KENNEDY: AMERICA CAN DO BETTER THAN LEAVING CHILDREN AND FAMILIES BEHIND AND OUT IN THE COLD THIS CHRISTMAS (As prepared for delivery)
As Congress meets for a final session before we adjourn for the holidays, we should be focused on the true meaning of Christmas and the special thoughts that Americans of many faiths have at this time of year regarding their families, their friends and neighbors, and the rest of humanity.
Christmas is a season of great hope – a time of goodwill and special caring for others. That’s what we should remember as we celebrate the birth of Christ, and the glad tidings of great joy that came to us that day.
There are those in America who urge the return of the word “Christmas” to this holiday season. I believe that while it is an important one, Christmas is more than a word. It is a belief in a power far greater than ourselves. It is a belief in the possibility of lives full of hope and fulfillment. It is a belief that each of us has a sacred obligation to care for one another and to help those in need – to lend a hand to the least of those in our midst. As the Bible teaches us, we should “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
But I’m sad to report, that’s not what we’re seeing in Congress with this week, and especially with this bill.This bill affects the lives of every single American. It fails our commitments to the education of our children, to our health care, to the poor, and to our jobs. This bill makes life harder for millions and millions of Americans, and that’s wrong. Here is just a sample of the intended cuts.
Education cuts will put American students even farther behind. Our promise to leave no child left behind should not be a political slogan – it should be a solemn promise.This bill does nothing to ensure that young children in need begin school ready to succeed:Head Start will increase only $11 million, leaving over 750,000 eligible preschool children without services. In Massachusetts, 15,000 eligible children will not be served.Even Start funding is slashed by more than half, 30,250 children will be left behind. This bill also fails millions of elementary and secondary school students struggling to succeed.As requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act are more demanding than ever on our states, the Republican proposed bill cuts $780 million in funds for these programs.Title I funding for disadvantaged students, the law's key program, is $9.9 billion lower than the amount President Bush promised, leaving 3.1 million children left behind.Pell Grants are frozen for the fourth year in a row, despite tuition rising 45% at four-year public colleges since 2001.So it is not surprising that 170,000 students each year are denied the opportunity to go to college because of cost.
It cuts job training, even as many jobs go unfilled. In my state, over 70,000 jobs are vacant, yet Massachusetts will receive millions less for training programs to help fill these jobs and put America back to work.At a time when hundreds of thousands of workers continue to struggle to find work in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and almost 8 million Americans are unemployed, the bill cuts funding for Unemployment Insurance and Employment Services offices that help jobless workers.
Perhaps most important, the bill fails to protect America from the serious threat of avian flu. At a time when the lethal flu virus is spreading from country to country and coming ever closer to our shores, it’s inconceivable to cut programs to strengthen public health agencies, and help hospitals treat patients with deadly infections – but that’s just what this bill does. Worse yet, the Republican leadership rejected the $8 billion amendment that Senator Harkin offered and the Senate approved to enhance vaccine production, stockpile flu medicine, accelerate research, and take other measures needed to prepare for the growing threat. Because the Bush Administration was asleep at the switch, America lags dangerously behind other nations in preparing for flu. This bill compounds those failures, just when action is needed most.Page after page of this Budget tells a different sorry story of distorted priorities of a party that has lost touch with the needs of American families. Congress should reject this proposal and go back to the drawing board to come up with a budget that does not fail to meet our basic responsibilities.The tragic irony is that these cuts come at a time when the Republicans are scrambling to complete a Reconciliation process that would double the deficit and cut programs for the poor in order to secure additional tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. These actions are unconscionable.America deserves better. We can do better.