Senate Democrats

Democrats Continue to Strengthen the Economy and the American Middle Class

Over the past several years when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, they dramatically increased the burdens on American middle-class families.  President Bush’s record of fiscal incompetence and mismanagement, and Republicans’ close ties with special interests, have helped lead to lower wages and skyrocketing costs for basic necessities like gas, health care, and college tuition.

Democrats know that middle-class families, and our nation, deserve better.  The Democratic-controlled Senate has already passed legislation that would stimulate the economy, protect our children from toxic toys; make college more affordable, promote our country’s long-term competitiveness; alleviate the pressures housing market crisis;and reduce our energy costs and reliance on oil; improve the safety of the food we eat and the drugs we take; and increase access to mental health services..  But we know there is more to do.  Senate Democrats are actively working to protect the American dream of homeownership cut taxes on the middle class and restore fiscal responsibility; invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency to save consumers money; and provide access to quality, affordable healthcare for American families. 

Democrats have passed legislation…

Stimulating the Economy and Helping America’s Families.  On February 7, both Houses of Congress passed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 (H.R.5140), by overwhelmingly bipartisan votes.  In passing this legislation so quickly, the Democratic-led Congress has kept its promise to respond to the current economic downturn.  While we recognize that there are structural problems in the economy that the short-term stimulus measure will not solve, the bill will provide direct financial relief to those who need it most and are most likely to use it to jumpstart the slowing economy.  The measure, signed into law by the President on February 13 (P.L. 110-185), will:

·        Issue a $300-$600 rebate for individuals, or a $600-$1200 rebate for married couples, including seniors living only on Social Security and disabled veterans and their spouses;

·        Provide a $300-per child tax credit;

·        Help families at risk of foreclosure by expanding mortgage financing opportunities; and

·        Promote job-creating business investments by providing tax relief for American businesses, especially small businesses.

In addition, the Democratic Budget Resolution would provide a proactive response to the current economic slowdown by providing up to $35 billion for additional stimulus.  The Democratic budget gives Congress the opportunity to take additional action to help those most in need.  Possible temporary action could include housing relief, extended Unemployment Insurance benefits, food Stamps, state fiscal relief, and help with utility bills.  Other options could include state fiscal relief and support for “ready-to-go” infrastructure projects.

For more information, see DPC fact sheet entitled, Congress Passes Stimulus Package to Help the Economy and America’s Families.

Protecting American Consumers from Dangerous Products and Our Children from Toxic Toys.  Multiple, high-profile recalls in the summer and fall of 2007, most notably the deadly Magnetix toys, lead-based toys, and pet-food recalls, brought to light major gaps in the nation’s ability to protect American consumers and their families from dangerous products of domestic andforeign origin.  Worse, it unmasked serious funding, staffing, resource, authority, enforcement, and process deficiencies at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which have crippled the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission of “protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children.” 

The CPSC estimates that products under its jurisdiction are related to 28,200 deaths and 33.6 million injuries each year, all of which cost the American people $800 billion annually, and the number, scope, and technological complexity of consumer products has increased.  The Commission is staffed, however, at only half the level it was 30 years ago, is funded at only a fraction of the level needed to ensure the standards and frequency of product inspections and the effectiveness of recalls.  Moreover, the CPSC is operating with out-dated rules and laws that are inadequate to meet the needs of a rapidly changing marketplace. 

Appropriately recognizing this crisis as a threat to the safety of our nation and stability of our economy, Senate Democrats worked in a bipartisan manner with Administration officials, consumer and child safety advocates, and states to create a broad-sweeping reform package that will strengthen the Commission and laws to better safeguard our families and restore confidence in the products on American store shelves.  The Senate-passed CPSC Reform Act, which passed on March 6 on a 79 to 13 vote, would:

·        Strengthen CPSC resources and effectiveness by increasing funding by 50 percent over the next seven years, restoring the Board of Commissioners to a five member panel (from the current three member panel), increasing CPSC staff to at least 500 employees by 2013, and streamlining product safety rulemaking procedures;

·        Protect children from unsafe products by banning lead in children’s products, requiring third-party testing and certification of children’s products, and mandating label tracking for children’s products;

·        Prevent deadly imports by improving information sharing among relevant federal, state, local, and foreign agencies, increasing the numbers of CPSC employees at our nation’s ports, requiring safety certification of products, and banning the importation of recalled products;

·        Provide greater penalties for violators and greater resources for law enforcement by increasing civil penalties up to $250,000 per violation, creating criminal penalties of up to five years in jail, authorizing State Attorneys General to pursue injunctive relief, and extending whistleblower protections to manufacturers’ employees; and

·        Enhance recall effectiveness by banning the sale of recalled products, requiring manufactures and importers to ensure the funding of recalls, creating an online product safety database, increase public access to recall information, and enhance CPSC authority to order recalls and other corrective actions. 

Making College More Affordable.  Higher education is becoming more and more important to achieving the American dream, yet it is also becoming increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible.  Democrats recognize that students and their families are struggling to cover the rising cost of college and have made college affordability a top priority.  That is why under Democratic leadership, Congress overwhelmingly approved the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, legislation that will increase access to higher education, and direct federal dollars where they are needed most. 

This legislation will increase student aid for low- and middle-income students, providing over $20 billion in new student aid and benefits, the largest increase in student aid since the G.I. bill.  The bill will also make student loan debt more manageable, forgive student loan debt for those who commit to public service, and reform the student loan system to work for students, not banks.  Moreover, the higher education legislation, approved by the Senate, will provide benefits to students at no cost to taxpayers by reducing excessive lender subsidies and redirecting federal aid to students who need it most.  The President signed this legislation into law (P.L. 110-84) on September 27.

See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Democrats Send the President Landmark Legislation Calling for the Largest Increase in Student Aid Since the G.I. Bill, for information on this legislation.

Investing in the Math and Science Foundation of Our Students and Teachers and Strengthening Our Country’s Long-Term Competitiveness.  The recently-released Global Competitiveness Report, 2007-2008 shows that, while the United States is ranked at the top of the overall global competitiveness index, we ranked only 45th in the quality of math and science education, 28th in the quality of primary education, and 17th in the quality of higher education. (Global Competitiveness Network, 10/31/2007)  Recognizing that investing in education and training programs at all levels is the key to ensuring our nation’s workforce is properly equipped to compete in today’s global economy, Democrats passed the America COMPETES Act (H.R.2272), signed into law by the President on August 9 (P.L. 110-69).  This law follows through on a commitment by Democratic Leadership to ensure that students, teachers, businesses and workers are prepared to continue leading the world in innovation, research, and technology – well into the future.  The America COMPETES Act provides incentives to increase math and science education to ensure that America retains its competitive edge in the future by taking a chance on the best and brightest young minds. 

For more information, see DPC fact sheet entitled The 110th Congress Passes a Bipartisan Initiative to Strengthen American Competitiveness.

Helping to Alleviate the Pressures of the Housing Market Crisis.  Years of abuse by the mortgage lending industry and years of irresponsible under-regulation of the industry by the Bush Administration have resulted in a housing crisis of epic proportions that is crippling the entire American economy. From coast to coast, American families are facing a record number of mortgage payment delinquencies and foreclosures.  An estimated two to three million Americans are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure, which would result in hundreds of billions of lost home equity.  To make matters even worse, nearly 45 million of their neighbors are seeing their property values decline as houses are vacated around them.  Moreover, the resulting credit crunch has made affordable mortgages less available for aspiring homeowners or borrowers in need of a refinancing alternative.  Unwilling to do nothing as millions stand to lose everything, Democrats are determined to fix the nation’s housing problems by working with the private sector, government agencies, and homeowner advocacy groups to find real world solutions.  To help alleviate the pressures of this crisis, Democrats have passed legislation to:

·        Help homeowners facing foreclosure obtain safe and affordable homes loans.  On December 14, 2007, the Democratic-led Senate passed S.2338, the Federal Housing Administration Modernization Act of 2007, which would make FHA loans a more viable alternative to the subprime market by raising loan limits; making FHA insurance more accessible to certain buyers; removing the cap on the number of “reverse mortgages” made through Home Equity Conversion Mortgage; lowering fees; and improving the FHA loss mitigation process.  The legislation would also expand access to post-purchase homeownership counseling, enhance fraud protection, and expand access to credit for borrowers without sufficient credit histories.  Further, the measure would enhance access to affordable housing by restructuring FHA insurance for manufactured housing and increasing consumer protections for residents of manufactured homes. 

·        Provide temporary tax relief to Americans facing foreclosure On December 20, 2007, the President signed into law H.R. 3648, the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Relief Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-142).  This new law ensures that borrowers are not penalized when their mortgages are modified by providing a three-year exception for debt forgiveness on home loans and extends a provision that allows homeowners to deduct mortgage insurance payments from their taxable income.

·        Help homeowners avoid foreclosure In theConsolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-161), the Democratic-led Congress provided $180 million for foreclosure-avoidance and loss mitigation services inthe funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Promoting Energy Independence and Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions.  On December 13, 2007, the Senate passed H.R.6, the EnergyIndependence and Security Act of 2007, which will help move the United States away from the Bush-Cheney energy policy — a policy that has worked for big oil companies, helping them accumulate $500 billion in profits since 2001, but has failed the American people.  The bill was signed into law on December 19 (P.L. 110-140). 

The new law raises fuel economy standards for automobiles for the first time in 25 years from 25 miles per gallon (MPG) to 35 MPG, raises the annual requirements for the amount of renewable fuels used in motor vehicles to 36 billion gallons by 2022, enacts the most important energy efficiency increases in American history by enacting national efficiency standards for light bulbs, and invests in carbon capture technology which “captures” or confines carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and sequesters them within the earth.

Recent analysis on the impacts of H.R.6 from the Energy Information Administration (the statistical arm at the Department of Energy) have found that new law will reduce America’s dependence on crude oil and refined products by 5 percent by 2030.  The analysis on H.R.6 will also reduce energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by over 500 million metric tons, from the early release forecast of 7,373 million metric tons in 2030 to the revised forecast of 6,859 million metric tons in 2030.  Also, assuming that gas prices remain at today’s levels (approximately $3.00 per gallon), the changes in fuel economy standards for automobiles will save a middle-class family with two vehicles with an average fuel economy of 25 MPG about $1,000 dollars per year at the pump.

For more information, see DPC Fact Sheets entitled Senate Democrats at Work for the American People on Energy Independence, Environmental Protection, and Climate Change and President Bush’s Budget Cuts Environmental, Natural Resource and Energy Independence Programs.

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 stem cell 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.

 Undeterred, Congress again passed legislation to expand the number of human embryonic stem cells eligible for federally-funded research.  S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, directs the Health and Human Services Secretary to conduct and support embryonic stem cell research, regardless of when the stem cells were derived, provided that: 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 donated embryos have provided their written informed consent and have not received any financial or other inducements for making the donation. 

On June 20, President Bush vetoed S. 5, for the second time, blocking legislation to advance research on embryonic stem cells.  Both S. 5 and the legislation vetoed by the president in the last Congress were approved by bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate, with nearly universal support from Democrats.  S. 5 has the support of the overwhelming majority of Americans, as well as major medical and scientific associations, research universities and institutions, and dozens of patient advocacy organizations.   More than 100 million Americans suffer from diseases or conditions that could one day be treated with therapies derived from stem cell research.  The President’s veto is a devastating setback for them.  That is why Democrats will continue to fight to expand the President’s misguided policy. 

For more information, see DPC Fact Sheets entitled, President Bush Blocks Legislation to Advance Stem Cell Research…Again and Our Nation’s Top Scientists Emphasize That Recent Findings Do Not Eliminate the Need for Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

Creating a Stronger Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by Establishing a New and Better Direction for the Safety of the Drugs We Take and the Food We Eat.  On September 27, the President signed into law the Food and Drug Amendments Act of 2007, legislation that will reauthorize the successful drug and medical-device user-fee programs; greatly improve the FDA’s oversight of drug safety; and provide important incentives for the development of drugs for children.  The legislation provides over $400 million this year for the review of drugs and medical devices at FDA, and over $50 million for needed safety reforms to give the agency the tools it needs to do the job we are counting on it to do.  To help patients, providers and researchers learn more and make better health care decisions, the legislation creates a public registry of clinical trials and their results. 

The law will also help preserve the integrity of scientific review by improving the FDA’s safeguards against conflicts of interest.  The bill addresses misleading prescription drug ads by putting in place parameters for strong safety disclosures for direct-to-consumer ads, coupled with an effective enforcement mechanism.  The legislation will further end the abuse of so-called “citizen petitions,” still allowing ordinary citizens to submit petitions to the agency about drugs it is reviewing to protect public health, but precluding those who seek only to delay the entry onto the market of generic drugs from using the process to do so.  By creating a registry and a requirement to report problems, the legislation also takes important first steps toward ensuring a safer food supply. 

In this new era of the life sciences, Democrats have no doubt that medical advances will continue to bring immense benefits for our citizens.  Thus, we are working to ensure that we have strong, vigilant public health watchdogs to guarantee that new drugs and medical devices are safe and beneficial, and that they actually reach the patients who urgently need them.

For more information, see the background and summary section of the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S. 1082, the Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act.

Increasing Access to Mental Health Services.  Mental illness is a pervasive and often devastating health problem that, fortunately, is often treatable.  Yet many Americans do not receive necessary mental health services due to financial constraints, stigma, and other factors.  To help reduce these barriers to care, the Democratic-led Senate has approved S.558, the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007.  This bipartisan legislation prohibits 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 applied to the plan’s medical and surgical benefits.  While the legislation does not mandate that group health plans provide mental health coverage, it does not preempt states laws that require mental health benefits.

Democrats Are Working to…

Protect the American Dream of Homeownership.  In addition to the measures already passed, Senate Democrats recently introduced the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 (S. 2636), which would further stimulate the economy by which would help struggling families keep their homes by increasing pre-foreclosure counseling funds, expanding refinancing opportunities, and amending the bankruptcy code to allow the modification of home loans on primary residences.  The bill would help communities impacted by foreclosures by allowing localities with high foreclosure rates to access Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds to purchase foreclosed properties for rehabilitation, rent, or re-sale.  The bill would also extend relief to struggling businesses by making it easier for them to utilize losses incurred in 2006, 2007, and 2008 to offset prior years’ income to recoup previously paid income taxes.  And the bill would help families avoid foreclosure in the future by amending the Truth-in-Lending Act to improve loan disclosures during the original loan and refinancing process.

Much to the American people’s disappointment, however, even as our country marches closer and closer to recession due to the failures of the housing market, Senate Republicans have chosen to play politics with our economic futures by blocking efforts to move forward on this vital legislation.  On February 28, 2008 all but one Republican voted to reject the cloture motion to proceed to S.2636and in so doing further delayed an end to the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression.  Undeterred, Democrats are committed to working in an aggressive, but bipartisan manner to pass this and other much-needed legislation to address the nation’s housing woes.  The stakes are simply too high for American homeowners, their families, and the broader economy to do anything less. 

Cut Taxes for Our Hard-Working Middle Class Families and Restore
Fiscal Responsibility

·        The Democratic Budget Resolution would prevent the spread of the AMT so that it does not impose higher taxes on middle-class families.  The budget ensures that the number of taxpayers subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) will not be allowed to increase in 2008, giving Congress and the Administration time to come up with a permanent solution.  The Democratic Budget Resolution will protect over 21 million middle-class taxpayers from being subject to the tax. 

The Democratic Budget Resolution could extend tax cuts to minimize fiscal burdens on middle-income families and their children and grandchildren.  The DemocraticBudget Resolution expressly allows for additional new tax relief and the extension of expiring provisions, but only if the cost of these measures is offset.  Failure to offset the cost of future tax cuts would severely damage our nations finances just at the time we are trying to grapple with the retirement of the baby boom generation.

In addition, we anticipate the addition of provisions to provide tax relief to America’s working families, including our nation’s military men and women that could include, but not be limited to: 

o        Extensions of middle-class tax relief provisions such as marriage penalty relief, the refundable child tax credit, the adoption credit, the 10 percent tax bracket, and others; and

o       Substantial tax relief for military families similar to that included in the Baucus-Grassley Defenders of Freedom Tax Relief Act of 2007 (S. 1593).

·        Approve a balanced budget to restore fiscal responsibility and help promote the economic growth that provided so many benefits to middle-class families during the 1990s.  The Democrats’ 2009 Budget Resolution will restore fiscal discipline and put the middle class first.  It rejects harmful cuts in key areas proposed by the President.  It leads to balance and an actual surplus, while cutting middle-class taxes and funding priorities like education, childrens health care, veterans, and our troops – all without raising taxes.

Although it is not signed into law, the Budget Resolution establishes the overall levels available for discretionary appropriations and for direct spending under the jurisdiction of authorizing committees.  Under the Budget Resolution, this would accomplished in the same common-sense way that our middle-class families manage their own household budgets – by balancing their checkbooks and paying their bills so that they do not burden their children and grandchildren with future debt. 

Promote Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Tax Credits Create Economic Growth and Save Consumers Money.  Last year, the renewable electricity sector pumped more than $20 billion into the U.S. economy, generating tens of thousands of jobs in construction, transportation, manufacturing, finance, and operations and maintenance industries. (American Wind Energy Association, 1/3/2008)  The energy efficiency and renewable energy industries created 8.5 million jobs in 2006 and could create more than 40 million jobs by 2030. 

The Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar energy are currently scheduled to expire at the end of 2008.  The extensions of these renewable energy tax credits are important because they will help stimulate the economy and create high-paying jobs.  The expiration of renewable tax credits could lead to the loss of 116,000 jobs in the wind and solar industries through the end of next year.

·        Solar.  An estimated 6,000 high-quality jobs were created in the solar sector in 2007 and another 12,000 are expected in 2008.  The market uncertainty surrounding a possible extension of the ITC has already dampened the solar energy market and it is estimated that additional market contraction will occur if the ITC is not extended.

·        Wind. The potential expiration of the PTC would cause the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Renewable energy investors today are holding back on funding for projects, like wind energy, that will not be completed until next year when the tax credits may not apply.  The decline in investment is expected to accelerate and grow with each month of additional delay in extending the PTC.

·        Geothermal.  New geothermal projects will result in the infusion of $11 billion in capital investment in the western states, and create 5,600 permanent jobs and over 21,000 person-years of construction and manufacturing employment.  Without an extended credit, the resulting tax hike will undercut one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. economy.

·        Energy efficiency.  According to the Alliance to Save Energy, the economic stimulus package passed by the Senate Finance Committee would have helped “American consumers combat spiraling home energy costs that are expected to average roughly $2,200 this year and the Finance Committee package will have a downstream, positive impact on jobs and our economy.”  The American Council on Energy Efficiency has estimated that the tax credits would save 97 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and $22 billion cumulatively through 2030.

Improve the Medicare Program for Our Seniors.  As a first step, the Senate will consider Medicare legislation this year.  Democrats will strive to increase access to preventive benefits and primary care, and improve the quality of care delivered under the program.  We will continue to look for ways to improve the prescription drug benefit.  We will work to prevent the scheduled 10 percent cut in physician payments, and extend existing provisions that are critical to maintaining access to care in rural areas.  In addition, we intend to crack down on abusive marketing practices by private Medicare plans that have ensnared many of our seniors into unwanted and often inadequate coverage.

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