Ms. KLOBUCHAR . Mr. President, I rise today in support of the budget resolution currently before the Senate. I particularly wanted to speak in support of the additional funding that the resolution provides for the Veterans' Administration, funding that will help one of the most important challenges facing the Nation today.

That challenge is how do we repay our men and women in uniform who have sacrificed for us on the frontlines, on the battlefield, when they return home, and how do we ensure they have all the support and services they need to resume their lives.

But before I turn to the VA funding, I want to first speak about the current economic situation in America and how this resolution will help to even the economic playing field for the people of this country. When I would go around, especially in rural America, which I think you understand, Mr. President, and start talking about economic issues, I would be in a situation where I would think 10 people would come to a small cafe and 100 people would show up.

When the price of gas goes up over $3 a gallon, such as it did last summer, people who have a longer way to drive will feel it first. When they have two kids they are trying to send to college, and tuition at the University of Minnesota goes up 110 percent, they feel it first. When their health care premiums go up 60 percent in 7 years, such as they have been in our State, middle-class people feel it first. When it is their kids who are going to war and their neighbors and their cousins and their grandkids, they feel it first in their hearts.

That is what this is about, at the national level, the economic policies that produce record deficits and ever-mounting debt. What was a $128 billion Federal budget surplus in 2001 turned into a $258 billion deficit in 2006. A $5.6 trillion 10-year projected surplus in 2002 has turned into a $2 trillion projected deficit.

Federal deficits have gone up by $1.5 trillion, with most of it being held by Government and companies in China and India and many of our economic competitors. This resolution will begin the effort to restore fiscal sanity and responsibility to our Government. It includes a strong pay-as-you-go rule that requires that we pay for any new mandatory spending or offsets or else get 60 votes to approve it. There will be no more spend-as-you-like bills.

This does not mean there will be no new mandatory spending or tax cuts to help working families. In fact, the resolution includes a reserve fund for new tax relief measures but only if we find appropriate offsets. It means we have to work to implement them in a fiscally responsible way.

The resolution also makes it much harder to push through budget reconciliation measures that are now used in the opposite way than they were intended, to increase the budget deficit or decrease the budget surplus. This resolution signals an end to the spend-as-you-like policies that have created our current fiscal problems at the national level.

My colleagues and I have, in the Budget Committee, started reversing this trend and putting the interests of middle-class families front and center. This budget resolution is a good start.

I would like to address the veterans provisions in the resolution, which I think are also very important to the middle-class families in our country.

In the past 4 years, American military service personnel and their families have endured conditions that are unprecedented, including repeated deployments. I cannot tell you how many families I speak to where their kids have been asked to serve not once in the National Guard but to be repeatedly called back, and every time they say ``yes.''

One and a half million American service men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are creating a new generation of veterans who need their country to stand with them. These are men and women who have served our country on the frontline, and when they come back to the country, they are too often shunted to the end of the line waiting for health care, waiting for education benefits, and now as the shocking revelations from Walter Reed have shown us, some have been left waiting in the most squalid of conditions.

I wish to commend you, Mr. President, and members of the Budget Committee for recognizing that the President's request for fiscal year 2008 severely shortchanged the needs of veterans in this country. Passage of this resolution, with $3.5 billion added to the President's request for a total of $48.1 billion in discretionary veterans spending should be our highest priority.

At a time when we are spending billions on awards of reconstruction projects overseas, we can certainly afford this increase in veterans funding at home.

In addition to providing billions more for veterans health care and other support programs, this resolution rejects the President's apparent belief that now is the time to increase mandatory fees that veterans must pay under TRICARE. The President's budget called for an increase in TRICARE pharmacy copayments from $8 to $15. It calls for an annual enrollment fee based on a veteran's family income. It proposed to require veterans to cover their entire copayment for nonservice-connected disabilities. This budget resolution blocks those outrageous proposals.

This administration has shockingly underestimated the number of veterans who would require medical care. To give you an example, in fiscal year 2005, the Department of Defense estimated it would have to provide care for 23,500 veterans when they came home from Iraq and Afghanistan. In reality, Mr. President, more than four times that number required help.

Last year, the Pentagon underestimated the number of veterans who would require care by 87,000. That this administration underestimated and underfunded veterans programs should not come as a surprise. Ever since the war in Afghanistan and Iraq began, the administration has seemed oblivious to the fact that when you send hundreds of thousands of solders into battle, you must have a plan to provide for the hundreds of thousands of veterans whom you are creating and Active-Duty soldiers who will require substantial support when they return home.

With this additional discretionary spending, we can begin to seriously address the repair of traumatic brain injury and polytraumatic injuries suffered by the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that have so tragically become the signature injuries of this war.

We can enhance and expand the recovery and rehabilitation centers for the 30,000 wounded Iraq and

Afghanistan veterans. We can provide increased counseling and create greater awareness of the tens of thousands of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. According to a Veterans Health Administration report, roughly one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought care through the VA have been diagnosed with potential symptoms of post-traumatic stress, drug abuse or other mental disorders.

On an issue that is particularly important to Minnesotans, we can increase benefits for National Guard members and Reservists who are being asked to play the role of Active-Duty soldiers on the battlefield but then are treated as second-class veterans when they return home.

This past weekend, I traveled to Iraq with three of my colleagues to visit our troops in the field and assess the situation on the ground. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to thank the brave men and women from my State for their sacrifice. The sacrifices our troops are making and the risks they are taking was driven home in a poignant and powerful moment at the Baghdad airport, when I stood with nine Duluth firefighters who are members of Minnesota's National Guard.

They were there to show their respect for fallen soldiers. They stood there and saluted as six caskets were loaded onto an airplane, all of them draped in the American flag. I watched these men stand stoically but sadly, and then I saw them return to their task at hand.

With all the political noise in Washington about the war in Iraq, we often lose touch with what the perspective is of the men and women on the frontline. I went to Iraq to find that perspective. I met marines in Fallujah from Roseville and Rochester. I met a Navy Seabee from Appleton, MN. I met Army soldiers assigned to help train Iraqi troops from Minneapolis and St. Paul. I met Army Reservists based out of Fort Snelling. I met National Guardsmen attached to the fighter wing in Duluth. These soldiers and National Guard members I met in Kuwait, Baghdad, and Fallujah, they did not ask about the resolution the Senate was debating, they did not ask me about what my plan was to bring them home to their families; they did not ask about the shortages in equipment and body armor; they did not ask about repeated tour extensions. They only asked about two things: First, they wanted to know what the results were of the Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament.

But they asked one more thing. They asked that we take care of them when they return home. I pledged to them, and I bring that point to the Senate floor today, that their sacrifice will not be overlooked, that their service will not be forgotten, and their debt will be repaid.

The VA funding in this resolution is the first in a series of payments toward the debt we owe these soldiers on the frontlines who have sacrificed for us. I have always believed when we ask our young men and women to fight and to make the ultimate sacrifice for our Nation, we make a promise we are going to give them the resources they need.

This has always been a country that believed in patriotism, and patriotism means wrapping our arms around those who have served us.

In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln reminded the American people that in war, we must strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the Nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.

Today, Americans are again called to bind up our Nation's wounds and to care for those who have borne the battle, as well as their families who have shouldered their own sacrifice.

Let us live up to this solemn obligation to bring our troops home safely and to honor our returning soldiers and their families by giving them the care and the benefits they have earned.

That is why I support the veterans funding included in this budget resolution.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.