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April 13, 2011

A Moral Budget

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Mr. REID. Madam President, I am always moved to hear the Pledge of Allegiance that marks the beginning of a new legislative day in the Senate. On the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, the words ``one nation, indivisible'' mean more today than most other days. Along with Chaplain Black's inspired invocation, the pledge motivates us and reminds us of the true purpose of our work. Together, they recall our responsibility to our country, to our countrymen, and to our conscience.

I am particularly pleased to see the Senate open this morning. As we all know, last week at this time, even as recently as just a few evenings ago, whether the government would stay open was a very real question. As I said here late on Friday night, I am pleased we reached an agreement on a budget in time to keep the country operating.

I am pleased that the budget will make historic cuts, saving the country money so we can lower our deficit and do a better job of living within our meanings.

At the beginning of this debate and throughout the last few weeks, I reminded the Senate that in this negotiation, as in any negotiation, neither side would get everything they wanted. From the start I also expressed my firm belief that what we cut would always be more important than how much. That is because our Nation's budget is a representation of our values and of what we value. It is one of the many ways we demonstrate as a Congress and a country what matters most to us, what is important. This concept is not unique to Democrats.

As the Speaker of the House and the chairman of the House Budget Committee have both said, our budget is a moral document.

Those following the budget debate have noticed something unmistakable. While both parties may agree in principle that a budget is more than simply a collection of numbers, our positions couldn't be more different. We stayed true to our values. We value the rights of Americans to afford a healthy life. That is why we passed historic health reform last year, but Republicans tried to use the budget to repeal those rights. We stayed true to our values, and we didn't let them.

We value women's health, but Republicans tried to use the budget to make it harder for women to get contraception that reduces abortions. Their budget also tried to make it harder for women to get cancer screenings, and they even tried to slash funding for cancer research. We stayed true to our values and we didn't let them.

We also value seniors' ability to support themselves, but Republicans tried to use the budget to slice the Social Security Administration. That would have meant delays for seniors and disabled Americans who count on the benefits they have earned over a lifetime of hard work. They also tried to use the budget to reopen the doughnut hole which would have sent seniors' prescription drugs skyrocketing. We stayed true to our values; we didn't let them.

We value our children's education, but Republicans tried to use the budget to kick little boys and girls out of prekindergarten programs and slash Pell grants that help so many students afford college. We stayed true to our values and we didn't let them.

We value our environment, but Republicans tried to use the budget to give polluters a free pass to poison the air we breathe. We stayed true to our values and we didn't let them. We value our economic security, but Republicans tried to repeal the promise we made to taxpayers that they will never again be asked to bail out a big bank when the bank loses its risky bets. They tried to use the budget to reverse rules we put in place to hold Wall Street accountable. We stayed true to our values and we didn't let them.

Finally, we value our responsibility to create jobs, but Republicans also tried to use the budget to reverse the momentum we have seen in recent months. The policies they tried to jam through the budget would have cost us

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700,000 jobs and slammed the breaks on our economic growth. We stayed true to our values and we didn't let them.

There are many more examples in this vast budget, examples of programs Republicans wanted to destroy but Democrats demanded we protect. There are many examples where they wanted to cut recklessly and we insisted on cutting responsibly. Throughout this debate, we stayed true to our values. The American people noticed, and they are glad we did. By clear majorities our constituents are glad we stood up for health reform, women's health, cleaner air, and on and on.

This budget battle has once again illustrated for the American people the fundamental differences between the two parties. In some cases our priorities are poles apart. That is obvious to the American people, as well it should be. They are the ones who will always decide whether the morals of their representatives more closely match their own.

As we work toward finalizing this year's budget, we start the conversation about next year's budget, and we engage in the many other debates before us, Democrats will continue to insist on policies that reflect and respect our values.

I ask unanimous consent that my time be charged against leader time and not morning business.

(Senate - April 12, 2011)

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