Less than three months into the 110th Congress, after nearly a decade of Republican control, Democrats are working in a bipartisan manner to honor our commitment to take the country in a new direction.
Transparency, Accountability, and Ethics in Washington
Senate Democrats passed comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform. Americans have sent a clear message that unethical and illegal behavior in government will no longer be tolerated. Democrats answered the charge to clean-up Washington by making ethics reform their first priority in the 110th Congress. In January, the Senate passed S.1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, which will strengthen internal Senate rules regarding gifts and travel, slow the “revolving door” for former Senators and staff, 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. This legislation represents the toughest, most sweeping ethics reform in a generation.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Senate Democrats Passed the Toughest, Most Sweeping Ethics Reform in a Generation, for more information on this legislation.
The Senate passed bipartisan legislation to restore checks and balances to the appointment process for United States Attorneys. The recent probe into the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for allegedly political reasons has revealed incompetent, at best, and illegal, at worst, action by officials at the highest levels of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the White House. The Bush Administration has called into question the independence of the DOJ and U.S. Attorneysacross the nation. House and Senate Democrats are committed to conducting a full investigation into the firings and ensuring proper checks and balances in the selection of future U.S. Attorneys.
This week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, which ensures the Senate’s role in the confirmation of U.S. Attorneys. Under a provision that was slipped into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization in 2006, the appointment process for U.S. Attorneys was altered so that the Attorney General could appoint “interim” U.S. Attorneys indefinitely – thus completely avoiding the Senate confirmation process. S.214 would restore the process that existed for 20 years prior to the 2006 change and would require an interim appointment made by the Attorney General to expire after 120 days or when a permanent U.S. Attorney is nominated by the President and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate. After the 120 days, if a successor is not in place, the U.S. District Court would then appoint the U.S. Attorney. Returning to this effective, proven process will ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place for the appointment of U.S. Attorneys. The success and legitimacy of the American justice system depends upon it.
See the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, for more information on this legislation.
Better Pay for Working Americans
Democrats sought better pay for working Americans by passing legislation to raise the federal minimum wage. In February, after a ten year battle, Congress passed H.R.2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007. The bill, which will raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years, will benefit 13 million of workers and help reverse years of wage stagnation. As the House and Senate work to clear the bill for the President’s signature, the nation can be assured that Democrats are as dedicated as ever to giving workers their long overdue raise.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Senate Democrats Voted to Move the Country in A New Direction, Towards Better Pay, for more information on this legislation
Senate Democrats lead the way in fully implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations. After years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs, the Senate passed S.4, the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007. This bill will 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. Senate Democrats are committed to protecting our nation from further terrorist attack.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Democrats’ New Direction for Homeland Security Will Make America More Secure, for more information on this legislation.
Health Care Access and Educational Opportunities for Working Families
The Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Resolution passed by the Senate Budget Committee would greatly expand children’s health care coverage and combat our nation’s health care crisis. Due in part to Republican budget cuts and decreases in employer-sponsored health insurance, the number of uninsured children has increased significantly during the Bush Administration to nearly nine million (more than 11 percent of children). In the face of this crisis, programs like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which insures low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose families cannot afford private insurance, have become increasingly important.
Nonetheless, the Bush Administration has consistently under-funded the SCHIP program. The President’s Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request proposes to provide a net increase of only $2 billion over five years in new federal funds for SCHIP. His budget would also reduce the federal matching rate for children in families with incomes above 200 percent of the federal poverty-line, i.e. modest-income Americans. The result would be a federal funding shortfall in the states that would lead to the loss of health insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of children.
Senate Democrats believe that this is unacceptable. The Budget Resolution provides up to $50 billion for SCHIP over five years to expand coverage to an estimated six million more children while maintaining coverage for all currently-enrolled individuals. Democrats are committed to solving our nation’s health care crisis.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Fewer Working Parents are Able to Obtain Private Health Insurance, for more information on SCHIP and the health insurance crisis.
Democrats have made funding for education and training programs a key priority in the 110th Congress. A quality education is the first step on the road to achieving the American dream of advancement and economic prosperity. For many Americans, job training is the second step. As a result, the Democratic-supported Budget Resolution provides an increase in discretionary spending for education and training programs of $9.2 billion above the Bush budget. From the crib to the university, Democrats will invest in key education programs, including the Pell Grants program, Head Start program, and several programs authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities EducationAct and No Child Left Behind Act. The Budget Resolution would also reject the President’s proposal to cut funding for critical employment and job training programs in the Department of Labor.
Honoring and Caring for Our Veterans
Senate Democrats bolster funding for veterans neglected by Bush Administration policies. The mistreatment of wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center has highlighted the Bush Administration’s lack of focus on the well-being of our nation’s veterans and service members. The Budget Resolution provides critical resources to ensure that our nation’s veterans get the high-quality health care they deserve. In total, the resolution provides $43.1 billion for veterans in 2008, which is $3.5 billion more than the Bush budget. The resolution requests 98 percent of the level requested in the Independent Budget, a plan developed by four leading veterans groups. The resolution also rejects the President’s Budget proposal to raise TRICARE co-payments and to impose new fees and higher co-payments on certain veterans, which, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates, would result in more than 100,000 veterans leaving the VA health care system.
Senate Democrats continue to believe that the best way to honor American troops and veterans for their service and sacrifice is by providing them the necessary equipment and resources while on the battlefield and the best comprehensive care once they return home.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Pattern of Neglect: The Bush Administration is Failing Our Troops and Veterans, for more information on this legislation.
Protecting Middle-Class Taxpayers
Democrats are working to eliminate unfair tax burdens on middle-class Americans. Skyrocketing health, education, housing, and gas costs have placed middle-class families in a tight economic squeeze. Making matters worse, more and more of these families are being forced to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which was originally intended only for the super-wealthy to ensure that they paid a minimum tax. The Budget Resolution would protect middle-class taxpayers by providing Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) relief for 2007 and 2008 – one year more than the President – and prevent millions of middle-class taxpayers from being subjected to the AMT.
The budget proposed by Senate Democrats would provide further tax relief for working Americans. The Budget Resolution anticipates that there will be a significant surplus in 2012. Democrats are committed to returning that surplus – created by the people – to the people by:
- extending the child tax credit so that it will remain at $1,000 per child;
- extending relief from the marriage penalty;
- enhancing the dependent care credit to help families deal with the high cost of raising children; and
- strengthening the adoption credit so that would-be parents can afford adoption costs.
Senate Democrats recognize the burdens placed on middle-class families and remain dedicated to alleviating the middle-class squeeze.