Senate Democrats have made significant strides in passing important legislation on economic competitiveness, ethics reform, economic security, health, homeland security, troop readiness, veterans’ health care, Iraq policy, energy independence, medical research, and Gulf Coast revitalization. After nearly a decade of Republican control, Democrats are delivering on our promise to take America in a new direction.
Strengthening American Competitiveness
Congress, under Democratic leadership, passed forward-thinking legislation to help ensure America’s competitive advantage in science, research, and technology. S. 761, the America COMPETES Act, increases the nation’s investment in basic and innovative research; strengthens educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from elementary through graduate school; and develops the infrastructure needed to enhance innovation and competitiveness in the United States. A true example of bipartisanship, the bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and is a response to concerns by industry leaders that America’s role as a leader in the technological and scientific fields was slipping. The bill takes significant steps toward securing our competitive edge in the future.
See the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S.761, the America Competes Act, for more information on this legislation.
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 responded 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 would 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 and safeguard the integrity of our justice system. 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 U.S. Attorneysacross the nation and, in so doing, heightened concerns about the overall politicization of the Justice Department, especially the Civil Rights Division. House and Senate Democrats are committed to continuing the full investigation into the firings, and into the broader issue of political influence on justice decisions, and to ensuring proper checks and balances in the selection of future U.S. Attorneys.
In March, the Senate passed S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, which ensures the Senate’s role in the placement 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 effectiveness and legitimacy of the federal 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 would raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years, would benefit 13 million workers — 260,000 of whom are AAPIs — and help reverse years of wage stagnation without harming the economy. Nearly 59 percent of those who would benefit directly or indirectly are women, and 46 percent are their family’s sole breadwinner. Moreover, the raise would help well-over six million children under the age of 18 whose parents would receive an increase in earnings.
The raise of $2.10/hour would help many of the approximately 37 million (or 12.6 percent) Americans who live below the poverty line by adding nearly $4,200 to a full-time, year round minimum wage worker’s income. In some areas of the country, this additional money would be enough for a low-income family of three to cover months of groceries, utilities, or rent or nearly two years of child care or college tuition at a public two-year college. When combined with the Earned Income Tax Credit and assistance programs, the additional income would lift a family of four over the poverty line, even afterpayroll taxes. While more needs to be done, raising the federal minimum wage is an important step toward economic security for working Americans.
As the House and Senate continue to work to clear an increase in the federal minimum wage bill for the President’s signature, the nation can be assured that Democrats are dedicated 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.
Better Health Care, Educational Opportunities, and Economic Assistance for Working Families
Senate Democrats led the way toward creating a stronger Food and Drug Administration (FDA), establishing a new and better direction for the safety of the drugs we take and the food we eat. In May, the Senate passed S.1082, the Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act, which would greatly improve the FDA’s oversight of drug safety. The measure ensures that the FDA will no longer have to wait on legal opinions before making critical public health decisions. The bill also addresses misleading prescription drug ads by providing a constitutionally sound, effective, workable way to ensure that ads targeting consumers contain accurate information about the drug. S.1082 will further end the abuse of so-called “citizen petitions,” while preserving the FDA’s ability to review any such petitions that have public health merit.
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.
See the background and summary section of the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S.1082, the Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act, for more information on this legislation.
TheSenate-passed2008 Budget Resolution would improve children’s health care coverage and combat our nation’s health care crisis. More than 11 percent (or 8.3 million) of American children do not have health insurance. These statistics are worse for children of color: a staggering 21.9 percent of Hispanic children, 12.5 percent of Black children, and 12.2 percent of Asian children are uninsured. Programs like SCHIP are working to reduce this percentage by insuring low-income children who do not qualify for Medicaid but whose families cannot afford private insurance. Nonetheless, the President and a number of Congressional Republicans have called on Congress to ratchet back SCHIP coverage to limit coverage to children in families earning no more than twice the federal poverty level.
The President has also called for a reduction in the federal matching rate for children in families with incomes above 200 percent of the federal poverty line, and for SCHIP-covered adults, the large majority of whom are working-poor parents of children enrolled in Medicaid or SCHIP. If adopted, the President’s proposals would not only fail to make any headway towards covering the nation’s nine million uninsured children (11 percent), but his approach would also effectively cut off health coverage for 1.6 million children and low-income adults.
At a time when the number of uninsured has reached approximately 45 million people, Congress should be working to expand health coverage, not causing individuals to lose the coverage they currently have. That is why a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected the inadequate funding for SCHIP proposed by the President. S.Con.Res.21*, the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Resolution, as passed in the Senate, would provide up to $50 billion for SCHIP over five years to provide coverage to the estimated six million children eligible but not enrolled in either SCHIP or Medicaid, and to maintain coverage for all currently-enrolled individuals.
Further, to address this year’s shortfalls, which would leave 14 states without money to provide full SCHIP coverage, Congress included $650 million in funding to SCHIP in H.R.1591, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 (2007 Emergency Supplemental). Though this bill was vetoed by the President, it is expected that SCHIP will eventually receive the funds needed to address this year’s short falls. The health of our nation’s children depends on it.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Improving Health Coverage for Children is America’s Top Health Priority, as well as the Debating SCHIP Reauthorization: Setting the Record Straight for more information on this issue.
Congressional Democrats have taken steps to increase funding for other education and training programs. The Senate-passed 2008 Budget Resolution provided for an increase in discretionary spending for education and training programs of $9.3 billion above President Bush’S.2008 Budget Request. From the crib to the university, Democrats will invest in key education programs, including Head Start, Pell Grants, and programs authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities EducationAct and No Child Left Behind Act. The Senate’s budget also rejected the President’s proposal to cut funding for critical education, employment, and job training programs in the Department of Labor.
Democrats have once again invested in energy assistance programs for low income families. Since 2001, home heating costs have increased by 59 percent, and the price of electricity to cool homes in the summer has increased by 29 percent. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental provides $640 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps American families by assisting them with home heating and cooling costs.
Senate Democrats led the way toward implementing key 9/11 Commission recommendations. Senate Democrats’ first priority is to protect our nation from further terrorist attack. 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.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Democrats’ New Direction for Homeland Security Will Make America More Secure, for more information on this legislation.
Congress provided emergency funds that would have addressed National Guard equipment shortfalls. In March, Congress passed H.R.1591, the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 (2007 Emergency Supplemental), which would have provided an additional $1 billion to President Bush’s request for National Guard equipment needs. In January, General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, testified that 88 percent of Guard units are rated as unready (a historic high) and the Army National Guard has only 40 percent of its necessary equipment stock. General Blum warned that these shortfalls are compromising the quality of force training and limiting the Guard’s ability to quickly respond to disasters at home. Nonetheless, President Bush chose to veto H.R.1591 and, in doing so, rejected increased funding for the National Guard and compromised the nation’s ability to respond to natural and man-made disasters.
Just this month, equipment shortages impeded the National Guard’s ability to respond to the devastating tornado that destroyed the town of Greensburg, KS, on May 4, 2007. The New York Times reported that, “For nearly two days after the storm, there was an unmistakable emptiness in Greensburg, a lack of heavy machinery and an army of responders. By Sunday afternoon, more than a day and a half after the tornado, only about half of the Guard troops who would ultimately respond were in place.”
If not clear before, it should be absolutely clear now that adequately funding the National Guard is vital to the security and safety of our nation.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Overstretched and Under Strain: Bush Administration Mismanagement of Our Military Leaves Us Less Capable of Responding to Threats at Home and Around the World, for more information on this issue.
Democrats passed legislation to better secure American borders and transit systems. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would have also provided $2.25 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous border and transit vulnerabilities left open by the Bush Administration since 9/11. This allocation included hundreds of millions of dollars to protect American rail and mass transportation systems, install Explosive Detection Systems at airports, screen air cargo, and implement security measures at our nation’s ports.
Supporting, Honoring, and Caring for Our Troops and Veterans
Democrats provided funds to support our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats exceeded the President’s funding requests for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes funding to support the 140,000 troops deployed in Iraq and 20,000 in Afghanistan and funds for the escalation force of 21,000 combat troops and 4,729 support personnel in Iraq and 7,200 troops in Afghanistan.
Democrats also added funding to protect our troops against improvised explosive devices. In addition to the President’s funding request, the 2007 Emergency Supplemental included $1.2 billion in additional funding to provide our troops in Iraq with mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), vehicles that military commanders believe could reduce U.S. casualties by two-thirds compared to armored Humvees. If the bill had been signed by the President, these emergency funds would have ensured that more than 2,000 MRAPs reached our troops by the end of this year.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Overstretched and Under Strain: Bush Administration Mismanagement of Our Military Leaves Us Less Capable of Responding to Threats at Home and Around the World, for more information on this issue.
Democrats boosted funding to treat wounded soldiers. The neglect and mismanagement discovered 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 servicemembers. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would have provided $3.3 billion in funds for military health care, which is $2.1 billion above the amount the President requested. In addition to investing in military hospital improvements, the supplemental bill would have also allocated $900 million for brain trauma injury and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment and research.
Democrats are also committed to investing in the resources needed to care for our veterans. One of the best ways to honor America’s more than 24 million veterans for their service and sacrifice in past and current conflicts is by providing them with high-quality, comprehensive care once they return home. In both the 2007 Emergency Supplemental and the Senate-passed2008 Budget Resolution, Congress increased funding for veterans health programs.
The 2007 Emergency Supplemental would have allocated nearly $1.8 billion in funds to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), not requested by the President, to accommodate the increasing number of new veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, improve metal health and readjustment counseling services, and fund new polytrauma centers for the severally injured.
The Senate’s 2008 Budget Resolution allocated $43.1 billion for veterans in 2008, which is more than $3 billion above the President’s request. This represents 98 percent of the level requested in the Independent Budget, a plan developed by four leading veterans groups. The resolution also rejected the President’s proposal to increase TRICARE co-payments and to impose new fees and higher co-payments on certain veterans, which, according to VA estimates, would result in more than 100,000 veterans leaving the VA health care system.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Pattern of Neglect: The Bush Administration is Failing Our Troops and Veterans, for more information on this issue.
A Much-Needed New Strategy for Iraq
Democrats demand a change of course in Iraq. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental, sent to the President on May 1, called for a gradual redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq, in conjunction with concerted efforts to train and equip the Iraqi security forces and to build regional and international support for the Iraqi government. The legislation directed the President, within 120 days of enactment, to begin to redeploy troops from Iraq, with a goal of having only a limited number of troops remaining in the country on March 31, 2008. With this provision, Democrats demanded a change in policy in Iraq that would transition the mission of U.S. forces and advance a new comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political strategy to bring stability to the country and bring to a close the United States’s open-ended commitment in Iraq. Unfortunately, the President, with many Congressional Republicans at his side, chose to veto this legislation, against the advice of many military experts and the will of the American people.
As Congress and the White House finish the Emergency Supplemental bill, Democrats will remain committed to the goals of fully funding our troops and changing course in Iraq. With a growing bipartisan consensus for change, we are committed to forging a new direction in Iraq that will bring this war to a responsible end and allow the United States to refocus much-needed resources on hunting down Osama bin Laden, countering the threat posed by al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, and addressing other critical issues both at home and abroad.
Protecting Middle-Class Taxpayers
Democrats are also working to eliminate unfair tax burdens on middle-class Americans. Skyrocketing health care, 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 for the super-wealthy to ensure they paid a minimum tax. The 2008 Budget Resolution, as passed in the Senate, would protect middle-class taxpayers by providing AMT relief for 2007 and 2008 – one year more than the President – and prevent millions of middle-class taxpayers from being subjected to the tax.
The budget passed by Senate Democrats would provide tax relief for working Americans. The Budget Resolution anticipates legislation to:
· extend the child tax credit so that it will remain at $1,000 per child;
· extend relief from the marriage penalty;
· enhance the dependent care credit to help families deal with the high cost of raising children; and
· strengthen 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 providing tax relief to these hard-working families.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Middle-Class Life Under Bush: Less Affordable and Less Secure, for more information on this issue.
Energy Independence and Environmental Protection
The Democratic-led Senate has rejected funding cuts to energy and environment programs. Democrats took a first step toward a national energy policy that promotes energy independence, protects the environment, and confronts global climate change by increasing funding for energy and environment programs in Fiscal Year 2007. H.J.Res.20, the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2007, increased funding for basic science research at the Department of Energy by $200 million and for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by $300 million. Efficiency and conservation are the cheapest and fastest ways to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the 2008 Budget Resolution,Senate Democrats sought to increase funding for energy and environmental programs, which have sustained dramatic cuts during the Bush Administration. Among many other cuts, the Bush Administration reduced funding for clean water, public lands, oceans, climate research, energy efficiency and conservation, and energy cost assistance for low-income Americans. While the Administration has cut these important programs, the President, in his 2008 Budget Request, failed to repeal lucrative subsidies for oil and gas companies.
See DPC Fact Sheet entitled, President Bush’s Budget Cuts Environmental, Natural Resource and Energy Independence Programs, for more information on this issue.
Improving Water Infrastructure and Reforming the
Corps of Engineers
The Democratic-led Senate passed important, bipartisan legislation to improve water infrastructure. For seven years, communities have been waiting to shore up their infrastructure needs–many of them vital to protecting families and homes from catastrophic flooding. This month, Democrats worked with Republicans to authorize the projects and programs of the Civil Works Program of the Army Corps of Engineers through H.R.1495,the Water Resources Development Act. The Corps constructs projects for flood damage reduction, navigation, ecosystem restoration, recreation, hydroelectric power, water supply, aquatic plant control, and hurricane and storm damage reduction.
Congress has not authorized the activities and projects of the Army Corps of Engineers since 2000. Corps reform provisions in the bill include updates in the Corps’ planning process, the water resources planning coordinating committee, independent peer review, and improvements to the Corps’ mitigation program. These provisions will help ensure that the Army Corps of Engineers does its job more effectively and soundly, and require, in many cases, an extra pair of expert eyes on its projects. H.R.1495 also authorizes the Louisiana Coastal Area ecosystem restoration program to reverse wetland losses and provide hurricane and storm damage reduction benefits to areas devastated by the hurricanes of 2005.
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.
Undeterred, the Senate 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.
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. The House has passed similar legislation. As the House and Senate work to get this bill out of conference, Democrats, many Republicans, and the American people have called on President Bush to not veto the legislation when it comes to his desk, which would only serve to tie the hands of scientists and hinder future medical advances.
See DPC Fact Sheet entitled, NIH Director Agrees that Federally Funded Scientists Should Have Access to New Embryonic Stem Cell Lines, for more information on this issue.
Rebuilding the Gulf Coast
Democrats are committed to investing in and rebuilding the Gulf Coast region. More than a year and a half after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast, much of the region’s economy, infrastructure, and housing remains devastated. Failures of the insurance industry, increased crime, and the breakdown of many social services have made it even more difficult for long-time residents to return to and rebuild their homes and lives. The situation has caused many to wonder whether the Bush Administration has forgotten about the Gulf Coast. Democrats, however, are committed to ensuring that the Gulf Coast receives the necessary funds to continue the recovery effort. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Congress provided a total of $6.7 billion for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including $1.7 billion to complete levee and drainage repairs, $70 million to reduce violent crime in Gulf Coast states, and $115 million to repair the seafood and fisheries industries, which is vital to the region’s economic recovery. Though the President vetoed the bill, Democrats are committed to securing these emergency funds for the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort.
* When referencing the 2008 Budget Resolution, this document refers to the resolution as passed in the Senate on March 23, 2007. An updated version of this document will be released to reflect the conference report.