Last year I visited several counties in my state. I actually visited 47 counties in January, from towns on our southern border with Iowa to towns way up on our northern border with Canada. I saw a lot of great entrepreneurial activity out there. I got to see ethanol plants.
I was with Senator Conrad in North Dakota for his entrepreneurial forum. I got to jump on solar panels, Mr. President, to show that hail doesn't hurt solar panels in Starbuck, Minnesota. But what I did hear from people throughout our state -- and I think what we're hearing from people throughout America -- is that Washington must provide a new direction to address the nation's priorities and solve our economic challenges.
They know what's happening. There's been a doubling of foreclosure rates in rural Minnesota. I was in International Falls, you know, when it gets to be 10 degrees below in International Falls, it's pretty cold. In Embarrass, Minnesota, it is also pretty cold and there's also skyrocketing health costs. I heard about that not just from families and individual workers, but even from small business, or big businesses that are having trouble competing internationally because of the cost of health care. What people told me out there was that they need new solutions and new priorities from Washington.
What I'm going to talk about today is first of all the President's budget and how it doesn't give us new solutions. It doesn't give us new priorities and then our own stimulus package that is so important to push through this congress and not to be obstructed. The President's budget continues a familiar pattern of misplaced priorities and continues a seven-year pattern of fiscal irresponsibility, borrowing money and then leaving an ever-larger debt to our children. In just seven years this administration took a budget surplus of $158 billion and turned it into what will soon be a budget deficit, something like $300 billion, $400 billion. It is quite an accomplishment.
Meanwhile this new budget continues to neglect critical investments that are needed to strengthen our economy and our nation in a very difficult time. It does not make the investments we need in our nation's transportation infrastructure. It does not make the investments we need in developing renewable energy sources to move us toward greater independence and security. It does not make the investments that we need to get new technology to solve our climate change problem, what I call building a bridge to the 21st century. It doesn't do that, Mr. President. It doesn't make the investments that we need in the basic medical and scientific research that has all been a key driver of our country's innovation and growth. It doesn't include a shift in these priorities, but it doesn't also include how we're going to pay for it.
When I got around our state in January, people are willing to talk about reform. They're willing to talk about rolling back some of these Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest people, people making over $200,000 - $250,000 a year, so we can actually pay for some of the investments that we need in our state. You know, people out in rural Minnesota, they said, fine by me, roll back those tax cuts on people making over $200,000 a year. That's not me. And meanwhile I've got a road that I can hardly go on because it's got so many potholes and one road where four people were killed. They said I'm happy if you can put some money into infrastructure.
Now, here are a few examples in Minnesota of how the President got the budget wrong. I think people are well-aware of our tragic bridge collapse. That was only six blocks from my house when a bridge just fell down in the middle of a summer day in the middle of America. It was a tragic wake-up call that the nation's bridges are deteriorating faster than we can replace or repair them. So what does the administration do in its budget, Mr. President? It reduces funding for the federal highway construction fund.
Minnesota is home to premier medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota that conduct breakthrough research on lifesaving cures. Many of the researchers at these institutions depend on federal funding. So what does this administration do in its budget? What am I going to tell the people in our state when I met with them at the Mall of America or trying to find a cure for children's diabetes or the parents that met with me as we see autism on the rise that are trying to find a cure or the people in the Alzheimer's ward? What does the president say to them? Well, for the sixth year in a row, it freezes funding for the National Institutes of Health.
The budget also cuts health care services. For example, the administration is calling for an 86% cut in funding for rural health programs, including rural health outreach grants and the rural hospital flexibility grant program. I can tell you what I heard when I was up in Minnesota, Mr. President. I was up there -- they've got a hospital where they have one surgeon. One surgeon. You have to go miles and miles and miles to find another hospital. You can see towns miles and miles away. It is so flat up there. But they have this one hospital that's so important to them, and guess what? The surgeon is reaching retirement. If they don't have the surgeon, they are not going to be able to have babies born in that hospital because they don't have a doctor that can do a C-section.
Much of my state is rural, Mr. President, despite the thriving metropolitan area that we have in the region. And we have these rural hospitals and health care providers that depend on this federal funding to provide services. For the rural residents of my state, it's not just a nicety. It is a necessity.
In Minnesota we are on the leading edge of the renewable energy revolution that promises to transform our economy and lead us toward greater energy security and independence. So what does the administration do in its budget? It cuts funding for solar energy research, hydro power and industrial energy efficiency. It also cuts department of agriculture programs that are important for developing new farm-based energy sources like biomass and cellulosic ethanol. Now, what you hear the President at the State of the Union talking about is moving to this new energy but put the money where the mouth is. It's not there. How are we going to stop spending $200,000 a minute on foreign oil if we're cutting the possibility of research into things like cellulosic ethanol which have done right with prairie grass, puts carbon back in our soil, will allow the prairie grass to be grown on marginal farm land. This is the direction we need to go in, but not if we're going to cut funding.
I guess he hasn't seen these wind turbines where people are so excited. They have got wind turbines everywhere. But every time the wind tax credit goes away, the investment stops about eight months earlier because it is like a game of red light, green light. They don't know what is happening. So this is what the administration does.
This budget would shut down the U.S. Department of Agriculture's north central soil conservation research lab in Morris, Minnesota. That was one of the places that I visited, Mr. President, in January. This lab on the university of Minnesota campus is there at the forefront of research and development to promote homegrown renewable energy. This is our energy future. But you would hardly know it from looking at the President's budget.
What does the administration do in its budget? It cuts in half the emergency funding for the low-income Heating Assistance Program. This is a program that enjoys bipartisan support. It provides much-needed help to seniors and families who are struggling with ever-rising heating costs. Maybe the next President thinks -- maybe he thinks that we're going to have so much global warming that we don't need this heating? I don't know. While these prices are going up and we're in the middle of winter, cut the heating program. I hope the next president will see this differently.
I believe deeply in the importance of fiscal responsibility. I support the pay-as-you-go rules for budgeting. My husband and I keep our financial house in order and we think the government should too. But if you want to talk about fiscal responsibility, you don't have in this budget, there's no willingness to talk about doing things differently. Do we want a budget that offers tax give-aways to the wealthy or a budget that provides relief to middle class families who are squeezed by college tuition, child care and aging parents?
You know what happened on the A.M.T. debate, we voted to pay for it by taking a little bit of money from the hedge fund operators, but the other side wouldn't do it. Do we want a budget that gives lucrative special favors to giant oil and pharmaceutical companies or a budget that invests in future prosperity like research and development and renewable energy? Instead of investing in the oil cartels in the Middle-east, let's invest in the farmers and workers in the Midwest. And maybe in Vermont as well.
Do we want a budget that continues to send tens of billions of dollars to Iraq? I would like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by rolling back those tax cuts on the wealthiest, people making over $250,000 a year. I'd like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by eliminating offshore tax havens for multimillionaires. I would like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by ending the tax breaks and royalties that have been handed out year after year after year to the big oil companies. I would like to see an administration that aims for fiscal responsibility by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices for seniors.
It is exactly what we predicted would happen. You're seeing the prices go up, not down. Down. They had a re-up period for Medicare Part D, it is so complicated, all of these call-in lines, people trying to figure out how to save money. Caught in a doughnut hole. It wasn't done in a fiscally responsible way.
The President's budget does not provide the new priorities and solutions that America needs. Instead it continues to take us down the wrong path for the future. Even as we must plan and invest for the long term, I'm also very concerned that we have our priorities right in the short term. At this time the urgent priority for America is to get our economy moving forward again and not let it weaken.
That's why we have put together an economic stimulus package that would respond promptly and responsibly. It would get the economy moving with tax rebates that are fair to the middle class, carefully targeted and responsible. Tonight we find out that we're not going to be able to vote on that tomorrow. I do commend Senator Baucus and Senator Grassley for their swift work getting this comprehensive, simple, and effective measure to the floor. A short-term stimulus package needs to be targeted for the people who need it the most.
Although economists are wary to declare we're officially in a recession, many middle class families have been feeling the economic slow down for months, when the impact on the mortgage crises and value of homes in their neighborhoods to the skyrocketing cost of fuel and costs and oil to heat their homes, gas to heat their homes, to the rising prices in the grocery store, the middle class is feeling economic pressure from each and every side. When I went across the state on our Main Street Tour in January, no matter where I went, all 47 counties, the economy was the first on the list of things that people wanted to talk about. From the cafes, to the turkey processing places to the little solar panel company, that's all they wanted to talk about was the economy. The message was loud and clear.
I heard a lot from middle class families. Even before we began to experience this economic slowdown, these families were finding it harder and harder to get by. To give you a sense of what we have in our state, in Minnesota the unemployment rate jumped up to 4.9%, up from 4.4% the month before. Our state lost 23 thousands jobs in the last six months, and over 37 million families lost their homes. Heating prices have risen by 4.1% per household in the past year alone. In order to get communities in Main Street in Minnesota and across our country booming again, we need short term and long-term solutions.
Everyone agrees that the rebate checks will be a part of whatever effective targeted stimulus package that congress will send to the president, I'm here to voice my strong support for additional provisions in the senate proposal. These proposals would do much to help and improve the middle class lives behind the statistics that I talked about. These are not just statistics, these are real people. Real people that I saw all over our state in January. The proposals are proven stimulus for our economy and deserve a full debate and proper consideration in our chamber.
We need to expand the rebate effort to ensure that certain deserving groups are not left out. Part of creating a targeted stimulus for the economy is through helpings those Americans that need it most. I was sorry to see that this proposal fell short. It's crucial that this package that the 20 million American seniors who worked all of their lives, paid taxes, and contributed to our society in countless ways get the rebate check. That's the first thing my point is that we need to include the seniors. In the past week I have heard from hundreds of Minnesota seniors who told me that the senate proposal to include senior proposal recipients is the only way to win-- I agree. It is crucial that we include disabled veterans. These men and women have served our country here and abroad. When they signed up to serve, there wasn't a waiting line. When people come up and people are getting rebate checks, there shouldn't be a line for them. You don't get a rebate check, that's just not right.
Second, I firmly believe we can include an extension of the clean energy tax incentives in any stimulus package. We can do that in any package, but we've got to do it. These benefits meet the definition of what we mean for stimulus. If you look at the data on this we have seen a revolution going on across the country in wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. This has been like a game of red light, green light. One year it lapses for maybe six months and then it goes on and lapses and it goes on again. The proven statistics, every time the investors know it will lapse, they stop investing. That's not what we want. Our country is the one that came up with the technology for wind and we're falling behind the rest of the world in developing it because we don't have the investment tax credits in place.
Third, I believe the stimulus package should include additional funding for LIHEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program). Working families across Minnesota and the nation shouldn't have to choose between paying the home heating bill and putting food on the table. Increasing LIHEAP funding to keep pace with the skyrocketing cost of oil is essential to the stimulus package.
Now I see this stimulus package as just a first step and it's crucial to support it, but long after those rebate checks are spent we're going to need a long-term economic strategy that responds to the problems of the country or we're going to be back where we were in the first place. We need an economy that creates good, stable middle class jobs, infrastructure investments so that we don't have bridges falling down in the middle of America. We need energy investment that will reduce dependence on foreign oil and create good jobs in the green collar energy sector. In the Senate we have a stimulus package, and it's a good one. But the people we are serving are asking for a new direction, new priorities, that means being fiscally responsible and rolling back some of the tax cuts for the wealthy, negotiating for prescription drug prices, those are new priorities for this country.
Last year, Mr. President, we made a down payment on change in this country. We moved toward a more responsible budget process. We gave working Americans an increase in the minimum wage. Today we can continue that progress and continue that change with the system that's fair for all Americans. That means getting the stimulus package done, including these necessary changes with seniors and disabled veterans and the LIHEAP funding and then looking at the long term and making sure that either in this package or another one, we get those investment tax credits in place for clean energy and we do something about fiscal responsibility. And we're willing to talk about change and really do it. This is our moment. The American people have spoken at least they spoke to me in Crookston and Worthington and Starbuck, Minnesota. If they were standing here they would tell the senate what we need to do so let's get it done. Thank you.