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 countering terrorism, homeland security, troop readiness, veterans’ care, Iraq, energy independence, competitiveness, ethics reform, labor and wages, small businesses, health care, education, stem cell research, economic security, housing, transportation, water infrastructure, and Gulf Coast revitalization.
As we move through 2007, 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.
Restoring Fiscal Responsibility
With Democrats at the helm, Congress passed a budget that restores fiscal discipline and puts middle-class families first, without raising new taxes. In 2001, the country enjoyed a $5.6 trillion ten-year projected surplus. Under the Bush Administration, that surplus was squandered, and the national debt ballooned from $5.8 trillion in 2001 to a projected $9 trillion by the end of 2007, all the while key domestic programs where left un-funded or under-funded and, as a result, average Americans suffered. In May, Democrats began the process of reversing six years of fiscal mismanagement and irresponsible budget cuts by passing S.Con.Res.21,the Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2008 (2008 Budget Resolution).
The Democratic-led Congress passed a budget that will lead to balance and a surplus. Measures in the 2008 Budget Resolution will provide for cutting middle-class taxes, and funding foreign and domestic priorities, including education, children‘s health care, veterans’ care, and troops readiness. Under the resolution,the federal budget would be balanced within five years and, by 2012, there would be a surplus of more than $40 billion, all without raising a penny of new taxes.
The2008 Budget Resolution also re-established the pay-as-you-go rule in the Senate, which requires that any new mandatory spending or tax cuts be offset or get 60 votes. This rule helped restore fiscal discipline before, in the 1990s, and its reinstatement represents a major step toward fiscal responsibility now.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Democrats Pass Budget That Restores Fiscal Discipline, Invests in Middle-Class Priorities, for more information on the 2008 Budget Resolution.
Congressional Democrats began the 110th Congress by completing the fiscal work of the Republican Do-Nothing Congress. After running up trillions of dollars in new debt, last year’s Republican-led Congress left town without trying to pass a budget resolution and after completing only two of 11 annual appropriations bills. As a result, three months into the fiscal year that began in October 2006, 13 of 15 federal agencies were left to operate under a series of short-term continuing resolutions. Within six weeks of convening the 110th Congress, before beginning its own 2008 budget and appropriations process, Democrats passed H.J.Res.20, the Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2007 (2007 Continuing Resolution), which provided funding for the nine remaining appropriations bills that were not completed by Republicans in the 109th Congress. In doing so, 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.
Senate Democrats are committed to giving the intelligence community the tools it needs to protect our nation from terrorist attack. On October 3, the Senate passed S.1538, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, to authorize appropriations for Fiscal Year 2008 for intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the United States government, including the nation’S.16 intelligence agencies and the director of National Intelligence. The bill includes provisions that will ensure greater flexibility and authority to the Director of National Intelligence; require greater accountability from the Intelligence Community and its managers; improve the mechanisms for conducting oversight of intelligence programs; and reform acquisition procedures. The bill also includes a classified annex including detailed budget recommendations.
Democrats led the way toward implementing key 9/11 Commission recommendations. Congressional Democrats’ first priority is to protect our nation from further terrorist attack. After years of inadequate action on critical homeland security needs, the 110th Congress passed H.R.1, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. The bill was signed into law by the President in early August (P.L. 110-53). This law 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. The new law will also enhance the existing Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure government adherence to civil liberties guidelines.
Democrats ensured funding for the Department of Homeland Security. The 110th Congress, under Democratic leadership, passed H.R.2638, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2008, which invests more than $40 billion in the nation’s highest-priority security projects – $5 billion more than the President proposed. Specifically, the Senate-passed bill provides an additional $3 billion to fill in gaps in border security and immigration enforcement programs, nearly $90 million to purchase and install explosive detection equipment at airports, $1.2 billion for first responders, $15 million to double the frequency of spot checks at U.S. ports, and $190 million in port security grants, to fully fund security improvements as authorized by the SAFE Port Act of 2006. The Senate bill would provide more than an eight percent increase over Fiscal Year 2007 funding for the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Administration’s proposed 1.7 percent increase.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Democrats’ New Direction for Homeland Security Will Make America More Secure, and the DPC Legislative Bulletin for S.1644, the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill for background information on this issue.
Under Democratic leadership, Congress provided emergency funds that will help address National Guard equipment shortfalls. P.L. 110-28, theU.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007 (2007 Emergency Supplemental), provides 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 natural and potential man-made disasters at home.
America was recently reminded of the dangers of equipment shortfalls when a devastating tornado ripped through the town of Greensburg, Kansas on May 4, 2007. Shortages reportedly impeded the National Guard’s ability to respond to the crisis. 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, ports, and transit systems. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental also provides $1.05 billion in funding necessary to address dangerous border and transit vulnerabilities left open by the Bush Administration since 9/11. This allocation includes 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.
Democrats approved important reforms that will strengthen the nation’s economy and security. In July,the Democratic-led Congress presented H.R.556,the Foreign Investment and National Security Act of 2007 to the President for his signature, which he signed into law on July 26 (P.L. 110-49). Themeasure implements important reforms to ensure that there is a comprehensive and transparent process for assessing the national security implications of foreign investments in the United States. The new law will strengthen the role of the Director of National Intelligence, make the process more accountable to Congress and the public, and provide for a thirty-day review and 45-day investigation, if warranted, of transactions covered by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) to determine its effects on national security. H.R.556 represents long-overdue, balanced reform that will strengthen our nation’s security and provide a more predictable process that enhances our security and encourages job-creating foreign investment in the United States.
The Senate unanimously approved a Democratic initiative to enhance compliance with U.S. sanctions law. On June 26, the Senate unanimously approved S.1612, the International Emergency Economic Powers Enhancement Act, whichwould increase penalties on violators of U.S. sanctions law. The bill was passed by the House on October 2 and sent to the President for his signature on October 4. Under the bill, individuals who have invested in a country or terrorist organization designated by the President as a major threat to the United States — such as Iran or Sudan — would be subject to significant fines.
The Senate passed legislation to assist 9/11 families in resolving legal claims from that tragic day. In the wake of 9/11, survivors and the families of those who did not survive had many tough choices to make, including legal ones, in addition to dealing with their grief. One of those decisions was whether to participate in the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. Many chose to opt out of the fund and bring civil suits instead, and Congress required that victims and families bring those suits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, however, this meant that they could only subpoena testimony and documents within 100 miles of that court. The unintended result was that many parties were legally barred from securing much-needed documents and testimony for their cases. In October, the Senate voted unanimously to fix this problem by passing S.2106, the Procedural Fairness for September 11th Victims Act, which will give nation wide subpoena power to all parties — victims, families, and defendants — when litigating 9/11 claims.
The Senate, under Democratic leadership, passed legislation to ensure the safety of our courts and judicial officers. Recent violence against judges and their families, including the murders of United States District Judge Joan Lefkow’s mother and husband in Chicago and the murders of Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes, a court reporter, and a deputy in Atlanta, has heightened concerns about judicial security. In an effort to better protect witnesses and the officers and personnel who work in our courts, the Senate passed S.378,the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007. The bill would improve court security by enhancing measures that protect judicial personnel, witnesses, and family members of judicial personnel; increasing funding for judicial security at the federal and state levels; and strengthening relevant criminal penalties. The Democratic-lead Congress also passed, and the President signed, H.R.1130, the Judicial Disclosure Responsibility Act, which amended rules relating to judicial disclosure forms to better shield judges and their family from danger.
See the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, S.378, the Court Security Improvement Act of 2007, for more information on this legislation.
Senate Democrats are working to restore federal funding to state and local law enforcement programs. For years local law enforcement officers across the country have warned that funding cuts to state and local law enforcement programs at a time when law enforcement agencies are already stretched-thin by increasing homeland security responsibilities and national guard deployments would lead to fewer cops on the street, fewer resources for traditional crime fighting, and, eventually, an increase in violent crime. President Bush and Congressional Republicans, however, ignored their warning in favor of drastic funding cuts to critical law enforcement programs, including the COPS program and the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. In 2005, the country reaped the consequences of that failed fiscal policy when the nation’s violent crime rate increased significantly for the first time in nearly 15 years and then increased again in 2006.
Democrats are committed to reversing the nation’s violent crime trend by funding the law enforcement programs that keep our nation safe from crime both foreign and domestic. Within six weeks of convening the 110th Congress, Democrats provided $2.6 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance programs in the 2007 Continuing Resolution. Included in that was $519 million to the Byrne/JAG program, which is an increase of 108.7 million over Fiscal Year 2006 levels, and $541.7 million to the COPS program, which is an increase of $67.9 million from Fiscal Year 2006 levels. In June, the Senate also passed S.231, a bill to authorize the appropriations for the Byrne/JAG program through Fiscal Year 2012.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Bush Republicans Cut Law Enforcement Funding, Violent Crime Increases For Second Consecutive Year, for background information on this issue.
The Senate also passed a bill to combat gang violence across the country. On September 21, the Senate passed S.456, the Gang Abatement and Prevention Act of 2007. This bipartisan, comprehensive legislation would provide more than $1 billion in funding for gang prevention, intervention, and suppression programs, as well as create tough federal penalties to deter and punish members of illegal street gangs. Included in this allocation is $411.5 million in funding over five years for newly designated “High Intensity” Gang Activity Areas, gang protection block grants, and mentoring and after-school programs, all of which will focus on prevention and intervention efforts. The bill would also authorize $100 million over five years to expand crime control grants to state and local governments to better enable them to investigate and prosecute more cases against gangs and violent criminals, and allocate $100 for the expansion of the Project Safe Neighborhood, which will focus on preventing violence and gun crimes by gang members. The bill would further authorize $270 million over three years for witness protection efforts and increases penalties for interfering with witnesses. The bill would also establish new federal crimes, including making it illegal to recruit members for a criminal street gang.
Senate Democrats are working to strengthen the ability of federal, state, and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. According to the FBI, in 2005 alone, there were 8,804 victims of hate crimes in the United States. Of these, 55.7 percent were targeted on the basis of race; 16 percent were targeted on the basis of religious belief; 14 percent were targeted on the basis of ethnicity or national origin; 13.8 percent were targeted on the basis of particular sexual orientation; and 0.6 percent were targeted on basis of disability. Senate Democrats are committed to ensuring that hate crimes are prosecuted.
In October, Senate Democrats passed the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007,as an amendment to H.R.1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Defense Authorization), to address this serious national problem. This amendment would provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial and other assistance to state and local law enforcement officials; would authorize the Justice Department to issue grants of up to $100,000 to state, local, and Indian law enforcement officials who have incurred extraordinary expenses associated with investigating and prosecuting hate crimes; and would give the Justice Department jurisdiction over crimes of violence committed because of a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity.
In addition to its 30 bipartisan cosponsors, this amendment is supported by more than 200 religious, civil rights, disabilities, and other organizations. These organizations include the, International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
Democrats have passed legislation to adequately fund the Department of Defense. On October 1, Senate Democrats led the effort to pass the Defense Authorization bill, by a vote of 92-3. On October 3, the Democratic-led Senate approved H.R.3222, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2008 by voice vote. These bills would effectively authorize and provide $459.3 billion in funding to the Department of Defense, which represents an increase of ten percent, or $43 billion, over Fiscal Year 2007 levels.
These measures would fully support the needs of our servicemen and women by investing in equipment and training and also providing our military personnel and their families with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve. These bills would support funding above the President’s budget request to provide increased pay for military personnel and for improving the quality of military health care. They would also provide an additional $1 billion in funding to the National Guard and Reserves to fill in critical equipment gaps that have undermined their readiness to respond to emergencies at home and $23.6 billion to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to better protect our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from roadside bombs.
The Defense Authorization and Appropriations bills would also advance Democratic priorities on national security by promoting Iraqi political reconciliation; strengthening efforts to dismantle al Qaeda and bring Osama bin Laden to justice; preventing terrorists from gaining access to nuclear weapons; providing our troops and returning veterans enhanced care and benefits; and improving oversight of war-time contractors.
Democrats provided funds to support our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats fully funded the President’s requests for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes funding to support the current troops deployed in Iraq and 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 includes $1.2 billion in additional funding for a total of $3 billion 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. These emergency funds will ensure that more than 2,000 MRAPs reach 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 passed landmark legislation to ensure that our returning soldiers and veterans receive the care they deserve. 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. H.R.1538, the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act of 2007 will reverse the Administration’s record of neglect, by improving military health care facilities, filling in gaps in health insurance coverage, increasing severance pay, and providing a seamless transition from active duty to the Veterans Administration. Additionally, the 2007 Emergency Supplemental provides $3 billion in funds for military health care, which is $1.9 billion above the amount the President requested. In addition to investing in military hospital improvements, the supplemental bill also allocates $900 million for brain trauma injury (BTI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment and research.
Democrats secure a pay raise for all military personnel. In recognition of their service to our nation, the Wounded Warriors Act also included a measure to provide a 3.5 percent pay raise for all military personnel.
Democrats are 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 to provide them with high-quality, comprehensive care once they return home. In both the 2007 Emergency Supplemental and the Senate-passed H.R.2642, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, 2008, Congress provides for additional funding for veterans’ health programs.
The 2007 Emergency Supplemental allocates 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 mental health and readjustment counseling services, and fund new polytrauma centers for the severely injured.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Pattern of Neglect: The Bush Administration is Failing Our Troops and Veterans, for more information on this issue.
Under Democratic leadership, Senate passed funding legislation to care for our nation’s veterans and fund military construction projects. The Fiscal Year 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) Appropriations billwould provide a total of $109.3 billion in funding, which is $4.1 billion above the President’s request. The Senate-passed legislation would allocate $43 billion to the VA, including $3.6 billion in additional funding for veterans health care. This significant investment would reverse the Bush Administration’s record of shortchanging the needs of our veterans, and ensure that the VA has the resources it needs to provide for the growing needs of our servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Working Toward a Much-needed New Strategy for Iraq
In spite of repeated Republican obstructionism, Democrats continue to push for a change of course in Iraq. The 2007 Emergency Supplemental took an important step forward in holding the President and the Iraqi government accountable for Iraq’s future and also advances the goal of changing course in Iraq. Specifically, the legislation conditioned U.S. economic support for the Iraqi government on its progress toward achieving key political benchmarks, including: the formation of a Constitutional Review Committee and the completion of the constitutional review; the implementation of legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of the oil resources of the people of Iraq; the implementation of legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions; and the implementation of legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections. The law also requires the President to report to Congress on the Iraqi government’s success in meeting these benchmarks. If established goals are not achieved, the legislation would require, subject to a presidential waiver, that $1.6 billion in economic support funding be withheld from the Iraqi government.
While it is becoming increasingly clear that the Bush Administration’s surge strategy is failing and despite a new National Intelligence Estimate that shows that the Administration’s flawed Iraq policies are leaving us less safe at home, Senate Republicans are continuing to deny the American people an up or down vote on a change of course in Iraq. Recently, they threatened to filibuster a Democrat-lead, bipartisan-sponsored, amendment that would have required the President to begin reducing the number of U.S. forces in Iraq, transition the mission of remaining troops to train Iraqi forces and fight al-Qaeda, and engage in a diplomatic, political, and economic effort to create and sustain stability in the region. Undeterred, Congressional Democrats will remain 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 fighting terrorism, strengthening homeland security and re-investing in domestic priorities.
See the DPC Fact Sheets entitled, Iraq Since the Surge: No Progress and The Bush Administration Has Not Made America More Secure from Terrorism, for more information on this issue.
Advancing Energy Independence and Environmental Protection
The Senate passed H.R.6, the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007. In June, the Senate passed landmark energy legislation (previously titled the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007)that will increase our energy independence, strengthen the economy, reduce global warming emissions, and protect consumers. The bill combines provisions to increase appliance efficiency, reduce oil consumption by 35 percent by 2030, increase production of homegrown renewable fuels to 36 billion gallons by 2022 with measures to protect the environment, encourage the President to make the United States a leader in energy diplomacy, make price gouging a punishable crime during declared energy emergencies, and increase fuel efficiency standards for cars, trucks and SUV’s for the first time in 20 years.
See DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Senate Democrats Move Forward on a New Energy Policy, for more information on this issue.
The Democratic-led Senate has rejected funding cuts to energy and environmental programs. Democrats took the 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 environmental programs in Fiscal Year 2007. The 2007 Continuing Resolution 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, 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 cutting these important programs, the President, in his 2008 Budget Request, failed to repeal lucrative subsidies for oil and gas companies.
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, for more information on this issue.
The 110th Congress is determined to keep America competitive in the global market. In early August, on a broad bipartisan basis and with the strong support of the technology, business, and academic community, the House and the Senate approved the conference report to H.R.2272, the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (America COMPETES). The bill was signed into public law on August 9, 2007 (P.L. 110-69). The law ensures that the United States retains its competitive position in the world through increased resources for math and science education for teachers and students in elementary through graduate school; and increased investments in science and technology research and innovation in the public and private sector.
America COMPETES is the culmination of a two-year, bipartisan, bicameral effort to pass a package of competitiveness bills in response to recommendations in the 2005 National Academies report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” Earlier in the year, the House and Senate passed comprehensive legislation (H.R.2272, S.761) that served as the basis for the multidisciplinary America COMPETES conference agreement, which passed the House on an overwhelming 367 to 57 vote and the Senate by unanimous consent. The America COMPETES Act follows through on a commitment by Democratic Leadership to ensure U.S. students, teachers, businesses and workers are prepared to continue leading the world in innovation, research, and technology — well into the future.
See the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, The 110th Congress Passes a Bipartisan Initiative to Strengthen American Competitiveness, for more information on this legislation.
Democrats have prioritized other measures to maintain the nation’s competitiveness. The 2008Budget Resolution reflects the Sense of the Congress to provide sufficient funding so that the United States can continue to be the world leader in education, innovation, and economic growth. The resolution provides substantially increased funding above the President‘s requested level for scientific research and education, including programs that will educate new scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, place highly-qualified teachers in math and science K-12 classrooms, and support independent scientific research.
The Budget Resolution also provides for deficit-neutral legislation that would revitalize the American manufacturing sector by: 1) increasing federal research and development; 2) expanding the scope and effectiveness of manufacturing programs across the federal government; 3) increasing support for development of alternative fuels and leap-ahead automotive and energy technologies; and 4) establishing tax incentives to encourage the continued production in the United States of advanced technologies and the infrastructure to support such technologies.
See the DPC Legislative Bulletin entitled, Democrats Pass Budget That Restores Fiscal Discipline, Invests in Middle-Class Priorities, for more information on the 2008 Budget Resolution.
The Democratic-led Congress passed comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform. In the last election, Americans 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 August, Democrats delivered on that promise by achieving final passage of S.1, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007. The legislation will strengthen Senate rules regarding gifts and travel, slow the “revolving door” for former Senators and staff, enhance and better enforce lobbying disclosures, reduce “dead of night” changes to conference reports, require earmark transparency, and ban the pay-to-play K Street Project. When the President signed the bill into law (P.L. 110-81) on September 14, the 110th Congress, under Democratic leadership, accomplished what previous Republican congresses would not: enact the toughest, most sweeping ethics and lobbying reform in a generation.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, The Democratic-led, 110th Congress Delivered a Victory for the American People by Passing Ethics and Lobbying Reform, for background information on this legislation.
The Senate, under Democratic leadership, passed bipartisan legislation to increase transparency and accessibility in government. In August, Senate Democrats and Republicans worked together to pass S.849, the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act (OPEN Government Act), which, if passed in the House, would provide the first reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in over a decade.
FOIA was passed in 1966 to establish the public’s presumptive right to access government documents. In recent years, however, concerns have been raised about the slowness with which FOIA requests are processed and answered. Some requests have been backlogged for years due to both bureaucratic red-tape and intentional delays. Under the Bush Administration, government agencies shifted the long-held presumption in favor of complying with requests to a presumption against complying with requests — a policy change that has resulted in the frivolous denials of requests and conflicts directly with the spirit of FOIA.
The Open Government Act would address the administrative and policy hurdles that have caused the FOIA backlog to balloon and would work to shine the light on government actions. The bill would restore meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA; impose penalties on federal agencies that fail to meet FOIA’S.20-day statutory deadline; close loopholes that would have limited public access to public records held by outside private contractors; create a FOIA ombudsman to provide the public and agencies with a meaningful alternative to costly litigation; and give agencies the tools they need to process FOIA requests in a timely manner.
See the DPC Oversight Highlights for the Week of March 12, 2007 for a summary of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FOIA.
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 U.S. Attorneys for allegedly political reasons has revealed excessively partisan, 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 caused many to 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. Even as the new Attorney General nomination proceeds through the regular confirmation process, House and Senate Democrats are committed to continuing the full investigation into these firings, and into the broader issue of political influence on the administration of justice, and to ensuring proper checks and balances in the selection of future U.S. Attorneys.
In March, the Senate overwhelmingly passed S.214, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, which will ensure the Senate’s role in the placement of U.S. Attorneys. Under a provision that was slipped into the USA Patriot Act reauthorization by Republicans 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 will restore the process that existed for 20 years prior to the 2006 change and will 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 will then appoint the U.S. Attorney.
In May, the House joined the Senate in passing S.214, and the President signed the bill into law in June (P.L. 110-34). 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.
Democrats sought better pay for working Americans by passing legislation to raise the minimum wage. In May, after a ten year battle, Congress, under Democratic leadership, gave workers a long overdue raise by increasing the federal minimum wage to $7.25/hour. While the Senate passed H.R.2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, earlier in the year, the wage was finally increased as part of the 2007 Emergency Supplemental.
The bill, which raises the minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years, will benefit 13 million workers — 5.6 million directly and 7.4 million indirectly — and help reverse years of wage stagnation, without harming the economy. Nearly 59 percent of those who will benefit are women and 10 percent are single parents. Minimum wage earners also serve as the sole breadwinners of 46 percent of families who will benefit. Moreover, the raise will help well-over six million children under the age of 18 whose parents will receive an increase in earnings.
The increase of $2.10/hour will help many of the approximately 37 million (or 12.6 percent) Americans who live below the poverty line by adding nearly $4,400 to a full-time, year round minimum wage worker’s income. In some areas of the country, this additional money could 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 could lift a family of four above the poverty line, even afterpayroll taxes. While more needs to be done, raising the federal minimum wage was an important step toward economic security for working Americans.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, After a Ten Year Battle, Democrats Raised the Minimum Wage for American Workers, for more information on this legislation and issue.
The Senate unanimously extended a program to assist workers who have been adversely affected by international trade. In September, the Congress approved a three-month extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. This will ensure that eligible U.S. workers, farmers, fishermen, and manufacturing firms do not fall through the cracks while Congress completes its work on a broad expansion and reauthorization of the current program. Originally established by the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the TAA program provides temporary federal assistance to hundreds of thousands of individuals, farmers and firms facing job losses as a consequence of free trade agreements, when it can be demonstrated that the job losses resulted from increased imports or production being moved overseas due to a trade agreement. Eligible individuals, who currently include workers in the textiles, electronic, transportation, apparel, and other industries, can receive reemployment services, training in new occupational skills, and income support while the worker is in training.
Supporting Small Businesses, the Engine of Our Economy
The Democratic-led Congress approved measures to ensure that our nation’s small- and medium- sized businesses have the tools they need to contribute to America’s preeminent role in the global economy. America Competesincludes provisions to:
· Create the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) at NIST (replacing the existing Advanced Technology Program or ATP) to fund high-risk, high-reward, pre-competitive technology development by small- and medium- sized companies with high potential for public benefit;
· Put the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) funding on a path to doubling over 10 years;
· Mandate Small Business Administration participation on the new President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness authorized by America COMPETES; and
· Require that small business representatives are included at the White House National Science and Technology summit authorized by America COMPETES.
With the approach of the two-year anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, the Democratic-led Senate unanimously passed critical disaster aid legislation. In August, the Senate unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to improve assistance to business owners and homeowners after a disaster. S. 163, the Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act, would improve assistance to disaster victims by: 1) establishing a private disaster loan program to be used in the aftermath of catastrophic disasters; 2) creating a new expedited disaster assistance business loan program; 3) creating a new presidential declaration of “Catastrophic National Disaster” that will allow the Small Business Administration to issue nationwide economic injury disaster loans to small businesses affected by a large-scale disaster; 4) improving the disaster loan application process; and 5) increasing the maximum size of a disaster loan and allows non-profit groups to be eligible for disaster loans.
Democrats restored funding and resources to critical small business programs. In 2005, there were approximately 25.8 million businesses in the United States and 99.9 percent of these businesses were small firms. Supporting the growth of these businesses is vital to our economy. Nearly six million of these small businesses are employers; together, they employ approximately 50 percent of all private sector workers and pay more than 45 percent of the total U.S. private sector payroll. Further, small firms contribute more than 50 percent of the non-farm, private gross domestic product. In order to survive and thrive, these businesses rely heavily on loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Nevertheless, in his 2008 Budget Request, President Bush proposed cutting funding to critical SBA programs.
In the 2008 Budget Resolution, Congress rejected the President’s proposal to cut assistance to America’s small businesses and provided for the restoration of funding for the Manufacturing Extension Program, which helps small businesses adopt advanced manufacturing technologies. The resolution also provided robust resources for the SBA’s budget, which has already experienced deep cuts to key programs including federal contracting oversight, veterans’ small business programs and microlending.
In addition, the resolution provides for deficit-neutral legislation that would make health insurance coverage more affordable and available to small businesses and their employees, through pooling arrangements that provide appropriate consumer protections.
Democrats enacted small business tax relief. The Small Business and Work Opportunity Tax Act, passed as a part of the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, provides important tax relief for America’s small businesses. These deficit-neutral tax incentives include measures to:
- Encourage the hiring of low-income and disadvantaged workers (extension of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit);
- Help growing businesses save when they buy new equipment (extension and expansion of Section 179 Small Business Expensing);
- Assist economic growth in the Gulf Opportunity Zone – the area still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma (enhancement of GO Zone tax incentives);
- Reduce reporting requirements for family businesses (family business tax simplification);
- Help entrepreneurs hit by the alternative minimum tax (waiver of individual and corporate AMT limitations on WOTC and tip credits);
- Make sure employers don’t lose current tax benefits when the minimum wage increases (enhanced tip credit); and
- Help small businesses keep the tax benefits of being a small business, even as they grow (S-Corp tax incentives).
Democrats are supporting the entrepreneurship of our nation’s veterans and reservists. Many of our nation’s veterans and reservists dream of owning their own business. Moreover, reservists who already own their own business need access to additional resources to help keep the business viable during and after deployments. In September, Senate Democrats passed several small business measures aimed at supporting military reservists and veterans business development.
As part of the Defense Authorization bill, the Senate passed legislation that would reauthorize the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Veteran Business Development; create an interagency taskforce on veterans small business issues and make permanent the Advisory Committee on Veterans Business Affairs; allow the SBA Administrator to offer loans up to $50,000 without requiring collateral from a loan applicant; create National Reservist Enterprise Transition Teams through grants to Small Business Development Centers and other non-profits; improve the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program by extending application deadlines and increasing loan size; and require a GAO report on the needs of service-disabled veterans and how to improve relations between employers and reservist employees.
Senate Democrats also passed legislation to extend the research and development program for small firms, including the transition and commercialization of products and technologies that are built and used by the Department of Defense. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was established 25 years ago to provide funding to stimulate technological innovation in small businesses to meet federal agency research and development needs. Small businesses have 2.5 times as many innovations per employee as large businesses although large businesses are three times more likely to receive government assistance. Technologies developed through the program are helping to keep our troops safe on the battleground, improving our health care, and expanding our ability to combat global warming.
The Defense Authorization bill promotes America’s small businesses by: 1) extending the SBIR program to 2010 (currently set to expire in September 2008, this temporary reauthorization will prevent contract delays and program shut-downs until comprehensive SBIR reauthorization legislation is passed); and 2) building on DoD’s Commercialization Pilot Program, enacted in 2005, to help SBIR firms transition their projects into products and technologies being built and used by DOD. The bill extends the pilot program through 2012 to continue the momentum, and creates other incentives for contracting officers and prime contractors to use SBIR technologies.
Senate Democrats are providing assistance to small business owners whose employees are deployed. When a small business loses employees to military deployment, they can face a disadvantage in carrying out a federal contract. Legislation included in the Defense Authorization bill would require DOD to take into account small business concerns when considering what actions to take against a contractor or subcontractor whose employees have been called to active duty service.
The Senate expanded assistance for women-owned small businesses, one of the fastest growing segments of our economy. In 2002, women owned over 28 percent, or 6.5 million, of non-farm businesses, up 20 percent from 1997. More than 85,000 of these women used the SBA’s Women’s Business Centers. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats were successful in including legislation to extend funding to all Women’s Business Centers, which currently cannot receive federal funding after ten years. This legislation creates a permanent funding stream for Centers, helping them secure matching funds so they can continue to provide women-owned small businesses the tools they need to grow and flourish.
Democrats also secured an additional $25 million for small business disaster assistance. In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Democrats included recovery assistance for small businesses impacted by the 2005 hurricanes in an effort to revitalize the Gulf Coast economy. This additional $25 million in economic injury loans will provide disaster relief for some of the more than 125,000 businesses originally disrupted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Democrats passed legislation to boost energy efficiency in small businesses. The Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007 created incentives for small businesses to invest in green technologies, provided the resources to help entrepreneurs conduct energy audits, and ensures that the Bush Administration implements an energy efficiency information program that Congress enacted two years ago. This legislation will help provide America’s small businesses with tools to join the fight against global warming and to make America more energy independent.
Congress, under the leadership of Democrats, is working to ensure health care coverage for children in need. Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has played a crucial role in helping to reduce the rate of uninsured low-income children over the past ten years. By every measure, CHIP is cost-effective, and has been shown to work well in meeting the basic health care needs of our nation’s children. In September, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan agreement to invest significant new federal resources into the program and cover millions more low-income uninsured children who are eligible for the CHIP and Medicaid, but whose families cannot afford private insurance. Yet, despite overwhelming support for this legislation and the promise it offers to our nation’s children, President Bush has vetoed the bill. As a result, millions of children stand to lose access to doctors, life-saving prescription drugs, immunizations, preventive screenings and the basic medical care necessary to start life healthy.
President Bush has proposed only a five billion dollar increase in CHIP funding. He has called on Congress to limit the program’s coverage of children above 200 percent of the federal poverty level – in effect cutting off coverage for 1.4 million children and pregnant women. The President has also strongly criticized legislation to reauthorize CHIP, deriding the program as a step towards “government-run health care” and making misleading and, even, inaccurate claims in order to support his efforts to limit CHIP.
The 69 Senators, 43 governors, hundreds of organizations, and the vast majority of the American people who support the bipartisan CHIP reauthorization agreement will continue to oppose President Bush’s misguided approach, and work to give our nation’s uninsured children the promise of a healthy start in life.
See the DPC Fact Sheets entitled, Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Legislation to Provide Health Insurance to Millions of Low-Income Children, and Improving Health Coverage for Children is America’s Top Health Priority…But Not the President’s, for additional information about this legislation.
Senate Democrats led the way toward 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 21, the Senate unanimously approved the Food and Drug Amendments Act of 2007, legislation which would greatly improve the FDA’s oversight of drug safety. 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. 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. The legislation 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. By creating a registry and a requirement to report problems, the legislation also takes important first steps toward ensuring a safer food supply. The legislation has been sent to the President for signature.
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.
The Senate unanimously approved mental health parity legislation. 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.
Senate Democrats passed legislation to ban the use of asbestos. On October 4, 2007, the Senate unanimously passed S.742, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007. This bipartisan bill would prohibit the importation, manufacture, processing and distribution of products containing asbestos. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be required to ensure that asbestos products would be out of circulation within two years of the bill becoming law. The legislation also recognizes the need for additional funds to expand the treatment and research of asbestos-related diseases by creating a $50 million account to provide for the construction of treatment centers across the country. The Senate-passed bill would also work to strengthen the existing asbestos disease registry by enabling it to include information on patients with assorted types of asbestos-related diseases. This is important because it will allow researchers to expand the clearinghouse of information available to scientists. Finally, the bill would require the Administrator at the EPA to conduct a public education campaign with a wide range of public health groups to educate the public on the dangers of using asbestos-related projects in their homes and places of business.
The 110th Congress worked in a bipartisan manner to ensure the availability of breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women. In April, the President signed into law P.L.110-18, theNational Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program Reauthorization Act of 2007, which reauthorized and increased funding for the program to subsidize mammography exams, pap tests, and other screening exams. The law would also allow some states to spend grant money on outreach programs to underserved women who may not otherwise know about the program.
Democrats are committed to expanding federally funded 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.
See DPC Fact Sheets entitled, President Bush Blocks Legislation to Advance Stem Cell Research…Again and NIH Director Agrees that Federally Funded Scientists Should Have Access to New Embryonic Stem Cell Lines, for more information on this issue.
Landmark legislation to make college more affordable has become law. 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 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.
Under Democratic Leadership, the Senate has passed legislation to expand the Head Start program. For more than 40 years, Head Start has provided America’s neediest children with cognitive, social-emotional, and academic skills, helping to prepare them for success in school. Studies show that at-risk children who have participated in Head Start programs are better prepared for school than their peers who have not had the benefit of Head Start. However, Head Start currently serves only about half of all eligible preschool children and fewer than five percent of eligible infants and toddlers.
In June, the Senate passed H.R.1429, the Head Start for School Readiness Act, which would increase funding and expand access for Head Start program to include additional low-income children up to 130 percent. The bill would also double the size of Early Head Start, delivering services to over 56,000 additional children. To improve and expand the availability of quality early childhood education, the legislation would establish an Early Care and Education Council in each state to develop a coordinated and comprehensive system of early childhood education and development.
Congressional Democrats have taken steps to increase funding for education and training programs. The 2008 Budget Resolution provides for an increase in discretionary spending for education and training programs of $9.5 billion (including $2 billion in additional 2009 advance appropriations) above President Bush’S.2008 Budget Request. Recognizing that investments in education and training programs are critical to our nation’s long-term economic outlook, the Budget Resolution rejected the President’s program eliminations and cuts and provided additional funding for investments in educational opportunities, social services, and job training. The resolution also provides for the largest increase since 2002 in funding for elementary and secondary programs, particularly for Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Impact Aid.
Democrats are 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 ensures that the number of taxpayers subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) will not be allowed to increase in 2007, giving Congress and the Administration time to come up with a permanent solution. The resolutionwill also protect some 20 million middle-class taxpayers from being subject to the tax.
The Democratic Budget Resolution provides for the extension of tax cuts to minimize fiscal burdens on middle-income families and their children and grandchildren. Thesetax cuts include the:
- Permanent extension of the Marriage Penalty tax relief;
· Permanent extension of the $1,000 refundable Child Tax Credit;
· Permanent extension of the 10 percent income tax bracket;
· Permanent extension of the adoption tax credit;
· Permanent extension of dependent care tax credit;
· Permanent allowance of U.S. soldiers‘ combat pay for the earned income tax credit; and
· Reform of the estate tax to protect small businesses and family farms.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Middle-Class Life Under Bush: Less Affordable and Less Secure, for more information on this issue.
Meeting America’s Housing Needs
Senate Democrats passed legislation that will provide critical investments in housing for low-income Americans and community development projects across the nation. On September 12, 2007, the Senate passed H.R.3074, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (THUD), by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 88 to 7. The housing title of THUD would appropriate nearly $39 billion in total budgetary resources for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which is more than $3 billion above President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget request and more than $2 billion above the Fiscal Year 2007 enacted level.
H.R.3074 would provide $16.6 billion for tenant-based rental assistance, which would provide funding for the Section 8 tenant-based voucher program. Section 8 is one of the principal appropriations for federal housing assistance and provides rental assistance to over two million low-income American families, including a special allocation for 7,500 low-income veterans. The bill would also provide $5.81 billion for Section 8 project-based rental assistance, which provides rental subsidies to private landlords that are tied to a specific housing unit with housing for eligible low-income families.
THUD would further provide $1.35 billion for the housing programs account, which includes money for the housing for the elderly and housing for persons with disabilities programs.
The legislation would also provide $100 million for the popular Hope VI program, also known as the "revitalization of severely distressed public housing" account, which makes awards to public housing authorities on a competitive basis to demolish or revitalize obsolete or failed housing developments. The President originally requested that funding for this program be virtually eliminated.
The Senate-passed bill would provide $8.11 billion for the community planning and development account, which includes funding to help states and localities meet the housing needs of rural America, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and the homeless. This account would also provide $4.1 billion in funding for the vital Community Development Block Grant Fund, which enables local governments to engage in physical, economic and social development projects that revitalize communities across the nation.
THUD would also begin to address the rising rate of loan payment delinquencies and foreclosures by increasing funding for foreclosure prevention programs, including a $100 million appropriation targeted at foreclosure-avoidance nonprofit organizations and $100 million in loss mitigation funding.
Investing in America’s Transportation Infrastructure
Senate Democrats passed legislation that will provide critical investments in our roads, bridges, and public transportation systems. The transportation title of THUD, as passed in the Senate, would appropriate $65.7 billion for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to address our nation’s aging transportation infrastructure, improve the safety of our transportation system, and create good paying jobs in every region of the country.
H.R.3074 would appropriate approximately $40.26 billion to the states for improving highway infrastructure, including an additional $900 million for bridge replacement and rehabilitation. On top of this amount, inspired in part by the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota, the Senate passed an amendment to provide an additional $1 billion for replacement and rehabilitation efforts, which is a 25 percent increase in total funding for each state’s most critical bridge-related needs. The bill would also authorize $9.59 billion for the Federal Transit Administration to collaborate with municipal governments to construct public mass transit systems.
Senate Democrats also passed S.775, the National Infrastructure Improvement Act, that will provide the next Congress and the next administration with a complete study and recommendations on all matters relating to the state of America’s roads, bridges, drinking water systems, dams and other public works
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Senate Democrats Address America’s Transportation Infrastructure and Safety Concerns,for more information on this issue.
Democrats passed important, bipartisan legislation to improve water infrastructure. Under Democratic-leadership, the 110th Congress passed the first authorization bill for our nation’s principal water infrastructure program in seven years. H.R.1495, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), authorizes investments in environmental restoration and storm protection along the Gulf Coast, supports the restoration of wetlands and their accompanying ecosystems, increases environmental protection along America’s waterways, and improves the safety of levees across the country.
Since 2000, Americans have urged the federal government to secure water infrastructure in their communities — much of which is vital to protecting homes from catastrophic flooding. This year, Democrats worked with Republicans to end this gridlock by passing WRDA in the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support in both the House (381 to 40) and the Senate (81 to 12). While President Bush has threatened to veto the bill due to its projected cost, Senate Democrats are committed to meeting the needs of America’s water infrastructure and environment.
See the DPC Fact Sheet entitled, Senate Democrats Deliver on Promise to Improve America’s Water Infrastructure and Environment, for more information on this legislation.
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 some in Washington have forgotten about the region. Democrats, however, are committed to ensuring that the Gulf Coast receives the necessary funds to continue the recovery effort, provide its residents with protection from future storms and floods, and improve the region’s environment.
In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental, Congress provided a total of $6.4 billion for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including $1.4 billion to complete levee and drainage repairs, $50 million to reduce violent crime in Gulf Coast states, $110 million to repair the seafood and fisheries industries, and funding for small businesses in the area, which is vital to the region’s economic recovery.
The recently passed WRDA bill also assists the Gulf Coast region by authorizing $3.5 billion for wetlands restoration and flood control projects to put Louisiana on the path to Category V storm protection; authorizing the Army Corps of Engineers to construct structural measures to restore 100-year-level protection for New Orleans; creating a National Levee Safety Program; forming a Louisiana Water Resources Council to peer review the work of the Army Corps of Engineers; establishing a Coastal Louisiana Ecosystem Protection and Restoration Task Force that will make recommendations on the policies, strategies, plans, programs, projects, and activities for best addressing conservation, protection, restoration, and maintenance of the coastal Louisiana ecosystem; and improving scientific and technological advances needed to improve knowledge of the physical, chemical, geological, biological, and cultural baseline conditions in the coastal Louisiana ecosystem.