SAN FRANCISCO -- U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer brought fiery rhetoric and a few real-life stories to bear Wednesday on what she called an "outrageous" Republican budget plan that would cost America jobs and lives.
"Behind each of these Republican proposed cuts, there are thousands, maybe millions of people who would be hurt," Boxer, D-Calif., said at a news conference at San Francisco's Ferry Building.
With Boxer was Hobert Lee, 52, of San Francisco, a Marine Corps veteran who five years ago found himself homeless, HIV-positive and abusing drugs. Lee said he made a decision to turn his life around and found the help he needed at Swords to Plowshares, a San Francisco nonprofit operating the Treasure Island Transitional Housing Program in which he got a roof over his head and a chance to get clean. Now he's working on a degree so he can counsel other vets in similar straits.
But Boxer said the type of housing voucher program for homeless vets that helped Lee would be gutted by HR 1, House Republicans' budget bill. Passed by the House on Feb. 19 on a 235-189 vote, HR 1 would quickly cut more than $60 billion mostly from domestic programs in the budget for fiscal year 2011, ending Sept. 30.
Also with Boxer was Heather Penman of Concord, who said she lost her health insurance several years ago when she couldn't return to her old job after an injury. Penman went to Planned Parenthood for preventive care, and a Pap smear last year found precancerous cells; the organization then provided her with surgery.
If it hadn't, "I might not be alive today," she said. "Planned Parenthood is about taking care of women's health and it shouldn't be reduced to some political argument."
Boxer said despite Planned Parenthood's "strict wall" separating federal dollars for women's health from private donations that fund abortions, House Republicans have voted to eliminate all federal funding for the organization.
Flanked on one side by asthma sufferer Ben Sovocool, 11, a Piedmont Middle School 6th-grader, and on the other by a photo of a younger child in an oxygen mask, Boxer decried the GOP's effort to slash the Environmental Protection Agency so it can't enforce the Clean Air Act and other laws. "We don't want Ben to have to gasp for air, ever," Boxer said, citing EPA estimates that the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 premature deaths and 1.7 asthma attacks in 2010 alone.
Dr. David Cook, an assistant professor of thoracic surgery at the University of California, Davis and a board member of the American Lung Association in California, said he and his peers are "deeply concerned" about efforts to weaken federal clean-air protections. California is plagued by high ozone and particulate pollution especially in summer, Cook said, and "the Clean Air Act can almost be described as preventive medicine."
Boxer said Democrats have balanced budgets, turned deficits into surpluses and created jobs before and can do so again, but not under a draconian plan such as HR 1 which "in many ways is a political vendetta" against causes Republicans oppose. The GOP is quick to get "verklempt" -- a Yiddish term for being choked up with emotion -- not over people like Lee, Penman and Sovocool, but rather only for millionaires who might have to pay a little more in taxes, she said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Monday at Stanford University that the government simply can't spend money it doesn't have. But that's a disingenuous oversimplification, Boxer replied Wednesday; President Obama proposed a budget that would gradually return the budget to surpluses, she said, but "you don't get there in a day."
"I don't tell you, 'Don't buy a house' if you don't have the cash for it -- sometimes we take a mortgage," she said, noting Republicans weren't such deficit hawks when the deficit was exploding under President George W. Bush.
She again challenged House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to take up her bill -- already passed by the Senate -- to ensure members of Congress and the president don't receive paychecks during a government shutdown. "I think there needs to be more at stake for the John Boehners of the world so that people have skin in the game."