“If there is no struggle, there is no progress…Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Frederick Douglass, 1857
Last year, Democrats were elected to take the country in a new direction by advancing the priorities of the American people. One year into the Democratic-led Congress, we have made a significant down-payment on those expectations. After nearly a decade of Republican control, we have worked to pass key legislation to secure and grow the middle class, invest in education, expand access to health care, support our troops and veterans, and safeguard the integrity of our government. Though proud of these accomplishments for the country, Senate Democrats are far from satisfied. Senate Republicans and President Bush have stood in the way of progress time and time again and have often refused to work with Democrats in good faith to address the needs of the nation. The American people, particularly those in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community (AAPIs), are fed-up; they are tired of partisan politics and the failures of government. Senate Democrats share their frustration. We understand fully the words of Frederick Douglass, and as we look toward 2008, Senate Democrats will not rest until we have overcome every hurdle to fully address the key domestic and international priorities of our nation. Democrats will continue to lead the way for change that benefits all of Americans.
Protecting and Expanding the Middle Class
- Federal Housing Administration (FHA) reform. The Senate passed legislation to help homeowners facing foreclosure obtain safe and affordable home loans by strengthening and modernizing the FHA. FHA reform is a key component of a broader solution to the nation’s subprime mortgage crisis, in which one in five subprime loans have ended in foreclosure and more than two million Americans are facing foreclosure, at a projected cost of $164 billion in lost home equity. With the use of subprime loans in the Asian community increasing by 181 percent from 2004 to 2005, the community is at increased risk of economic harm due to the rise in foreclosures. Worse, reports show that minority communities have been targeted by unscrupulous lenders for subprime loans, regardless of credit rating or income.
- Tax fairness. The Senate passed legislation that offers tax relief to American families caught in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The bill creates a three-year exception for debt forgiveness on home loans – helping families already unable to meet their mortgages to avoid incurring large tax bills as well – and extends a provision allowing homeowners to deduct mortgage insurance payments from their taxable income. The legislation also gives a surviving spouse an additional two years from the spouse’s death to sell their home and claim the full $500,000 exclusion from capital gains tax.
- Housing and community development. Congress passed legislation to provide $37.6 billion, $2 billion more than the President’s budget request, for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, an agency that helps millions of Americans find affordable housing and realize the dream of homeownership. Additional resources, for example, went to the Section 8 tenant- and project-based voucher programs; a new program to extend additional rental vouchers to veterans, disabled Americans, and families at risk of being separated for lack of housing; and the Community Development Block Grants program, which is used to revitalize America’s neighborhoods. Congress also invested $230 million in housing counseling services, which includes $180 million for a new program specifically targeted to foreclosure avoidance/mitigation assistance programs.
- Small business support. The Senate passed several measures to help American small businesses, at least 1.13 million of which are owned by Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islanders. As of 2002, these firms earned more than $340 billion in revenue. These measures included: a law to provide a range of deficit-neutral tax incentives to encourage the hiring of low-income and disadvantaged workers, help businesses save on new equipment, help entrepreneurs impacted by the alternative minimum tax, safeguard small business tax benefits as the minimum wage increases; and a law to encourage energy efficiency in small businesses thereby decreasing their expenses.
- Trade adjustment assistance. Congress passed a law 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 programs.
- Middle-class tax relief. Congress passed a bill to protect 19 million American families from being hit by the alternative minimum tax (AMT). While the AMT was created in 1969 to keep wealthy people from avoiding taxes altogether, it has started to hit working families instead. Without this legislation, the hard working American families that would have been ensnared by the AMT would have been hit with an average tax increase of nearly $2,000. Congress also adopted a 2008 Budget Resolution that allowed 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. Each these measures, when passed, will benefit middle-class Americans, including the nearly 47 percent of AAPIs who fall into the middle class.
- Minimum wage. The 110th Congress passed a law to increase the federal minimum wage to $7.25/hour over two years, which will directly or indirectly benefit 13 million workers, 250,000 of whom are Asian.
- Helping rural America. The Senate passed a landmark bill that would, amongst other things, authorize grants to minorities and women in rural areas to participate in science, technology, engineering, and math programs and refine rural cooperative development grants to better target funds for minority communities.
- Energy reform. Congress passed a law to increase American energy independence, enhance energy efficiency, increase production of clean domestic biofuels, raise fuel economy standards for the first time in 25 years, punish price gougers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve our energy security, reduce our dependence on oil, strengthen the economy, and protect American consumers.
Expanding Health Care
- Children’s health coverage. Congress passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the popular and effective Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which would have invested an additional $35 billion over five years to strengthen the program’s financing; increased outreach and enrollment for low-income children of the working poor; enhanced premium assistance options for low-income families; and improved the quality of health care that children receive from public programs like Medicaid and CHIP. These programs are vital to the health and well-being of American children, nine million of whom remain uncovered by public or private health insurance; 11.4 percent of AAPI children are uninsured. To the detriment of these children, President Bush chose to veto the CHIP bill and Republicans refused to override him. While Congress did eventually succeed in passing legislation to extend the CHIP program, Democrats will not be satisfied until all American children have access to basic health care.
- Newborn screenings. The Senate passed legislation to educate parents and health care providers about newborn health screening; improve follow-up care for infants with an illness detected through newborn screening; and help states expand and improve their newborn screening programs.
- Mental health parity. The Senate passed 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.
- Women’s health care. Congress passed a law reauthorizing and increasing funding for the National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program to ensure the availability of cancer screenings — mammography exams, pap tests, etc. — for low-income women. The law would also allow states to spend grant money on outreach programs to educated underserved women — including AAPI women — about the program. This program, and programs like it, are vital to the survival of AAPI women, who are 1.2 times as likely to have cervical cancer as white women.
- Labor, health, and education funding. Congress passed an appropriations bill to increase funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The bill would make key investments in research on cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; expand educational opportunities; provide access to health care for rural America; strengthen the skills of America’s workers and worker safety; and heat the homes of low-income elderly Americans. This bill also funds the Office of Minority Health, JobCorps, Head Start, and student college loan programs, each of which has been vital in improving the lives of AAPIs and all Americans.
Extending Educational Opportunities
- Higher education. Congress passed the College Cost Reduction and Access Act which will provide $20 billion in additional aid to college students — 2.3 million of whom are African American — including an increase in the maximum Pell Grant; decreasing subsidies so that the student loan system works for students, not the banks; cutting loan interest rates in half; and improving our K-12 schools by promoting effective teacher preparation programs. The bill also provides $500 million for minority-serving institutions, including $40 million for AAPI and Alaska/Native Hawaiian Institutions. The Senate also passed legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which would simplify the financial aid process and protect students by ensuring colleges recommend lenders based on the best interests of students, and prohibiting payments from lenders to schools that create conflicts of interest.
- Head Start. Congress passed a law to expand eligibility for the Head Start program, which provides early childhood education and services, including health, nutrition, and social and behavioral development, for low-income pre-school children and their families. Approximately, 2.7 percent of Head Start participants are AAPI.
- Elementary and secondary education. Congress adopted a 2008 Budget Resolution that authorized the largest increase in funding for elementary and secondary school programs since 2002, which would benefit the more than 4.5 percent of America’s school children and teenagers who are AAPI.
- American competitiveness. Congress passed the America COMPETES Act to increase the nation’s investment in basic and innovative research; strengthen educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from elementary through graduate school; ensure equitable participation in the STEM fields for underrepresented populations, such as women and minorities; and develop the infrastructure needed to enhance innovation and competitiveness in the United States.
Honoring Our Troops, Veterans, and Military Families
- Supporting American troops. Congress passed an appropriations bill to provide $459.3 billion in funding to the Department of Defense to help restore the readiness of our overstretched armed forces and fully support the needs of our servicemen and women by investing in equipment, training, and cutting-edge weaponry, and also providing our military personnel and their families with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve. The bill also provides a 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for all uniformed service personnel. Currently, nearly 3.8 percent of total active duty servicepersons are AAPI.
- Care for wounded soldiers and veterans. Congress also passed several measures to improve military health care facilities, enhance medical and mental treatment for soldiers and veterans, fill in gaps in health insurance coverage, increase severance pay, and provide a seamless transition from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and transition from military service to civilian life.
- Caring for Veterans. Congress passed an appropriations bill to provide the largest increase in veterans’ spending in the history of the United States. The bill provides $43.1 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which is a $3.7 billion increase above the President’s budget request for the VA, including a $2.6 billion increase for veterans’ health care and medical research. This significant investment will ensure the VA has the resources it needs to provide benefits and first-rate care to all of our nation’s veterans, 321,000 of whom are AAPIs, including the growing number of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
- National Guard and Reserve readiness. Congress passed a law to provide $980 million in additional funding for National Guard and Reserve equipment above the President’s budget request to remedy equipment shortfalls that are compromising the quality of force training and limiting the Guard’s ability to quickly respond to natural disasters and defend against terrorist threats at home. Nearly 2.8 percent of guardsmen and reservists are AAPI.
- Tax relief for military families. The Senate passed legislation to provide tax relief for members of the military who are receiving combat pay, saving for retirement, or purchasing their own homes.
Ensuring the Safety of Our Communities
- Commerce, Justice and science funding. Congress passed an appropriations bill to provide $2.7 billion for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention grants, including the Community Organized Policing Services’ (COPS) and COPS hiring program, which gives police departments across the country the tools needed to work with community leaders to prevent, detect, and stop traditional street crime. This funding is just one step on the road to restoring the more than $2 billion in cuts made to state and local law enforcement programs since President Bush took office in 2001. These cuts have been credited with the recent increase in violent crime across the country.
- Gang abatement and prevention. The Senate passed 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.
- Combating the environmental hazards of methamphetamine production. Congress passed legislation to establish guidelines for the decontamination and remediation of former meth labs which are threatening the health and safety of neighborhoods all across the country.
- Combating identity theft and cyber crime. The Senate passed legislation toassist victims and aid in the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of identity theft and cyber crimes.
Revitalizing the Gulf Coast
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita greatly affected the Asian American community in the Gulf Coast region, with many losing their homes and livelihoods, many of whom were already struggling before the disaster, facing language and cultural barriers. Louisiana was home to over 60,000 Asian Americans, of which more than half were Vietnamese. An approximate 2,700 Lao Americans were living in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Almost 5,000 Filipino, 6,500 Chinese, 7,000 Indians, and other Asian Americans found themselves seeking shelter and aid after the hurricanes devastated the region.
- Gulf Coast revitalization. Congress passed a supplemental appropriation bill that provides a total of $6.4 billion for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including funds to complete levee and drainage repairs, reduce violent crime in Gulf Coast states, help rebuild small businesses, and repair the seafood and fisheries industries, which is vital to the region’s economic recovery.
- Water resources development. Congress passed a law 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.
- Emergency disaster fraud. The Senate passed legislation to enhance criminal penalties for fraud associated with major disaster or emergency relief benefits — fraud which steals valuable resources from those who need it the most.
Promoting International Justice
- Burma economic sanctions. The Senate passed legislation to block the important of blood rubies from Burma and prevent taxpayer money from subsidizing business activities in Burma in an effort to strengthen economic sanctions against the country’s repressive military regime.
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- Sudan divestment. Congress passed legislation to allow American investors, taxpayers, and pensioners to divest from businesses directly contributing to the violence and misery of hundreds of thousands of innocent Darfuris.