Column: Addressing the federal budget deficit
WASHINGTON -- Our nation is facing a very real problem with our budget deficit, and there's no question that we need to solve it. I don't think you'd find anyone from either political party who'd disagree.
The question, of course -- and what Congress and the President have been negotiating for the past several months -- is how we're going to address it.
And one of the things I'm most worried about is how the budget will affect the middle class.
Today, the American middle class is in trouble. Median family income is down. Jobs are scarce. Opportunities people thought they'd earned through hard work are disappearing before their eyes. Working families are falling further and further behind.
And we often hear people wishing for a return to the "good ol' days" -- when the economy was growing, everyone was optimistic, and we went to bed at night secure in the knowledge that our kids would have better opportunities than we had. But what people miss when they talk about those "good ol' days," of course, is that they were good for a reason.
They were good because people fought for the values and principles that made the middle class possible. People fought for the idea that the government should provide economic security for the middle class and provide the means for those looking to pull themselves up into it. That America should be in the business of making things, and that we should invest in innovation and infrastructure so that we can have an economy where there's enough for everyone.
And having built that America we're all so proud of, we now need to fight for the middle class to save it.
We need to stand by the principle that we should grow together instead of growing apart, and that, as Paul Wellstone believed, we all do better when we all do better.
That's a sentiment we need to keep in mind as we keep working on the budget. As the negotiations continue, I'll be fighting to protect Medicare, a program that has given countless middle class Minnesotans a safety net and allowed seniors to live with security and dignity.
Republicans have proposed to reduce the deficit by ending Medicare as we know it while proposing additional tax cuts for America's wealthiest few. Their plan would also cut billions from infrastructure, education and job training -- all things we know have helped middle class families get good jobs and keep them. That approach is just plain wrong and would hurt thousands of middle class families. That's why I'll be working to save Medicare and invest in the things we know will help our economy grow.
Instead, I think there are some common sense cuts we could make to deal with our deficit that won't hurt middle class families. For example, I've introduced legislation to cut prescription drug costs for seniors in Minnesota and across the country by allowing the federal government to negotiate lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
The VA already does it. And guess what? The VA pays an average of nearly 50 percent less than Medicare does for the top 10 most prescribed drugs.
By allowing Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies, we can save as much as $24 billion a year, or $240 billion over the next ten years.
We can also save a lot of money by cutting military spending. We all agree that national security is very important, but last year former Defense Secretary Gates identified $100 billion in sensible cuts we could make to the defense budget. And we are currently paying for weapons systems that the military doesn't want and aren't useful. So let's stop buying them.
But cutting spending alone isn't going to be enough to solve our deficit crisis. We're also going to have to raise some revenue from those who can afford to pay a little extra.
One way to do this is by getting rid of the subsidies taxpayers give to major corporations like big oil companies. Over the next ten years, oil companies will receive more than $45 billion in taxpayer subsidies. At the same time, the top 5 oil companies made nearly $1 trillion in profits over the last decade. They don't need our help and that money could be much better spent.
I believe a strong middle class leads to strong consumer spending, a strong economy and national prosperity. The middle class is where you get entrepreneurs and small businesses -- the engines of our economy. And that's why I'll be fighting for a budget that will help the middle class thrive.