Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume. I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH).
Mr. Chairman, let me explain what this amendment is all about.
I served in the legislature with a fellow by the name of Harvey Dueholm, who was a retired farmer, probably the single best legislator I ever knew. He had a number of pithy observations of life and politics in this country. One of the things he said regularly is that one of the problems with this country is all that too often the poor and the rich get the same amount of ice, but the poor get theirs in the wintertime.
That is certainly the case with respect to the tax bill which this Congress passed a number of weeks ago. To correct that, I am trying to offer this amendment today along with the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. EVANS) and let me explain what it is we are trying to do.
When the House voted on the tax bill, it voted on it separately before we even had a budget. That meant that, in effect, Members of this House were being shielded from the responsibility to make public choices about the trade-offs that were wrapped into that tax bill.
We were never allowed the opportunity to explain in explicit terms what the size of that tax bill meant in terms of our ability to, for instance, deal with long-term shortfalls in Social [Page: H4683]
Security, to deal with long-term shortfalls in Medicare, to deal with problems of short-funding in education or any other field.
I make no apology for the fact that I believe that it is more important for us to shore up Social Security than it is for us to give people a $300 refund check.
I make no apology for my belief that it is more important for us to shore up Medicare long term than to provide a $53,000 tax cut to the wealthiest 1 percent of people in this country.
I make no apology for the fact that I oppose the idea that we ought to cut in half the rate of increase we have had in Federal support for education over the past 5 years.
I make no apology for my belief that veterans are not receiving the health care they need in this country.
I make no apology for my concern about the lack of adequate shelter for some of the poorest children in this country.
I make no apology for the belief that we ought to have stronger environmental enforcement and that we ought to be willing to pay for it.
I think all of those priorities are a whale of a lot more important than providing the tax cut that we have provided to the wealthiest 1 percent of people in our society who make more than $330,000 a year.
So what this amendment tries to do is to make this Congress finally make specific choices about specific tax cuts versus specific funding programs. It is my belief that there is nothing wrong with cutting in half the tax cut that goes to people who make more than $330,000 a year so that we will have some money left on the table to provide what this amendment tries to provide, which is a $300 million increase in funding for veterans' health care and the various increases that I described previously
in my statement to this House.
We are going to be providing well over $300 million in additional funds under this amendment for housing. We are going to be providing funds for Federal EPA enforcement to restore the positions that were cut for Federal enforcement. We are going to be restoring partially the funding for the Corporation for National Service. We pay for that by simply cutting in half the tax cut that was provided to the wealthiest 1 percent of people in this society.
Mr. Chairman, I bet that at least two-thirds of the people in that top 1 percent, if asked, would say that they would rather that we provide adequate housing and adequate health care for veterans than to keep whole their new-found tax bonanza.
I have a sign on the wall of my office, and every time a group comes in asking for money, which is about 18 times a day, before they sit down and talk about what they want out of Uncle Sam, I make them read the sign on the wall which says this: ``What is there that you want me to do for somebody else that is more important than whatever it is you are going to ask me to do for you today?''
Mr. Chairman, I believe in a Judeo-Christian society. That is the fundamental question we ought to be asking ourselves. I believe if we ask that question of the folks who came in to lobby for those tax cuts for the most privileged people in this society that a whole lot of them would say, ``We do not mind if you scaled our tax cut back just a little bit so you can provide to the least fortunate people in society or, in the case of veterans, to the people who decided that they would be willing
to risk everything for somebody else.''
Mr. Chairman, that is the choice that we are attempting to have the House make here today. I recognize that it is an unusual procedure because this is not in the jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means, but I think doing the right thing is more important than jurisdictional dunghills.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. EVANS. Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to join with the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. OBEY) in cosponsoring the amendment he is offering.
The Obey-Evans amendment will provide substantial increased funding for veterans' medical care and other important programs.
I urge my colleagues to support the Obey-Evans amendment to address the significant shortfalls in funding for veterans' health care in the committee's bill.
I believe a $1.2 billion increase in veterans' medical care funding is fully justified. I have prepared an amendment to provide this increase.
There are many challenges that the VA will face in the near future. The VA must continue to honor its commitment to our most vulnerable veterans with the most serious disabilities. It must meet its growing infrastructure needs. Impending clinical staff shortages, including nurses, the VA's largest employee group, and the rising cost of gasoline plaguing areas around the country are among those challenges.
It is clear, however, that this House is not prepared to approve this $1.2 billion increase today. An increase that will be provided by the Obey-Evans amendment is needed. Long before President George Bush promised Americans a tax cut, we made a commitment to honor those who served and defended this Nation in its most dire hours. It is now our duty to make sure that our obligations are paid back to them. Our amendment will do this.
Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume, and I continue to reserve my point of order.
Mr. Chairman, this amendment is the same amendment that the gentleman from Wisconsin offered in the full committee. It was considered out of order in the full committee, and he is without question on message. He stays on message. I recognize that. I congratulate him for that, but I think the message is wrong.
The message should be that the President had an agenda to bring to the Congress. He brought it to the Congress. We had debate on whether or not the American taxpayer was paying too much money. The debate was resolved by Congress. The House and Senate voted to cut the tax rates that individual taxpayers pay. The people who pay the most money got the largest tax cut, the people who pay the least amount of taxes got the least tax cut, and those who do not pay taxes did not get any tax cut. I think
that is pretty logical, and people can understand that.
Mr. Chairman, what we are charged with doing today is the Congress's primary role, which is creating a budget and spending taxpayers' money. We have an allocation. It is the allocation provided to us by the budget resolution and the Committee on the Budget in consultation with the Committee on Appropriations which handed down our allocation, and we have to live with that. That is our allocation.
Mr. Chairman, we have provided funds for almost every one of the areas that the gentleman would otherwise supplement funds, and we think that the funding is right.
I will close by saying I think this is the right formula for spending in this bill.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. DAVIS of Illinois. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Obey-Evans amendment. I do so because some of us said several months ago when we were debating the budget that we knew we were going to get to the point when we started talking about appropriations, there would be the same hue and cry because we knew then that you cannot get blood out of a turnip. We knew that a big tax cut would take away the possibility of providing the resources that we needed to care of the needs of our people.
And so here we are with one of the biggest debts that we have, and that is the debt that we owe our veterans, the debt that we owe the men and women who have given the last measure of everything that they had to give. Now we [Page: H4684]
come and tell them that there is no water at the well, that there is not enough money to provide the needed services.
People in my community right now are gearing up for public hearings next week to talk about which one of our veterans hospitals will get closed. Will it be the Lakeside? Will it be the West Side? Will it be Hines? Will it be beds eliminated? Will it be mental health services that they cannot get?
And so I join with those who say if we have any responsibility, Mr. Chairman, it is the responsibility to fully fund medical services for the Veterans Administration. For those men and women who have given so much, at least we can give them a little.
Mr. SANDERS. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the gentleman for yielding time and for bringing up an amendment that gets to the heart of everything that we have been talking about in Congress for the last couple of months.
Let me begin by citing three words: priorities, priorities, priorities. In the United States today, we have by far the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any nation on Earth. The wealthiest 1 percent of the population owns more wealth than the bottom 95 percent. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider. The CEOs of major corporations now earn over 500 times what their workers earn. Yet a few months ago it was the wisdom of the President of the United States and a
majority of the Members of Congress that the richest 1 percent, those people who have a minimum income of $373,000 a year, need to have, over a 10-year period, hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks. That is what the President and the Congress said.
Some of us disagree. Some of us think that it is more important that we adequately fund education in this country so that every young person has the opportunity to succeed in this country. Some of us think that it is absurd that the average young person who graduates from college today ends up $20,000 in debt because we have cut back, over the years, Federal aid to education.
Some of us think that it is absurd that 1 week after the President signed the tax bill and the huge tax breaks for the rich, that 1 week later people on his Social Security advisory committee suddenly announced that we may have to cut back on the cost of living allowance for people on Social Security. Tax breaks for billionaires, but we do not have enough money to adequately fund Social Security.
In my State and all over this country, home health care agencies are having a terrible time and have received huge cuts in taking care of some of the oldest and most frail people in this country. Visiting nurses are unable now to do the job because this Congress, several years ago, savaged Medicare. We do not have enough money to take care of the old and the frail, but we do have enough money to provide huge tax breaks for billionaires.
In the United States today, we remain alone among industrialized nations in not having a strong prescription drug benefit program for our seniors. In Vermont and all over this country, elderly people do not know how they are going to pay for their prescription drugs. They are forced to choose between food and heat and their prescription drugs. We do not have enough money to provide strong prescription drug benefits. Let us support this important amendment.
Mr. GILMAN. I thank the gentleman for yielding time.
Mr. Chairman, I rise today in strong support of this measure, the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act. I urge my colleagues to support the committee's funding in this measure.
This legislation does provide $51.4 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and that is an increase of $4.3 billion over last year's level. Included in that amount is a total of $21 billion for veterans health care. That is an increase of $1.2 billion over fiscal year 2001 levels, matching the request in the President's budget.
Mr. Chairman, as our veterans continue to age, they find themselves certainly in greater need of medical care with each passing year. While the increase for medical care does fall somewhat short of that advocated by some of the veterans service organizations in their annual budget reports, this amount is an historical increase. Moreover, it is refreshing to see the new administration demonstrate a commitment to ensuring that our veterans are going to receive adequate funding for health care.
That element was sorely lacking in the prior administration which consistently submitted flat-lined budgets.
I would note, however, that unlike the last several years, some of these new funds need to find their way to the veterans networks up in the northeastern part of our country, particularly in New York. Due to the post-VERA formulas, the VISN which contains my congressional district remains the only one in the country which finds that its funding continues to be cut on an annual basis despite the increased funding nationally. That lack of funding takes place in spite of the fact that VISN 3 has
a greater percentage of specialty care patients and otherwise unfunded mandates such as hepatitis C vaccinations. We have had to rely on emergency transfers by the Secretary of the VA to make up for a portion of the difference.
Given that the new chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and I share the same vision, I am concerned that the arbitrary, capricious and flat-out discriminatory policy of the last few years in distributing the funds that are available should be corrected. I am requesting that the Committee on Appropriations reconsider the VA's funding allocation formula for VISN 3.
Given that, I note that H.R. 2620 does provide a badly needed 16 percent increase for the Veterans Benefits Administration to help mitigate the backlog in veterans' claims which has now resulted in multiyear delays in getting new compensation claims approved. Our veterans have served their country when called. It is unconscionable that many now pass away while waiting for that backlog of legitimate claims to be approved.
Mr. Chairman, I commend the committee for providing $300 million for short-term repairs and improvements to our aging medical facilities that was in legislation passed by the House earlier this year, a total of $371 million for VA medical research, and over $100 million for veterans State extended-care facilities.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, this measure is sound legislation. It provides adequate funding for so many areas in need and deserves the full support of our colleagues.
Mr. MOLLOHAN. I thank the ranking member for yielding me this time.
Mr. Chairman, when the Committee on Rules was considering the form of the rule under which we would consider this appropriations measure, the gentleman from Wisconsin sought to have this amendment made in order. Unfortunately, it was not made in order.
Despite the fact that this amendment will not be voted on, I am pleased that the gentleman has offered it and was allowed to offer it. It is important because it puts into perspective the choices that we as a Congress have to make.
Not very many months ago, Mr. Chairman, this Congress passed a $1.6 trillion tax cut. That simply means that $1.6 trillion over the next 9 or 10 years has been taken out of general revenues for this country.
This amendment looks at that reality and it looks at what section of our population most benefited from that tax cut. In fact, the top 1 percent of income earners receive about 37.6 percent of that tax cut. It is that top 1 percent that was the greatest beneficiary of that $1.6 trillion tax cut--those people who make an average of $1.1 million a year. The Obey amendment looks at that reality and then [Page: H4685]
looks at the underfunding in this bill and says that
this would be a fair way to correct this underfunding. It seems proportional to calibrate that tax cut to that top 1 percent a little bit. That generates enough revenues to fund some of these terribly underfunded accounts in this bill and leaves a little bit left over for some other bills.
That is what the Obey amendment does. It takes .5 percent of the tax cut for the top income earners, which $1.3 billion (which gives you some estimation of how much money they are earning) and redirects it to some real people programs. That is a real priority and those are real choices and that is what this amendment does. It clearly identifies the problem areas in this bill.
With that $1.3 trillion, the amendment would increase funding for veterans medical care. It would increase it by $300 million. The amendment would also address the housing needs of low-income and disabled citizens. First, it would add $282 million to the public housing capital grant account, bringing that account to just over $2.8 billion, and while this remains below last year's funding, it does get it closer. Then funding would also be provided for shelter plus care grants. These grants combine
low-cost housing with treatment and support services.
Mr. Chairman, this amendment is a good amendment. It takes money from where it can be afforded and gives it to those who need it most. I appreciate the gentleman offering it.
Mr. FOLEY. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for all of his hard work on this bill. I want to underscore to those listening that this is a $4 billion increase in spending in VA-HUD.
Having listened to the arguments advanced by the other side of the aisle, it now becomes clear why Vice President Gore lost Arkansas and lost Tennessee, because he decided rather than advancing the ideas that can bring us together, they decide to fight the typical class warfare argument. Tax cuts for the rich has been repeated time and time again on this floor. They keep saying that 1 percent of the wealthiest Americans are getting the biggest advantage under the tax cut. But you will notice
none of those on the other side of the aisle will tell you that a person, say, earning $300,000 a year pays about $120,000 in taxes.
They do not tell you the burden that that person carries to fulfill the bills we are passing on the floor today. I think the gentleman from New York (Chairman WALSH) has done a phenomenal job in trying to meet the priority needs of this Nation. If you look throughout the bill you will see increasing in funding for AIDS programs, homeless programs, military and other vital missions of this country.
Now, if the other side of the aisle believes that this tax cut is such a bad idea, I urge them to rally their supporters together and get their supporters to remit their checks, their Treasury checks, back to the Treasury and allow them to spend it as they will. I doubt that one person will step forward and sign the back of their Treasury check, whether they make $100,000, $50,000 or $20,000, so it can be spent in reckless abandon on this House floor.
I know this is going to be a fight about priorities, and I know this is going to be a fight about George Bush's tax cut, but, in my heart, I believe we can do both. I believe that a family trying to fit braces on their children's teeth needs a refund. I believe that people advancing an opportunity to maybe finally take a vacation need a refund. I believe people preparing to buy a washer-dryer could use a refund.
The other side wants to refund money to people who never paid the taxes because of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
I would suggest to Members, pay attention to this bill. Focus on the good things that it does. Recognize that there is $4 billion of increased spending on priorities, and avoid the shrill rhetoric of the other side when they call this tax cut for the rich a reckless scheme.
We are balancing the budget. We are preserving Social Security. We are finally increasing, if you will, the contributions to that account to make it solvent. We are working on prescription drug coverage for the seniors. We are working on a number of issues that will make this country stronger. But we will never be strong as a Nation if we continue to try to beat each other up over silly sound bites designed for the next election, rather than the business on the floor.
Mr. NADLER. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this amendment which will shave just a tiny bit of the tax cut to the top 1 percent of wealthy people in this country in order to provide more funding for veterans and for other essential needs.
But I want to make a larger point in reference to some of what I heard from the other side of the aisle. We are told by the Social Security Task Force that, after 2016, we will have to either raise taxes or cut benefits to pay for these Social Security bonds that will be redeemed then. Well, those will be about $200 billion a year. The tax cut we passed a few days ago will be about $400 billion a year at that time.
So do not tell us we cannot keep faith with our senior citizens to redeem our Social Security bonds and pay out the full benefits. It would only cost to do that half the cost of the tax cut you just gave to the richest people in our country, and, in effect, taking away, if you listen to the rhetoric of the Social Security Commission, from all the people that depend on Social Security.
It is not difficult. We do not have to raise taxes. We just have to be careful in what we do and not do the tax cut for the richest 1 percent, if we want to redeem all those Social Security bonds and pay all the benefits. We do not have to destroy Social Security in order to save it. We just have to not pass the Republican tax cuts.
Mr. HINCHEY. Mr. Chairman, I want to, first of all, express my appreciation to the gentleman from New York and the gentleman from West Virginia, the chairman and the ranking minority member of the subcommittee, for the very respectable job they have done in putting this bill together. I think that we all need to recognize that.
But the problem we have with this bill, which is a very real and serious and definite problem, is based upon the fact that the tools they had with which to operate were inadequate. The funding number that they were given is too low. The reason for that is the leadership here, at the request of the President, insisted on passing a massive tax cut before we had a budget, before priorities were established. That was a basic and fundamental mistake, and it is one for which we are going to pay dearly,
not just this year but in every succeeding year over the course of the next decade.
How are we going to pay? We are going to pay by inadequate provision for those people who defended this country in some of the most difficult and darkest times in our history, our veterans. We are not providing adequately for their health care, and we are not providing adequately for the general maintenance that many of them need. We are not doing that because we do not have the resources in this bill.
We are not providing enough housing for people who need housing all across America. We have a $20 billion housing deficit today that is not being adequately addressed, and we cannot address it because of the inadequate funding level in this bill.
People need housing. There are so many people in my district, I am sure, and in every district represented by every Member here, of people who cannot find adequate housing because housing is too expensive and their incomes are too low.
The gentleman from Florida was up here a little bit earlier in the context of this debate talking about questions that have been raised by his constituents concerning the relationship between toxic and hazardous waste and the exposure of people to toxic and hazardous waste and their health conditions, debilitating, declining health conditions. What is the relationship?
There is an unquestionable relationship between people who have been exposed to toxic and hazardous waste and decline in their health in forms of cancer, attacks of the endocrine system, in [Page: H4686]
developmental disabilities. And this bill, unfortunately, because it has an inadequate funding level, does not deal with the problem of enforcement of toxic and hazardous waste laws. Therefore, people in Florida and other places all across the country are being exposed
to toxic and hazardous substances which are destroying their health.
There is not enough money in this bill to deal with the problems of drug control in public housing. We fund hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with the problem that we think we have in South America, sending money down there to kill South Americans, but we do not provide enough money to save the lives of Americans in public housing. The priorities are inadequate, and it is because of inadequate funding because of that tax bill.
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 3 minutes.
Mr. Chairman, this amendment does not reduce the size of the tax cut for a single middle-income American. The only persons affected on the tax side by this amendment are people in the top 1 percent of earners in this country who make more than $330,000 a year.
I am sure that they are all fine people. That is not the issue. I do believe that they can afford to have a slightly smaller tax cut. I do believe they do not need an entire $53,000 tax cut, which is on average what they will receive under the tax package that was passed. I do not believe that they need that full tax cut as much as sick veterans need better medical care, or as much as low-income children need to get out of rat traps and into decent housing, or as much as we all need adequate
enforcement of our laws to protect the environment.
I am amused by one of the previous speakers who talked about the tax rebate and who it ought to go to. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the tax rebate. People are going to get their tax rebates, although I would note I did get a complaint from a reporter in my district because his grandmother, who died a year and a half ago, did get a tax rebate in the mail, and the letter was labeled: Blank name, ``deceased.'' With all due respect, I do not know many people whose last name is ``deceased.''
I would prefer to see to it that what tax rebates we do give go to live veterans in need of health care, go to the families of live children who need better housing, and go to those Americans who are sacrificing in order to provide national service in their own communities; and I make no apology for that.
I find it interesting that somehow people talk about class warfare. I think the middle class has already lost, if there has been a war, because the CBO shows that the top 1 percent of earners over the past 20 years has had their after-tax income rise by $414,000, while the middle class has had their income rise over that same period, their after-tax income, by about $3,400. Some victory for the middle class.
So I would suggest, Mr. Chairman, if people think veterans are getting adequate health care, fine; oppose the amendment. If you think poor kids are getting adequate housing, fine; oppose the amendment. This issue is not whether you are for or against tax cuts. This is an issue of who you think has a greater need, who you think has a greater requirement for assistance from Uncle Sam.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time. I will be prepared to yield back the remainder of the time when the gentleman is prepared to yield back the remainder of his time.
Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume to close the debate, and I will honor the gentleman's agreement that I will yield as soon as he does.
Mr. Chairman, this is a phony choice. We do not have additional funds available to us to spend, and we cannot in the process of creating this legislation amend any existing legislation, and that is what the gentleman has asked us to do.
The debate over tax cuts is over. In fact, the check is in the mail. These funds are not available to us to spend. We have an allocation. It is a substantial amount of money. The subcommittee has met for hundreds of hours in hearings and in planning to develop this bill, as a subcommittee and full committee. The bill passed the full committee on a voice vote. I think it has strong support within the Committee and within the Congress; and, for that reason, Mr. Chairman, I would reserve my point
of order and ask Members to continue to support this bill as it stands after having made the choices that we have made.
Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, I make a point of order against the amendment because it proposes to change existing law and constitutes legislation in an appropriations bill and therefore violates clause 2 of rule XXI.
The rule states in pertinent part: ``An amendment to a general appropriation bill shall not be in order if changing existing law.''
The amendment directly amends existing law, and I would ask for a ruling of the Chair.
Mr. OBEY. Mr. Chairman, this amendment is fully consistent with the rules of the House. The House would have had the opportunity to vote on it if the Committee on Rules had waived the rules of the House in the same manner that they waived those rules for consideration of this bill as a whole. So I believe the amendment is consistent with the rules of the House. However, the manner in which those rules have been exercised I recognize has effectively blocked us from having this amendment come to
a vote. I regret that, but I cannot do much about that.
Mr. SAXTON. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.
Mr. Chairman, I rise to engage the chairman in a colloquy.
Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of the National Estuary Program and for providing additional funds for the program in the VA-HUD appropriations bill; and I would like to engage the chairman in a colloquy.
First, I would like to express my appreciation to the chairman and members of his subcommittee for their hard work and continued support of the National Estuary Program, NEP. Congress recognized the importance of preserving and enhancing coastal environments with the establishment of the National Estuary Program in 1987. The NEP's purpose is to facilitate State and local governments' participation in ``Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans'' for threatened and impaired estuaries.
While the NEP has been successful in developing these CCMPs, we have increased the number of estuaries in the National Estuary Program without matching funding. This has the necessary affect of slowing our progress in restoring these estuaries.
In my district, for example, in New Jersey, an NEP called Barnegat Bay exists. The Barnegat Bay watershed drains from a land area of approximately 550 square miles. Over 450,000 people live in the Barnegat Bay watershed. That population actually doubles in the summer as people flock to the New Jersey shore. The continued economic health of the Barnegat Bay watershed is dependent upon the continued health and the national beauty of its waters. The Barnegat Bay estuary is not only a vital component
of New Jersey's tourist industry, but an important natural resource that supports populations of commercially and recreationally significant fish, as well as rare and endangered species.
The Environment Protection Agency plays a vital role and collaborates with other Federal agencies, State and local governments, nonprofit institutions, industries, and citizens to address these estuaries' environmental issues.
The NEP received $20 million to develop its CCMPs. This is not enough to [Page: H4687]
fund the implementation of the CCMPs for now 28 estuaries. That is why we must increase funding for the National Estuary Program to protect these vital natural resources and support the efforts of the local communities to implement their CCMPs.
The Senate bill currently has $25 million for the estuary program. I would urge the chairman to work with conferees of the Senate and House to increase the level of funding for the National Estuary Program.