March 6, 2008

Senate Committee Passes Budget Targeting Economy, Veterans

Resolution Includes Whitehouse Amendments Supporting Health Information Technology and Strengthening Protections for Oceans and Coastal Areas

Washington, D.C. – The budget resolution passed today by the Senate Budget Committee will increase funding for veterans, schools, and transportation infrastructure and provide for a second economic stimulus package to help working families facing continued financial hardship, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said today. Whitehouse, a member of the panel, voted to approve the measure, an annual resolution setting funding parameters and priorities for the federal government that was reported to the full Senate this afternoon.

“Over and over again, President Bush and the Republicans have chosen tax cuts for millionaires and an endless war in Iraq over our children, our veterans, our infrastructure, and our struggling middle-class families,” Whitehouse said. “This budget makes a different choice – the right choice – and puts Rhode Island’s priorities first.”

As approved by the committee, the budget sets aside $35 billion for stimulus legislation, which may include aid to states, extended unemployment benefits, and food stamp and LIHEAP funding. It also raises funding for education and training by $8.8 billion above the President’s request for 2009, and, due in part to a request by Whitehouse for increased funding for middle schools, triples funds for a program strengthening middle- and high-school reading skills.

Continuing this Congress’s strong record of support for veterans, the Senate Budget Committee’s resolution provides $3.2 billion above President Bush’s request for veterans’ benefits and programs, and rejects the President’s proposal to raise fees on prescription drugs, VA enrollment, and insurance. It increases infrastructure investments in 2009 by $9 billion more than the President requested, and adds $3.5 billion for stimulus spending on ready-to-go projects.

The committee also passed two amendments sponsored by Whitehouse aimed at prioritizing health information technology and protections for oceans and coastal areas.

“Rhode Island is a nationally- recognized leader in health information technology implementation, and our concern for our precious marine and coastal ecosystems is second to none,” said Whitehouse. “I’m glad the Budget Committee approved these two amendments, and will work to make certain they are both included in Congress’s final budget.”

Promoting Health Information Technology
A fully-interoperable, nationwide health information infrastructure could drastically improve patient care, and a study by the RAND Corporation found that effective implementation of health information technology could save more than $81 billion annually. But despite the potential benefits, a lack of investment has slowed progress towards a nationwide, interoperable health IT system.

Senator Whitehouse’s amendment, sponsored along with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and cosponsored by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), creates a deficit-neutral reserve fund to accommodate legislation that provides incentives or other support for adoption of modern information technology to improve quality and protect privacy in health care, or for payments that are based on adherence to accepted clinical protocols identified as best practices. Reserve funds allow the chairman of the Budget Committee to adjust the budget resolution when certain legislation is passed, to accommodate revenue and spending levels included in the new bill.

The founder of the Rhode Island Quality Institute, a leader in the state’s efforts to improve health care quality and health information technology utilization, Whitehouse has introduced Senate legislation to establish a private, non-profit corporation tasked with developing a national, interoperable, secure health IT system (S. 1455). In January, he wrote to President Bush asking for an increase in federal funding for health information technology in the administration’s budget proposal.

Protecting Our Oceans and Coastal Areas
America’s oceans, lakes, and coasts face significant threats from pollution, the collapse of fishing stocks, the disappearance of irreplaceable marine habitats, and global climate change. Increased federal support for oceans and coasts could help clean up pollution, implement sustainable fishery management policies, and ameliorate the long-term effects of global warming.

Whitehouse’s amendment would incorporate protections for oceans and coastal areas, including the Great Lakes, into a deficit-neutral reserve fund, which supports increased investment in clean, renewable energy, green jobs, and environmental preservation, in the underlying budget resolution. Reserve funds allow the chairman of the Budget Committee to adjust the budget resolution when certain legislation is passed, to accommodate revenue and spending levels included in the new bill.

Last year, Whitehouse introduced the Global Warming Wildlife Survival Act (S. 2204), which calls for a coordinated national strategy to help wildlife populations and habitats, including coastal and marine animals and ecosystems, adapt to stresses related to climate change. The bill was incorporated into the Climate Security Act (S. 2191), which passed the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in December and now awaits consideration by the full Senate. Whitehouse serves on the EPW Committee.

Whitehouse also offered an amendment to the Climate Security Act, which passed, that would ensure that coastal and Great Lakes communities affected by climate change have the information they need, such as data on projected sea level rise, severe weather, and associated flood risks, to prepare for and adapt to global warming.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921