3/12/2008 — 

MR. REED: I thank Senators Conrad and Gregg for graciously allowing me to speak.

We are debating the federal budget today. While we do that, thousands of families in my State of Rhode Island and across the country are struggling to balance their household budgets. They are, in many cases, in dire circumstances. They are dealing with the effects of failed economic policies. Over the last several years, wages have been stagnant for most Americans. There has been no real increase in family income for almost a decade. In addition to a stagnant income, they have been assaulted by extraordinarily high prices. I had bakers in my office today whose bakeries in Rhode Island have to pay 100 percent more for wheat. What is staggering today is a fact my colleagues are probably aware of. The price of a barrel of oil is exceeding $110. That is the highest price ever for oil. It is even higher in real terms than we saw in the wake of the oil embargo of the 1970s. So wage growth and skyrocketing costs, particularly energy costs, are crushing and squeezing families. I regret that the President's budget proposal does not respond realistically to these current challenges. Instead, it offers more of the same.

Since he took office, President Bush and his allies in Congress have increased our national debt to over $9 trillion, which is roughly $30,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. They have also made it harder for working families to make ends meet. In contrast, the resolution advanced by Senator Conrad and the majority would provide much-needed relief for millions of Americans and begin to reverse some of the negative trends that have accelerated with President Bush's term of office.

I am pleased, for example, that the Budget Committee has increased the fiscal year 2009 authorization for low-income home heating energy assistance to $2.5 billion, $500 million more than the President's request. But I believe we need to do more. We certainly need to do more when the price of oil is soaring above $110 a barrel. That cost will quickly translate into heating oil costs, increased prices at the pump, and other energy costs throughout the economy and will have dire impacts on families.

I will, at the appropriate moment, offer an amendment, along with Senator Collins, to provide an additional $2.6 billion for LIHEAP for a total level of $5.1 billion, the fully authorized amount. As my colleagues know, LIHEAP helps low-income families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities with their heating and cooling bills, bills that have become unmanageable, and with the skyrocketing price of oil, will become even more so. Family budgets have been squeezed. We have to do something to help them out.

For example, heating oil prices have increased 138 percent from January 2000 to January 2008. Paychecks for working families have not increased 138 percent and neither has LIHEAP funding. We are not even keeping pace with the acceleration in the cost of energy. LIHEAP helps these households avoid making the tough choices between paying their energy bill or putting food on the table or also, in this environment, paying their mortgage. So we have to increase, not cut, LIHEAP funding. Funding LIHEAP at $5.1 billion would help literally millions of families cope with high energy prices during bitter cold winters and accelerating costs of energy and hot summers for those who live in the Southeast and Southwest and other parts of the country.

I urge all my colleagues to join with me and Senator Collins in supporting this vital amendment to the budget. At this juncture, I ask unanimous consent that in addition to the 16 cosponsors listed on amendment 4154, as submitted, further, Senators Coleman, Kohl, Leahy, Lieberman, Lincoln, and Schumer be added as original cosponsors as well.