DC- As the full Senate prepares to consider the budget next week, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today spoke on the Senate floor to address some of the key issues and priorities at stake.  A full copy of Senator Casey’s speech is below.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey

March 26, 2009

I rise today to speak about the budget that's before the Congress, before the Senate, and before the American people. And I, like so many others, in this chamber, as well as people from across the country, look forward to working with President Obama to get this budget passed. 

I really believe that when we consider what a budget is, a budget is a lot of things. But of course it's not just a series of proposals and policies and numbers and charts and data. What a budget is, I really believe, is a reflection of our values. It's a mirror into which we look at least here in the federal government once a year to make an assessment or a reassessment of our values and our priorities. I think the President of the United States, President Obama, understands that. 

His budget reflects that understanding, that a budget is a set of values and priorities. And it's also in the end about people. It's not really about data and programs. A budget is about people. 

I was thinking this morning about some people that I have had contact with through correspondence, people who write to our office and talk about their lives. People like Trisha Urban, who wrote to our office not too long ago. She's from Berks County, the county that has the city of Reading in it on the eastern side of our state. Trisha has a story about her life, her family, about health care. 

And just imagine this: in the life of one family, in this case Trisha Urban, pregnant and awaiting the birth of a child.  At the same time her husband dies literally within the same time frame. She wrote to me and said that as she was preparing for the birth of her child, "we were anxiously awaiting the birth of our first child. An hour and a half later two ambulances were in my driveway. As the paramedics were assessing the health of my baby and me, the paramedic from the other ambulance told me that my husband could not be revived." All in one day, all in one hour, literally. 

And she goes on to say in the letter, "my husband's death may have been prevented. Like many of Americans, we have difficulty with our health insurance. My husband had to leave his job for one year to complete an internship requirement to complete his doctorate in psychology. The internship was unpaid and we could not afford COBRA the extension of health insurance. Because of preexisting conditions, neither my husband's health issues nor my pregnancy would be covered under private insurance." And she goes on from there to talk about her own predicament. 

Mr. President, I would ask that the full text of this letter that I received from Trisha Urban be made part of the record. 

Here's how she concluded her letter. She said "if my story is heard, if legislation could be changed to help other uninsured Americans in a similar situation, I’m willing to pay the price of losing everything. I’m asking you to share my story with others in Congress and I am willing to speak on behalf of my husband so that his death will not be in vain." 

In this letter, in this one single letter from a woman in Pennsylvania, a mother and now a widow, in this letter is contained all of the challenges that we face in this budget. Specifically with health care, but I think it speaks to so many other challenges we face as well. 

So every budget that we do here, and especially at this time of economic crisis, every budget is about people. And we have to remember that. And I think President Obama understands that this budget is about people. It's about people who are leading lives of struggle and sacrifice and setback. 

But at the same time he understands that the American people, even at this difficult time in our nation's history, understand that we will overcome this. We will pass a budget, and we will get to work on these important priorities. Priorities like health care, the priority of education, and also of making progress on a whole range of energy issues. 

At the same time, as we're passing this budget, we should remind the American people that even as we work on health care, energy, and education, this budget contains plenty of middle-class tax relief, and it's important to talk about that. 

I don't want to look in the rear-view mirror and talk about the past too much, but I think it's important to provide a brief assessment of where we are. We can't make progress ahead of us if we don't know where we are and where we've been. And here's where we've been the last couple of years. 

The prior Administration inherited a $236 billion surplus. When the prior Administration ended, it was the exact opposite. Record deficits at that time. The Congressional Budget Office projected that the surplus -- this is back in the early part of this decade, the projection was that the surplus would grow to $710 billion. Let me repeat: a surplus of $710 billion by 2009. We know that's not the case today. 

President Obama and the American people have inherited a deficit of almost $1.3 trillion. If you look at it in terms of gross debt, that's like looking at the side of a mountain. 

We went from $5.8 trillion up to over $12 trillion in debt. That's what we face. 

I think it's important to understand that that's where we start. But President Obama didn't spend a lot of time talking about the problem he inherited. He focused on solutions. So he put before the Congress an open, honest and accountable budget. And this is a budget that will come about because of his work and his leadership as President, but also the work that Chairman Kent Conrad and others in Congress do. 

I want to commend Chairman Conrad for the work that he's done on this budget. He has a great array of charts that we're going to be using in the next couple of days to highlight some of these issues. 

This is an honest budget. It is not perfect but it's honest and it focuses on those priorities I mentioned before: health care, energy, education, deficit reduction, and tax relief. 

Let me take a couple of moments just to talk about health care. The story that I told before encompassed in the letter from Trisha Urban is a graphic and difficult story to tell of the life of one person's family. But the problems that families are having with health care are not atypical, are not unusual. 

For the first time in a decade we have a budget that tackles one of the biggest problems in the country: the health-care crisis. We can't put it off until 2010, or 2011 or 2012. We have to deal with this now, this year, with the new President and a new Congress committed to doing that. 

Across Pennsylvania, this issue comes up all the time when I talk to people in our state. If you look at it in terms of the nation, there are nearly seven times the number of Americans without health insurance today as there were in 2000. 

In Pennsylvania, a new report by Families U.S.A., when they analyze health care in the country and then they focus specifically on a state, the Families U.S.A. report finds that nearly 3 million, almost 3 million Pennsylvanians under the age of 65 were uninsured for some period of time in 2007 and 2008. And the overall number of Pennsylvanians without health insurance is growing faster than the nationwide average. 

So we've got a major challenge on our hands with regard to health care. And the President has been very focused on making sure that health care is a major component of this budget. And we're going to be talking about the specifics of that in the days ahead. 

The President also made a strong commitment to energy independence. We all know it's important. We know it's an urgent priority, and we've talked a lot about it. Year after year of talking and not acting. Year after year of explaining the problem instead of putting the solutions into law, into the budget, into the programs that we know can work. Energy independence is not just a nice thing to do. It's not just another way to go heating our homes and powering our economy. Energy independence is essential for our national security.

The more we ignore it, the less safe we are. The more we ignore energy independence, the more the terrorists have an increasing advantage over us. We have to deal with in this year as well. We're dependent on oil from some of the most politically unstable regions of the world. We know that. We can't just acknowledge that. We have to act on that information. 

The budget addresses the needs for clean energy that will help combat global warming and create the new green jobs of the future. Not just any jobs, the green jobs that will pay wages that you can sustain a family on. This budget will work together with the energy bills and with the investments that we have already made. The recovery and reinvestment bill for renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation, electric grid modernization and low-carbon coal technology, which is so important for our transition to this new energy economy. 


I wanted to conclude today by addressing the issue of education. We know that the challenge we have with regard to education is a lifetime of challenges, and we have to think about education as a continuum, a continuing series of challenges that we have to face as Americans. We cannot say that we want a growing economy or higher G.N.P. Growth or skilled workforce to keep in the economy, we can't say that with any tree of truth or integrity unless we an investment in the beginning of their lives. 

The test of government is how we treat those in the dawn of life, those in the shadow of life and those in the twilight of life. When he spoke of the dawn of life, he was speaking of our children. 

The United States has no prekindergarten education policy beyond the program head start. We have to not just make the funding commitment to Head Start which is so important to our economy and children and families, we have to do more with Head Start.  We need a full commitment to prekindergarten education. President Obama understands that. He campaigned on it and he put it in his budget. It is so critically important to make this a priority in our budget. 

He knows that making sure that a child has access to early education and health care and the promise of a bright future, he knows that that won't reach fulfillment unless we invest in higher education as well. Access to higher education and the opportunities it affords are one of the fundamentals of what make this country strong and I really believe that his commitment on higher education is a seminal part of his budget. 

I really believe also that when President Obama talks about education, he's not just talking about it in some abstract form. And when he focuses on the needs of our children, it's not an abstraction, not only because he's a husband and a father, but because President Obama believes, as I believe, that every child in America, no matter where they live, no matter who they are, no matter who their parents are, every child in America is born with a bright, light -- bright light inside them. It is up to us who are given power to help people as best we can. It is up to us to make sure that whatever -- whatever that light is inside a child that it burns ever brightly, that that child's full potential, if it's -- if it's unlimited or if it's -- or if it's much more limited, whatever that potential is, whatever the brightness of that light is, we have an obligation here to make sure that that potential, that that light burns brightly. 

I really believe that what President Obama has tried to do on education speaks directly to that obligation that we have as members of the United States Senate or members of Congress. We've a lot more to talk about in the days ahead. We have a lot more challenges to face as we -- we face the challenge of not only passing a budget, but of making sure these programs work for people. 

But in the end this is about people. It's about Trisha Urban and families who face the impossible challenge of -- of having health care for their family. It's also about a lot of families in Pennsylvania and across the country who lost their homes, may have lost their jobs, and have lost their hopes and their dreams. I believe with all of my heart that this budget is one of the ways that we speak to their concerns. One of the ways that we do our best to speak to the worries that they have about their own future. One of the ways that we give integrity to the -- to the promise that we have when we say that we're working here to make sure that the families of America can reach their potential. That children's lives will be better than their parents' lives, and there are a lot of people worried about that basic feature of American life. 

This budget isn't perfect and we'll continue to work on it. I and others will have amendments, but President Obama has put us on a path to make the investments in health care, education, and energy, to cut the deficit in half and to provide tax relief and also by making those investments to put us on a path not just to getting our economy out of the ditch and getting it back on the road, but making sure that we're making the investments to grow our economy in the future to create jobs, to create opportunity, and to create a future for our families and especially for our children.

We have a long way to go, but I really believe that President Obama working with leaders like Chairman Conrad here in the Senate and others in the house as well, to make sure that we're on that path to fiscal responsibility on the -- on the path to investing in priorities like health care, education. If we work together, we can reestablish the kind of economy that we used to have. Reestablish and reenergize the priorities that the American people elected us to work on.

I know that we can do that together. But it's not going to be easy. But we look forward to the challenge. We look forward to working with President Obama.

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