There has been increased focus in the last few weeks on the state of the economy. Last month, we actually shed some 17,000 jobs in yet another sign that we may be entering a recession. The House, the Senate and the White House are wrestling with an economic stimulus package. Now, President Bush has just presented us with his new budget.
This dismaying document reflects priorities that are almost impossible to understand. It is, in a word, unconscionable.
While providing hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, the president proposed major cuts in health care, home heating assistance, weatherization, nutrition, housing programs and other basic needs of moderate- and low-income people. This is a Robin Hood in reverse budget. He takes from the poor and working families -- those most in need -- and gives to millionaires and billionaires -- those least in need. As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I will do everything I can to make sure that the president's budget is rejected. We will bring forth a new budget that works for the vast majority of Americans, and not just the wealthy few.
I invite you to visit my Senate Web site to find out how the Bush budget shows just how out of touch this president is with the needs of ordinary people. For example, most Americans understand that our health care system is disintegrating. Since Bush has been president, 8.6 million Americans have lost their health insurance and we now find ourselves with 47 million Americans uninsured. How does President Bush respond in his budget to this growing crisis? He slashes funding for Medicare and Medicaid and other health care programs -- making a bad situation even worse. I understand that it would be asking too much for President Bush to take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and move us toward a national healthcare program which guarantees healthcare for all Americans - something which every other major industrialized country now has. But at the very least, at a time when some 17,000 Americans a year die because they don't have health insurance, we can't let him make a terrible situation even worse.
His budget also would slash home heating assistance. I don't have to tell you, but the president may not be aware, that where I come from in Vermont it is cold. Throughout many other parts of our country we have experienced extremely cold weather. The price of home heating oil has more than doubled since Bush has been in office. The result is that the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides much needed help to millions of seniors and low income households, is stretched to the breaking point. In state after state, because of the soaring fuel prices fewer and fewer people are able to get help from the home heating assistance program, or the help they're getting is significantly reduced. Now I know that President Bush has no problem with the fact that his pals at Exxon Mobil have just announced the largest profits in the history of the world for the third consecutive year -- over $40 billion in the year 2007. Despite the president's lack of concern about rising fuel costs, it really is beyond comprehension that he would slash the heating assistance program by $570 million -- a 22 percent reduction from last year.
You couldn't tell it from Bush's budget, but the sad fact is that hunger in America is increasing. At a time when millions of low-income seniors are struggling to survive on inadequate Social Security benefits, the president in his budget wants to cut back on nutrition programs for low-income seniors at a time when emergency food shelves are running out of food. There is no moral justification for cutting back on nutrition programs for low-income elderly Americans.
I am a member of the Veterans Committee, and I am proud that last year, against opposition from the White House, we substantially increased funding for the VA and are providing billions more so that veterans can gain access to quality care in VA hospitals and clinics. You would think Bush would agree if you listened to his Sate of the Union address just last week, when he said "we must keep faith with all who have risked life and limb so that we might live in freedom and peace." Now, the president in his budget proposed a very sharp increase in health care fees, from $250-$750, for our veterans to access VA facilities. There is no question but that these increased fees, if put into effect, would prevent many veterans from getting VA healthcare. That is wrong. But, it is consistent with what he did some years ago when he eliminated access to the VA hospitals for Category 8 vets who were "too wealthy" - because they earned more than $27,000 a year. Mr. President, at a time when tens of thousands of our soldiers have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, please don't balance your budget on the backs of veterans.
Since George W. Bush has been in office, we have seen record breaking deficits and our national debt is now $9.2 trillion -- $3 trillion more than when he came into office. All of us in Congress want to move this country toward a balanced budget and to make sure that our kids and grandchildren are not left with an enormous debt, but there are right ways to do this and wrong ways to do this. George W. Bush's budget moves us in exactly the wrong direction.
As many Americans know, since George W. Bush has been in the White House, the middle class has been decimated, poverty has increased, and the gap between the very wealthiest people in our society and everyone else has grown wider. In fact, the U.S. has now by far the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth. Sadly, the gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else in America is increasingly making us look like some poor developing country like Brazil or Mexico and not like other advanced industrialized nations. According to the latest statistics, the wealthiest 300,000 Americans - men, women and children -- earn more income than the bottom 150 million Americans. In other words, the people in the upper 0.01 percent make more money than the bottom 50 percent. And, that gap is growing wider and wider every single year. For those people who live in the bottom 90 percent of the population, the vast majority of our citizens, their average income was $33,000 way back in 1973. Today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, that average income has declined to $29,000 -- about a $75 a week cut. That's what's going on for the middle class.
So I find it beyond belief that with poverty increasing, the middle class shrinking and the wealthiest people having it better than at any time since the late 1920s, this president continues to propose the repeal of the estate tax which would grant $1 trillion in tax relief to the wealthiest 0.03 percent. That is what this Robin Hood in Reverse budget is all about.
Talk about two Americas. If you're old and you're going to go cold this winter, the president wants to cut back on the heating assistance that you get. If you are poor and on Medicaid, the president wants to cut back on your health care. If you are a veteran who has put your life on the line serving this country, the president wants to make it harder for you to access VA healthcare. If you are a low-income American and your home lacks insulation and you are paying much more for heat than you should be paying, the president wants to completely eliminate the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program.
If you are a billionaire, if you are one of the wealthiest families in America, in this very same budget, the president wants to give you huge tax breaks. One of the wealthiest families in America is the Walton family which owns Wal-Mart. This one family is worth a combined $82 billion. Unbelievable as it may sound, under the president's proposal to completely eliminate the estate tax, the Walton family would receive more than $30 billion in tax breaks.