Less than nine months into the 110th Congress, Senate Democrats have made significant strides in advancing the priorities of the American people. After nearly a decade of Republican control, we have worked to restore fiscal responsibility in Washington and pass key legislation on ethics reform, countering terrorism, homeland security, troop readiness, veterans’ needs, Iraq, energy independence, competitiveness, labor and wages, small businesses, children’s health care, education, stem cell research, economic security, housing, transportation, water infrastructure, and Gulf Coast revitalization.
Throughout this Congress, Senate Democrats will remain committed to working in a bipartisan manner, maneuvering around obstructionist tactics, and overcoming veto threats in an effort to pursue the domestic and international priorities that matter most to the American people. Together, we will take the country in a new direction.
Under Democratic leadership, the Senate has passed the following measures:
· Ethics and lobbying reform: a bill to slow the “revolving door” for former Senators and staff, strengthen limits on gifts and travel, expand lobbying disclosure requirements, establish a study commission on ethics and lobbying, prohibit pensions for Members of Congress convicted of certain crimes, and implement reform procedures relating to earmarks and conference reports;
· A fiscally responsible budget: a budget that restores fiscal discipline and will lead to a surplus, while cutting middle-class taxes and funding domestic and international priorities, including education, children‘s health care, veterans, and our troops;
· 9/11 Commission recommendations: a bill to make America more secure by giving our first responders the tools they need to keep us safe; making it more difficult for potential terrorists to travel into our country; advancing efforts to secure our rail, air, and mass transit systems; and improving intelligence and information sharing between state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies;
· Homeland security funding: an appropriations bill that invests more than $40 billion in the nation’s highest-priority security projects – $5 billion more than the President proposed – to strengthen our borders, ensure first responders have the tools they need to do their jobs, and enhance security at our airports, ports, and mass transit facilities, and additional provisions, passed as part of the supplemental appropriations bill earlier this year, that provide $1.05 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous border and transit vulnerabilities left open by the Bush Administration since 9/11;
· Veterans affairs funding: an appropriations bill that would provide $43 billion for veterans affairs, including a $3.6 billion increase in funding for veterans health care above the President’s budget request. This significant increase will ensure the VA has the resources it needs to care for our national veterans, including the growing needs of our servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
· Military construction funding: an appropriations bill that includes $21.6 billion for the military construction, Base Realignment and Closure, and family housing accounts. The funding also would support the Administration’s “Grow the Force” initiative, to increase the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.
· Pay raise for our troops: a bill providing for a 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for all uniformed service personnel;
· Equipment for our troops: legislation funding the President’s requests for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, which also included $1.2 billion in additional funding for a total of $3 billion to provide our troops in Iraq with mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles;
· Health care for wounded soldiers and veterans: legislation to improve military health care facilities, fill in gaps in health insurance coverage, increase severance pay, and provide a seamless transition from active duty to the Veterans Administration; a bill that provides $3 billion in supplemental funds for military health care and $1.8 billion in supplemental funds to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to accommodate the increasing number of new veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan;
· Benchmarks for Iraq: legislation that conditions U.S. economic support for the Iraqi government on its progress toward achieving key political benchmarks;
· National Guard readiness: legislation to provide an additional $1 billion to President Bush’s request for National Guard equipment needs to remedy equipment shortfalls that are compromising the quality of force training and limiting the Guard’s ability to quickly respond to natural and potential man-made disasters at home;
· Continuing Resolution: legislation providing funding for the nine remaining appropriations bills that were not completed by Republicans in the 109th Congress. In passing this legislation, Democrats stayed within budget limits, eliminated earmarks, and increased funding for national priorities, including veterans’ medical care, Pell grants, elementary and secondary education, the National Institutes of Health, state and local law enforcement, and global AIDS prevention and treatment;
· Children’s health coverage: a bill to reauthorize the popular and effective Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), investing an additional $35 billion over five years to strengthen the program’s financing; increase outreach and enrollment for low-income children of the working poor; enhance premium assistance options for low-income families; and improve the quality of health care that children receive from public programs like Medicaid and CHIP;
· Higher education: legislation providing $17 billion in additional college aid to students – the largest increase since the G.I. bill – including an increase in the maximum Pell Grant from $4,050 to $5,100 next year and to $5,400 by 2011; simplifying the financial aid process; decreasing subsidies so that the student loan system works for students, not the banks; and improving our K-12 schools by promoting effective teacher preparation programs;
· Transportation infrastructure funding: a bill to appropriate $65.7 billion to address our nation’s aging transportation infrastructure, including bridges; improve the safety of our transportation system, including highways; and create good paying jobs in every region of the country;
· Housing funding: a measure to appropriate $38.74 billion to invest in housing programs for low-income Americans, including veterans, housing counseling services, and community development projects in neighborhoods across the country;
· Minimum wage: legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25/hour;
· Energy bill: a bill to increase our energy independence, enhance energy efficiency, increase production of clean domestic biofuels, raise fuel economy standards, punish price gougers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve our energy security, reduce our dependence on oil, strengthen the economy, and protect American consumers;
· American competitiveness: bipartisan legislation to increase the nation’s investment in basic and innovative research; strengthen educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from elementary through graduate school; and develop the infrastructure needed to enhance innovation and competitiveness in the United States;
· Middle-class tax cuts: the 2008 Budget Resolution provides for permanent extensions of the Marriage Penalty tax relief, the $1,000 refundable Child Tax Credit; the 10 percent income tax bracket; the adoption tax credit; the dependent care tax credit; U.S. soldiers‘ combat pay for the earned income tax credit; and reform of the estate tax to protect small businesses and family farms;
· AMT patch: the 2008 Budget Resolution ensures that the number of taxpayers subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) will not increase in 2007, giving Congress and the Administration time to come up with a permanent solution;
· Elementary and secondary education: the 2008 Budget Resolution provides for the largest increase in funding for elementary and secondary programs since 2002;
· Head Start: a bill to expand eligibility for the Head Start program;
· Stem cell research: legislation to expand the number of human embryonic stem cells eligible for federally-funded research;
· Women’s health care: reauthorization of the National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program;
· FDA reauthorization: a bill to greatly improve the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of food and drug safety;
· Gulf Coast revitalization: legislation providing a total of $6.4 billion for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including $1.3 billion to complete levee and drainage repairs, $50 million to reduce violent crime in Gulf Coast states, and $110 million to repair the seafood and fisheries industries, which is vital to the region’s economic recovery;
· Army Corps reform: legislation to invest in environmental restoration and storm protection along the Gulf Coast, support the restoration of wetlands and their accompanying ecosystems across the country, improve transit and increase environmental protection along America’s waterways, and enhance the safety of levees nationwide;
· Disaster assistance for small businesses: a bill providing recovery assistance for small businesses impacted by the 2005 hurricanes in an effort to revitalize the Gulf Coast economy;
· Tax relief for small businesses: legislation providing a range of deficit-neutral tax incentives designed to help small businesses grow;
· Energy efficiency for small businesses: a bill creating incentives for small businesses to invest in green technologies, providing the resources to help entrepreneurs conduct energy audits, and ensuring the Administration implements an energy efficiency information program that Congress enacted two years ago;
· Gang abatement and prevention: legislation authorizing more than $1 billion for gang prevention, intervention, and suppression programs, as well as creating tough federal penalties to deter and punish members of illegal street gangs;
· Law enforcement: reauthorization of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which provides critical assistance to state and local governments to prevent and control crime and improve the criminal justice system;
· U.S. Attorney appointments: legislation ending the indefinite appointment of interim U.S. Attorneys and restoring the role of the Senate in the selection of U.S. Attorneys;
· Judicial and court security: a bill to improve the security of our courts, judges, and their families;
· Metal health parity: legislation prohibiting a group health plan that offers mental health coverage from imposing financial requirements or treatment limitations on mental health benefits that are more restrictive than the financial requirements or treatment limitations that apply to the plan’s medical and surgical benefits;
· Safety for seniors: a bill that directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to expand research programs on elder slip and falls; and
· Extending trade adjustment assistance: legislation to ensure that eligible U.S. workers, farmers, fisherman, and manufacturing firms facing job losses as a consequence of free trade agreements do not fall through the cracks while Congress completes its work on a broad expansion and reauthorization of the current program.