May 6, 2017 (Windy Hill Beach, South Carolina) — The following comments on Federal budget priorities by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) are excerpted from May 4, 2017 Congressional Record:
Mr. BLUNT. … Mr. President, I … wish to speak for a few minutes … about the bill before the Senate today. I think the fact that we are moving forward with an update on how we spend our money and a prioritization of how we spend our money is incredibly important. I would have been and would be, if somehow we failed to do our job today, very disappointed if we think that the priorities of a year ago have to be the exact same priorities today.
Now, many of them will be the same, but many of them will not. So all of these appropriating committees have worked together, House and Senate, and have come to a process where we will have 12 bills — not debated on the floor as intensively as I would have liked to have seen them debated — that should be our goal for this year — but 12 bills where House Members and Senate Members, Republicans and Democrats, came together and decided what our priorities should be.
The subcommittee that I chair — the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee — dollar-wise, after we take Defense off the table, that is the biggest of the committees and, in some ways, it has the most challenging debates as to where we wind up in these areas, but I think we have made good choices that hopefully can be improved on next year, but I am absolutely confident they are better than last year.
It is really important for the people we work for to understand that we had to make choices. There is very little difference in the money that will be spent this year and the money that was spent last
year, but there is a difference in priorities. I think in the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, we have either eliminated or consolidated in a dramatic way 28 programs so that we could find that money and use it for what we now believe to be a better purpose.
Federal budget priorities – Health Research at NIH, including cancer and Alzheimer’s
One of those better purposes would be an increase for the second year in a row, and the second year in the last 14 years, in health research at the National Institutes of Health. There were 12 years with no increase at all, and now, for 2 back-to-back years, we are trying to get us back to the research buying power we were at 12 years ago. Again, as to the programs that weren’t performing, many of them wound up with zero appropriations in both of these last 2 years so that the NIH appropriation could increase.
At a time when we are looking at precision medicine, when we are looking at immunotherapy, when we no longer look at cancer as just cancer and throw everything at it we want to throw at it, in fact, we look at the individual cancer, and we are at that moment because we understand now what we didn’t understand a decade ago. We can look at the individual cancer and the individual patient and figure out how that patient has a unique potential to fight that cancer in their body. We looked at things that may not be required for people with cancer and other diseases, and if we can figure out which people need this procedure and which people don’t, not only do you not pay for the procedure for people who don’t need it, but also people don’t go through the physical challenge of procedures they don’t need.
As to Alzheimer’s, one of the growing concerns in American families today — right up there now with cancer as one of the things that people worry about most as they look to the future — if we could reduce the onset of Alzheimer’s by an average of 5 years, we would be spending almost 50 percent less in 2050 than we will be otherwise. In 2050, spending of tax dollars on Alzheimer’s care will overwhelm the budget, but research commitments can do something about that.
Federal budget priorities – improving Pell Grants for college students
The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee bill puts us back, for [[Page S2737]] the school year that begins next fall, where we will be back to year-round Pell. What does that mean? What is year-round Pell as opposed to what we have now? Right now, we have two semesters where you can qualify for the Pell grant. A Pell grant is given based on income and need. If you qualify for a full Pell — I believe, in the Acting President pro tempore’s State and, I know, in my State — there is no community college where full Pell doesn’t pay for all tuition, all books, all fees. If you are at the level of need where you qualify for the full Pell grant, you have other things you have to worry about to sustain yourself, but paying for school is not one of them. As an adult going back to school and someone paying for your own school with your own effort, if you are the first person in your family to hope to graduate from school, anything that disrupts whatever pattern you are in minimizes the chances to achieve your goal. So if you have things working in the fall and the spring and you can also stay in a summer term, not only do you get done quicker, but you don’t disrupt the pattern you found yourself in.
For 8 years now we haven’t had year-round Pell. This vote we will take today allows that to happen, and it will make a big difference. It will also make a difference when you are in a program where you are being prepared to do a job that is uniquely available or available in your community. It is pretty hard to explain why we can do this and we have ways to pay for it through the fall and spring, but by the summer we just have to take a break. That is not a very easy thing to explain to an employer who has come to the community because you have that training potential in your community.
Federal budget priorities – fighting opioid abuse
The third major allocation of money that had to come from somewhere else is opioid abuse. This bill will increase by 430 percent our commitment on this issue. It is not because we had 650 million new dollars to spend on opioid abuse. It is because in many places in our country today and in many States in our country, more people die from opioid overdoses than die from car accidents. It is because many families are destroyed by addiction to prescription drugs that leads to other drugs when those prescription drugs can’t be available and, frankly, the abuse of prescription drugs, in some cases, where they are available. So we are looking at new ways to deal with pain and looking at new ways to deal with this growing problem.
In 2014 and 2015, each year more than 1,000 people in Missouri died of drug overdoses. In my State and most States, a fire department that also has a first responders unit is three times more likely to respond to a drug overdose than the average fire department to a fire. So there is a third area where this bill prioritizes what needs to be done.
Other changes in federal budget priorities
In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, title I, charter schools, all those things have a new focus as this bill passes. The mental health initiatives, rural healthcare, and Head Start are all benefited by a reprioritization of what happens here, as are veterans workforce issues and Job Corps issues.
Future changes in federal budget priorities
I think this bill is far from perfect, but it is better than the way we are spending our money today and better than we were spending our money a year and a half ago. Hopefully, it will not be quite as good as the way we spend our money starting October 1.
So we need to get this work done and get started immediately doing the business of setting priorities, making difficult choices, and spending people’s money in a way that has a long-term plan to benefit them, their families, and our growing economy. I look forward to that vote later today, and then to have, I would hope — as I know the majority leader hopes — a greater effort this year than ever before to get these bills on the floor and to have them fully debated. The best possible thing would be to pass them one at a time and put them on the President’s desk one at a time. But the next best thing is to look at the bills and reach individual conclusions about these individual bills. That is what the bill before us today does, and I urge its passage.