Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss the state of our economy, the budget cuts proposed by this administration, and, yes, the war in Iraq and the need to set our priorities straight in this country.
And like my colleague from South Carolina, I want to thank our troops. Like you, Mr. President, I visited Iraq. I saw firsthand the bravery of these troops everywhere I went. Of course I was very focused on Minnesota troops. They would come up to me in cafeteria lines, airport tarmacs, never complained about a thing-- didn't complain about the heat or their equipment or their long tours of duty.
Many of our Minnesota National Guard troop’s tours were extended over and over and over again. They really only asked me to do one thing, and that is that when I got home that I call their moms, their dads, their husbands and their wives and tell them they were okay. And when I got home, Mr. President, I talked to their families. I think I called over 50 moms and dads and husbands and wives. I heard stories of families waiting and waiting and waiting, anxiety over jobs that might be lost or never gotten back.
One of the moms I talked to, Mr. President, when I went back in March I left a message for her. A few months later I called her again when her son had been killed, and I met her, and I got to tell you these troops, as my friend from South Carolina said, have done their duty. They deposed an evil dictator. They guaranteed free elections in Iraq. Well now it's time for us to do our duty for them.
We all know that there can be no purely military solution in Iraq. This has been agreed to by so many military commanders and experts and members of this body on both sides that it's not really worth arguing about anymore, and we all recognize that true stability in Iraq will only come through political and economic compromises between Iraq's main ethnic groups and that only the Iraqis themselves can reach these agreements.
Given this, I believe that our strategy should be focused on transitioning to Iraqi authority and bringing in other countries-- that we cannot keep doing this alone. Now, my friend from South Carolina, I was listening to him talk so eloquently, and one of the things that struck me that he said was that he said that this was priceless. And he meant this in the best of all ways. He said it was priceless. Well, Mr. President, I just can't say that this war has been priceless. After four years, five years over 3,600 American soldiers have been killed. Over 25,000 have been wounded. We've been in this war now longer than World War II and almost $450 billion -- $450 billion -- has been spent.
We cannot wait until next year to change our strategy. The President is intent on leaving the current situation for the next administration to resolve. Unfortunately, our soldiers in the field don't have the luxury of simply running out the clock on this administration. We owe it to them to begin bringing our combat troops home. And I think we all know we can't do this overnight. We know that we're going to have troops remaining to guard our embassies and to train police and to act as Special Forces. But I do believe that if we want to push this government to get its act together, the Iraqi government, then we have to send a clear message that we're not staying there indefinitely. So we owe it to our troops, but we also owe it to the people of this country. We can no longer continue to give the President the blank checks that he keeps asking for.
We must ensure the safety and the well-being of our troops in the field, but funding must be conditioned on a plan for responsible redeployment of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Now why is this so important to our own country and to our own future and to our own children? As I said, the war in Iraq has already cost over $450 billion directly. And by some estimates it has cost the American people almost $1.5 trillion when factoring in all the costs. For each month that passes, we spend another $12 billion on the war. And we cannot separate the President's spending in Iraq from the economic and the budgetary problems we face.
Now, one of the things that has always really bothered me on behalf of the people that I represent is that this administration never really adequately calculated the repercussions of this war. I think the troops in the field -- and I will say one thing-- despite the clear disagreements in strategy on this war, there has been bipartisan agreement that our troops need to be treated with the kind of respect they deserve. When they signed up for war, there wasn't a waiting line. And when they come here, home, and they need medical care, they need mental health care, they need to get their education benefits, there shouldn't be a waiting line.
The Pentagon underestimated the number of troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan by like four times the amount. Four times the amount. Four times more returning troops needed health care than they estimated. We put billions of dollars into that. We're willing to rise up to the occasion and say we're going to not make the same mistake that we made after Vietnam. We're going to treat our troops with the respect that they deserve when they come home. But again, when the administration made its plans for this war, a war that I did not support from the beginning, when they made their plans, they did not anticipate the enormous costs for our troops.
The war has already cost over $450 billion, $1.5 trillion when you factor in all costs, $12 billion a month. They didn't anticipate what was going on with this economy, they didn't respond the way they were supposed to the mortgage crisis. They listened to their friends in the special interest groups and look where we are now. Look where we are now. Two weeks ago we passed a short-term stimulus package that will change the future of this country by putting money in the hands of our seniors and veterans. Today we must begin to focus on the long-term policies to spur economic growth long after the rebate checks are spent; we have to get this economy on the right track. And it means making a reckoning for that money spent in Iraq, to start bringing home some of our combat troops, to start being more responsible about this budget.
Today we announced our next step, which is to look at this mortgage crisis; really, the crisis that I would say fundamentally put us where we are right now. 8.8 million families across the United States are underwater. They owe more to lenders than they have equity in their home, giving them limited or no options for refinancing. The Foreclosure Prevention Act, which I’m going to talk about later, and I hope will come to the floor this week, signifies a major step in the right direction, curving the disastrous effect that the foreclosure has had on our families and our economy.
We need long-term economic policies that will encourage sustainable economic growth in every corner of this country. From the impact of the mortgage crisis and the value of homes to the skyrocketing costs of oil that fuels cars and trucks and heats the homes, to rising prices in the grocery stores, the middle class is being squeezed from every side. Back in January I traveled around my state, I visited towns all the way from Worthington to Hallock, Minnesota. You haven't been anywhere until you visited Embarrass, Minnesota. We were all over our state, and people are concerned. They're Minnesotans so they try to be optimistic. They try to look to the future, they look for potential with the energy revolution, they would come out to cafes and college campuses and they would talk about how hard it is to send their kids to college, to afford health care and to fill their cars up with gas.
To give you a sense of what we're looking at in our state, and our state has had a diverse economy, we're 1/8 the country for fortune 500 companies, in Minnesota the unemployment jumped up to 4.9%. Our state has lost 23,000 jobs in the last six months alone; home heating prices for Minnesota families has risen by 14.1% per household in the last year alone. On the foreclosure front the statistics in Minnesota are equally devastating. It is estimated that 30,000 will lose their homes in the next several years if something is not done. What are they like? Well, they're like the Gray family in Minnesota who I met. They are both teaching, excited to buy their first house, got a standard approved mortgage, it turned out that the values were much higher and they were not able to afford a home. They went to someone they thought they could trust they got an adjustable rate mortgage it is a lower rate at the beginning, might go up a few hundred dollars, by 2008 up to $3,300 a month from $1,500 a month. We know that that is not rate of inflation.
I use that as one example of what we're seeing across this country and why this administration has its priorities messed up and why people like the Grays, good people who are just trying to have a home for their families, have found themselves in the middle of this mess. It is where Wall Street hit main street; it is where the Bush administration's priorities to spend $12 billion a month have hit people like the Grays right in their homes. And the cost of foreclosure sincere not limited to these families. If something is not done, Minnesotans will lose an estimated $1.64 billion in declining home values, the chickens have come home to roost. It affects the real estate values on the entire street, an entire neighborhood, an entire community.
We need an economy that creates stable middle-class jobs; we need infrastructure investments so that we don't have bridges falling down, as they did in our state, right in the middle of America. We need energy investment to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and create green jobs. The people that we serve are asking for a new track, a government that spends their money wisely, that represents their values, that works for American families. America wants a Washington that is going to offer new priorities and new solutions.
Last year our Congress succeeded in a down payment on change, it was a beginning; we were hampered by procedural rules and all of these filibusters. We moved, first of all, toward a more responsible budget process, we gave working Americans an increase in the minimum wage, we provided greater financial aid to help their kids to go to college, and we passed a new energy bill that raises fuel efficiency standards for the first time since I was in junior high.
But there is much more that needs to be done. Senator Dorgan and I heard about it at an economic hearing in our state where we had a panel of economists and experts. One economist described our condition as serious, unstable, and declining. Minnesota's chief economist talked about the frightening unemployment statistic, we have not added any new jobs, and we're not alone. States that historically had lower unemployment rates are creeping toward the national average. Unfortunately when you look at the problem that we're facing, we know that there are solutions and there is a way to get the economy back on track by being fiscally responsible. But President Bush's budget proposal falls short of what America needs to address the economic downturn and invest in meaningful recovery effort. This doesn't offer new priorities or solutions, instead this budget continues a familiar pattern of misplaced priorities. It continues a seven-year pattern of fiscal irresponsibility, borrowing money and leaving an ever larger debt to our children and grandchildren.
You look at this, a wall of debt that we have seen and how quickly it has risen from 2001 to 2013. This is an administration that took a $2 billion surplus and turned it into a $3 billion budget deficit. Do you know what it means for middle class families? When I talk to people in our states, they want to know what it means. It means most of your tax dollars are going to pay interest. Most of that money is going to companies that are in foreign countries. That is what is happening. That is what it happening to this country.
I was listening before to my colleague from Oklahoma talking about how we have to be willing to make these sacrifices and pay for things. I find it ironic because it is people in our side of the aisle that have been willing to talk about rolling back some of the Bush tax cuts on people making over $200,000. People over on our side of the aisle here that have been talking about taking this oil giveaway and putting them into renewable energy so that we can start investing in the farmers and workers of the Midwest instead of the oil cartels in the Mideast. How about the debate on the middle class tax issue, on the AMT tax relief, we were willing to talk about how to pay for it, we wanted to pay for it off the hedge fund operators, but they wouldn't go for it.
It is this Congress that put the pay as you go back. When I talk to my people in my state they understand the need to have the short-term stimulus package and why we need it. But we can't go the way that we're going with this wall of debt. We're going to be right back where we were before we put the stimulus package in place an and we need to make bold changes. In seven years this administration took the $158 billion, think of that money, and made it into a $400 billion deficit. When we talk about the war in Iraq and when my esteemed colleague from South Carolina talks about it being priceless, it's not priceless; it's $12 billion a month. Meanwhile this new budget continues to neglect crucial investments needed to strengthen our economy and nation for the long term.
It doesn't make the investment that we need in our nation's transportation infrastructure, it doesn't make the investments we need in developing renewable energy sources to move us to greater energy independence and security, it doesn't make the investment that's we need to support the basic medical and scientific research that has been a key driver of our country's innovation and growth. I come from Minnesota, a state where we believe in science, we brought the post-it note to the pacemaker.
Here are a few examples from my state of where the president's budget goes wrong. Now, Americans are struggling to lower home heating costs in any way they can. Nationwide the average household is expected to pay 11% more for heating this winter compared to last year. Families that rely on home heating oil are facing record prices 30% to 50% above last winter. So what does the administration do in its budget? Well, it cuts this funding. It cuts this funding. It ends the Department of Energy's weatherization assistance program. It increases the energy efficiency of homes occupied by low-income Americans, directly reducing their energy costs. That is cut by 100%. The funds appropriated in fiscal year 2008 for this program will enable upgrades for as many as 85,000 homes with energy costs rising significantly in an economy poised on the brink of recession, the weatherization program and the low-energy assistance program, they're necessities, they're not luxuries anymore.
Now, another example, nearly 6 1/2 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, Americans are well aware about the need for state and local governments to be as prepared as possible against future threats, and I heard you talking, Mr. President, earlier this afternoon about the importance of putting that money into our own homeland security. So what does the administration do with this budget? Well, it slashes funding for state and local first responder’s efforts-- cutting firefighter assistance grants from $1.2 billion to $300 million in security state homeland programs. And, once again, it proposes to eliminate the costs of the COPS program. Now, as a former prosecutor, I take this personally, because I saw how that cops program works, how it added police officers to our neighborhood, how it brought down crime.
Look at this. If you're looking at what is the comparison here when you're looking at this budget as we're talking about priorities of the $12 billion a month on the war in Iraq? Look at this. This is the amount that the president would need to add to his budget to maintain this police program, which puts police out in the neighborhoods at a 2008 level plus inflation. Personally, I would like to add more, especially in the rural areas, I think that we need meth cops out there. I think we need police throughout. To restore it to 2004 levels would cost $596 million. Ok. What would you do if you would just roll back the tax cuts for those making over $1 million in 2009? Here I'm not talking about people making over $250,000. I’m talking about people making over $1 million, what would you bring in with that? You would bring in $51 billion. Look at the comparison. Think of how many police it could buy on the streets. Think of how much it could help people afford homes.
Think of what you could do with $51 billion to help veterans, yet we have soldiers coming home from Iraq -- just this summer in Minnesota, we were told, yes, you were the longest serving unit of the National Guard in Iraq, but, guess what, it said 729 days, so guess what, you're not going to get your full education benefits, eve though you served longer than 729 days
We took the matter up with the Army and we're working to fix it. But that's just one example. Oh, well, it saved some money to put those -- write that down 729 days, but you think about $451 billion, what we could do with that, we're talking about priorities here. In fiscal responsibility is also about making sure down the line that these priorities are right.
I'd like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by reversing some of these, rolling back these tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, people making over $200,000. I'd like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by eliminating offshore tax havens for multimillionaires so people aren't hilling money off in the Cayman Islands. I had like to see fiscal responsibility by allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices for prescription drugs for our seniors. The President's budget does not provide the new priorities and the new solutions that America needs. Instead, it continues to take us down the wrong path. This budget is only the most recent example of an administration that's putting its head in the sand, ignore the reality of the looming economic recession.
As the housing market is crumbling and millions of families are expected to lose their homes in the next couple of years, the administration has seemed to hope that this problem should just go away. This is why I've cosponsored the mortgage Foreclosure Prevention Act and am committed to working with my Senate colleagues on a bipartisan basis to pass this bill to help keep our families in their homes and get the middle class back on their feet. Across the country, we are seeing families struggling to keep their homes. And if something isn't done, over 2 million families will lose that struggle in the next two years.
Through a project conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, we've been able to track by zip code all of the outstanding subprime mortgages in our state. This data is a startling reminder that we're only beginning to see the beginning of this crisis if we don't do anything about it by being able to track the reset dates of all the subprime mortgages in Minnesota. Congress must act quickly if we're going to curb any effects of the housing crisis. In my home county where I was chief prosecutor in Hennepin county, we've seen an 80% increase in sales of foreclosed homes. The problem extends to greater
In some of our urban areas we've seen three out of 100 households that are in foreclosure. Something must be done to help these families because I’ve met them. These are not just statistics and numbers, Mr. President. These are real families living in the state of Minnesota. This is why I believe we need to pass the Foreclosure Prevention Act.
Some people saying we're going to stay there for years while these families are losing their homes, while our veterans are still not getting a fair shake. This bill, the Foreclosure Prevention Act, would give $2 million to families to counsel them in ways to avoid foreclosure. Why don't we put that chart up again showing -- an example of these priorities. Just for people making over $1 million a year, people making $1 million a year, here is your $51 billion. You think of this mortgage counseling which is a proven way to work here would be only $200 million.
Our state finance agencies are in a perfect position to help families refinance loans. But their hands have been tied by ceilings on a state-backed mortgage bonds they can use. This bill makes it ease easier for them to help families rework their mortgages. That's what we're trying to do. It's not going to work for every one of these people that bought these. Some of these we don't want to help. They're not deserving of this. They may be speculated -- they maybe speculated on these mortgages to begin with. But many of these families, including the family we saw here today in the United States Senate from Ohio, these are hard-working families that were maybe not told the truth about the mortgage or misled about the mortgage or the whole mortgage was set up just to get them this trouble down the line and then the mortgage lender. They just go away and sell it to someone else, who sells it to someone else who sells it to someone else. It hurts the entire neighborhood.
So, Mr. President, this is about getting our priorities right. Yes, it's about the war in Iraq and an administration that has refused to account for the costs. It refused to have a plan to start bringing our troops home that refuses to admit that we're in this financial straits that we are. The American people are tired of this. They want a fair accounting of what's going on in this country. They want a fair accounting of this war and plan to bring our troops home. That's the best thing that we can do for our troops and that's the best thing that we can do for our country. Thank you, Mr. President.