Senate Democrats have introduced ten Leadership bills that highlight our priorities for the 110th Congress. These bills will respond to the American people’s desire for Congress to: 1) provide real security; 2) restore transparency, accountability and responsibility in Washington; and 3) help working Americans get ahead by boosting wages and cutting costs in health care, education, and energy. Democrats look forward to debating our differences with Republicans, seeking common ground, and achieving bipartisan progress.
Implementing Ethics Reform
In November, Americans, angered by years of scandal and corruption, sent a clear message that unethical and illegal behavior would no longer be tolerated in the halls of Congress. With the introduction of S.1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, Democrats have answered the charge to clean-up Washington by making ethics reform a first priority in the 110th Congress.
Democrats are committed to working with Republicans to pass S.1, which would stiffen the rules governing the interaction of Senators and staff with lobbyists, including prohibiting gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists and lobbying firms, extending lobbying bans for former Members and staff, and strengthening the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. The legislation would also improve Senate procedures to require public disclosure of earmarks, including the name of their sponsors and purpose, and establish points of order against conference reports that have not been made available on the Internet prior to consideration and out-of-scope matters in conference reports.
The measure would also prohibit partisan efforts by Senators to influence private sector hiring, such as the “K Street Project.” The bill would require mandatory ethics training for members and staff, audits by the Government Accountability Office, and annual reports by the Senate and House Ethics Committees. This legislation would also establish a bicameral, bipartisan Commission to Strengthen Confidence in Congress. Broad, sweeping and tough, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007 would be a significant step on the road to restoring the American people’s faith and trust in government.
Increasing the Minimum Wage
Last year, Democrats promised to seek better pay for working Americans, starting by raising the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has not been increased since 1997. Since that time, the cost of living has increased and the purchasing power of the wage has eroded by over 20 percent. Today, a full-time federal minimum wage earner takes home only $10,712 per year, before taxes, which is almost $6,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. On the first day of the 110th Congress, Democrats renewed their commitment to raise the minimum wage by introducing S.2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007.
S.2 will increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour in three steps over two years. This raise would significantly benefit (directly and indirectly) nearly 13 million workers, or 10 percent of the workforce. Of those who would benefit, 16 percent are African American, more than 60 percent are women, and 18 percent are Latino Americans. Moreover, the parents of nearly six million children will receive a raise, helping them to better care for their families. Democrats look forward to working with Republicans to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act and are dedicated to helping Americans choose work over welfare.
Addressing Medicare Prescription Drug Prices
Democrats are committed to improving Medicare’s prescription drug benefit program, whether they voted for or against the legislation that created it in 2003. The drug benefit is providing valuable assistance to many, but it also has confused beneficiaries and suffered from implementation problems. In the 110th Congress, Democrats will pursue hearings and conduct oversight into the new program to ensure that it is working for seniors, people with disabilities, and American taxpayers.
S.3, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007, will take the first step toward improving the drug benefit by revisiting Medicare’s role in purchasing prescription drugs under the new program. Democrats will re-examine the provision of current law that prohibits the Secretary of Health and Human Services from negotiating drug prices under the Medicare drug program and will explore all tools available to ensure that all people with Medicare have access to the fairest prices for their medicines.
Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations
America’s fight against terrorism remains unfinished, and our country is not as secure as it could be. It is time for a renewed effort to craft a strategy and build the capabilities that will allow us to win the war on terror and defeat violent extremism. Further, it is vital that we advance a more effective approach for protecting our homeland and for addressing the threat of loose nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction. With the introduction of S.4, Improving America’s Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, Democrats are taking the first step toward giving the American people renewed confidence that Congress and the White House are making every effort possible to keep America safe and advance our national security objectives.
Advancing Stem Cell Research
Democrats are committed to expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells have the unique ability to develop into virtually every cell and tissue in the body, and this research is giving hope to millions of people with debilitating diseases and disabilities who may one day benefit from embryonic stem cell therapies. Scientists report that the restrictions President Bush has imposed on the number of stem cell lines eligible for federally funded research is hindering progress. Last year, the President vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have expanded the number of embryonic stem cell lines eligible for federally funded research.
S.5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, will direct the Health and Human Services Secretary to conduct and support embryonic stem cell research – regardless when the stem cells were derived – that adheres to the following requirements: 1) the stem cells were derived from embryos donated from in vitro fertilization clinics, were created for fertility treatment, and are in excess of what was needed for those treatments; 2) the embryos would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded; and 3) the individuals who donate embryos must provide their written informed consent and cannot receive any financial or other inducements for making the donation.
Promoting Energy Independence and Addressing Global Warming
In recent years, both energy prices and oil company profits have skyrocketed. Democrats believe the federal government must do a better job protecting consumers, businesses, and farmers burdened by today’s skyrocketing energy prices. We must also end our country’s dangerous reliance on oil, particularly foreign oil. With leadership and vision, we can help ensure low-cost supplies of sustainable energy that will improve America’s security, reduce the burden on middle class families, and help clean our environment.
Democrats have a strategy to make America more energy independent and secure by the year 2020. S.6, the National Energy and Environmental Security Act, will transform our nation’s energy policies by: 1) requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; 2) diversifying and expanding our use of secure, efficient, and environmentally friendly energy supplies and technologies; 3) repealing tax giveaways to big energy companies; 4) reducing the burdens on consumers of rising energy prices; and 5) preventing energy price gouging, profiteering and market manipulation.
Making College Affordable
Democrats are committed to making college more affordable and accessible. A college education has become more important for success in the American workforce, but the high cost of college has put higher education out of reach for many and has strained the budgets of students and their families. The value of the maximum Pell Grant continues to erode, covering only about one-third of the cost of tuition, fees, room and board at the average public four-year university. As a result, students and parents are relying on student loans more than ever to pay for college.
S.7, the College Opportunity Act of 2007, will address the high cost of college and help reduce financial barriers to attaining a college degree. The bill will make a college education more affordable by increasing Pell Grants and providing more favorable student loans and other benefits.
Rebuilding America’s Military
Today, America’s Armed Forces are fighting in major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan while continuing to defend American interests throughout the globe. The readiness of the U.S. military has been reduced to levels not seen since Vietnam, with our forces facing vital equipment shortages and our troops being strained by extended deployments and redeployments.
S.8, the Rebuilding America’s Military Act, will be an investment toward rebuilding the capability of the United States to project military power to protect America wherever it is challenged around the globe. S.8 expresses the sense of Congress that Congress should: 1) restore and enhance the capabilities America needs to protect her people and her interests around the world; 2) enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces, including the reset of military equipment worn out in Iraq, and return unit combat readiness to the necessary levels; and 3) support the men and women in uniform, including the members of our National Guard and Reserve forces, through the provision of quality health care and enhanced educational assistance.
The American immigration system is broken. Ineffective enforcement and inadequate pathways to legal immigration has led to a skyrocketing number of illegal immigrants. It is estimated that nearly 12 million people live in this country without authorization, with 500,000 being added each year. Last year, the Senate passed a comprehensive, bipartisan measure to address this problem, but it was blocked by efforts to enact an unworkable, enforcement-only approach. Charged with the responsibility of leading the 110th Congress, Democrats have renewed our commitment to solve our nation’s immigration problem by introducing S.9, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. Tough, fair and practical, this legislation tackles illegal immigration comprehensively by strengthening border and worksite enforcement, improving avenues to legalization, clearing visa backlogs, and providing for a guest worker program.
Restoring Fiscal Discipline
Democrats have a long history of supporting the strong pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budget rules that proved to be highly effective in promoting fiscal discipline and producing record surpluses in the 1990s. Unfortunately, these strong PAYGO rules and the fiscal discipline they imposed were abandoned several years ago, and our nation’s fiscal situation has since deteriorated badly. Record budget surpluses have turned into record deficits and the gross federal debt has increased from $5.8 trillion in 2001 to $8.6 trillion in 2006, and is projected to increase to $11.6 trillion in 2011. Much of our debt is being financed by foreign governments such as China and Japan, placing our economic security in jeopardy. Since 2000, foreign-held debt has more than doubled.
A top priority for Senate Democrats in the 110th Congress is to reinstate strong PAYGO rules and to return fiscal responsibility to Washington. S.10, the Restoring Fiscal Discipline Act of 2007, would prohibit consideration of any direct spending or revenue legislation that would increase or cause an on-budget deficit. PAYGO rests on a common sense principle of fiscal responsibility: that any new mandatory spending or tax cuts must be fully paid for, so that it does not make the deficit worse. The point of order established in the legislation could be waived only by the vote of three-fifths of the members, duly chosen and sworn. PAYGO does not prohibit new spending or tax cuts, it simply requires that they be enacted in a fiscally responsible way that does not increase our debt and our dependence on foreign governments.
Beyond reinstating strong PAYGO rules, the Restoring Fiscal Discipline Act of 2007 would promote fiscal responsibility by ending the misuse of fast track procedures for legislation that increases the deficit. More specifically, the legislation would prohibit the use of the procedure known as “reconciliation,” which drastically limits public debate and Senators’ opportunities to offer amendments, if the legislation would make the deficit worse. Reconciliation should only be used to make the hard decisions associated with deficit reduction, not for bills that increase the deficit by, for example, spending billions of dollars on tax breaks for special interests.