Tom Harkin - U.S. Seante

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 “At this time of year, many of us remember Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol – the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who learns the true meaning of the holiday season and opens his heart to those less fortunate than he.

“Unfortunately, here in the Republican-led Congress, life does not imitate art. Ten days before Christmas, Congress is poised to deliver a cruel blow to the most disadvantaged members of our society. And sadly, unlike in Dickens’ tale, there is no sign of remorse, no nagging conscience, no change of heart at the end of the day.

“The Labor-HHS appropriations bill funds programs like Head Start, community health centers, special education, and job training – the programs that help the neediest in our communities. Most people who are watching today would probably expect these programs to get an increase this year, or at least be level-funded.

“But that is not the case. Incredibly, the bill before us would cut funding for these programs by $1.4 billion.

“In education, this bill:

Cuts total federal education funding for the first time in a decade. Reduces funding for No Child Left Behind Act programs by 3 percent ($780 million), for a total that is $13.1 billion below the authorized level. Provides the smallest increase for Title I in 8 years, for a total that is $9.9 billion below the authorized level. This means denying full Title I services to 120,000 children who are currently eligible to receive them. Freezes the maximum Pell Grant award for the fourth year in a row despite rising tuition costs. Cuts the federal share of the costs of special education for the first time in a decade, and shifts a bigger burden to states and local districts.

“It’s the same story in health. This bill:

Slashes the Bureau of Health Professions by $185 million, making it even harder to recruit qualified health professionals in many parts of the country. Won’t allow a single new community health center competition in fiscal year 2006. Provides the smallest percentage increase to NIH – less than 1 percent – since 1970 and cuts the number of new research grants that NIH will be able to fund. Cuts rural health programs by $137 million. Eliminates 9 vital health care programs including trauma care, rural emergency medical services, health education training centers, the healthy community access program, and geriatric education centers.

“Here’s a map showing all the States that will lose geriatric education centers, just two weeks before the 78 million baby boomers in this country begin to turn 60 (January 2006). In Iowa, we have a center at the University of Iowa School of Medicine that trains physicians, osteopaths, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, chiropractors, and social workers. There’s a big need for this center, because Iowa has the highest proportion of citizens over the age of 85, of any state in the United States. But this bill eliminates it.

“Now let’s look at labor programs. This bill:

Cuts total labor funding by $430 million, or almost 4 percent. Cuts adult job training by $31 million and youth job training by $36 million. Slashes the Employment Service by $89 million, or 11 percent.

“Furthermore, this bill will literally leave the poorest people in America out in the cold. It provides no additional funding for LIHEAP (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), even though fuel costs are skyrocketing.

“In Iowa, natural gas prices are up 40 percent. Hawkeye Area Community Assistance in Southeast Iowa reports that LIHEAP funds are likely to run out in mid-January – one of the coldest months of the year. But this bill fails to keep up with the overwhelming need.

“Now, you might be thinking: a $1.4 billion cut is pretty bad. But that’s just the start.

“Congress is getting ready to pass a defense appropriations bill that will include an across-the-board cut of at least 1 percent against virtually every federal program.

“One percent might not sound like a lot. But remember that $1.4 billion cut in the Labor-HHS bill? Get ready to double it. It turns into a $2.8 billion cut.

“Here’s what a 1 percent cut would mean for education: It would deny full Title I services to 160,000 children who are currently eligible to receive them. Whatever happened to the idea of leaving no child behind? This bill makes a mockery of that goal.

“Here’s what a 1 percent cut would mean for medical research: It would slash the number of new grants that NIH could fund by 8 percent, from 9,612 to 8,822. That means 790 potential medical breakthroughs that won’t get tested.

“I could go on and on, but I won’t.

“Today is December 15 – ten days before Christmas. Throughout much of the world, it’s the season of giving. But here in Congress, it’s the season of taking away – taking away education programs, taking away job training, taking away home heating assistance, taking away rural health programs. And worst of all, taking away hope.

“We’re saying to the low-income families that are working and struggling to pay their heating bills, put food on the table, keep their families together, make it through the winter: “Merry Christmas! Hang your stockings! Congress is bringing you a big lump of coal!”

“I don’t understand how anyone can vote for this bill – especially at this time of year.

“I urge my colleagues in the Senate to defeat it. It’s a terrible bill. The House defeated it once a few weeks ago and passed it by just two votes yesterday.

“We need to reject this bill and insist that the Republican leadership provide enough funding to write an acceptable bill. They have the power to do it. They run the White House and both houses of Congress. What’s stopping them?

“If Senators pass this bill, and deliver this cruel present to the poorest people in America ten days before Christmas, it’s on their conscience. But I’m voting no.”

Paid for and authorized by Citizens for Harkin