Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats are Committed to Also Addressing Emergency Needs Here at Home

When President Bush submitted this year’s emergency supplemental request, he made one glaring omission: He forgot the folks back at home. Most of his $108 billion request focused on continuing the war in Iraq, but said little or nothing about the nation’s most urgent domestic needs — nothing about the growing number of men and women in uniform and veterans who need and deserve greater educational benefits, nothing about the fact that life for all Americans is becoming less secure and less affordable, and nothing to address the nation’s struggling economy.  Instead, the President’s request turns a blind eye to these problems and only further solidifies his legacy of being out of touch with the average American.

Senate Democrats, however, have not forgotten the needs of the American people. We are committed to alleviating both the strain on our nation’s military and the strain on our nation’s families here at home.  In the Fiscal Year 2008 Supplemental Appropriations bill, Democrats will seek to address the nation’s most-urgent domestic needs: unemployment, health care, gulf coast recovery, homeland security, highway safety, and food and drug safety.

Emergency Unemployment Insurance

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the fourth consecutive month of significant job losses — January, February, March and April — which provided only more evidence that the nation is sliding into a recession. Moreover, five percent of Americans — 7.6 million — were unemployed in April, up from 4.5 percent a year ago and up from four percent in 2000, the last year of the Clinton Administration. Even worse, a growing number of Americans find themselves unemployed for extended periods, often beyond 27 weeks. This is a critical marker because it represents the point at which unemployment insurance (UI) benefits expire.

When President Bush took office, 11.8 percent of unemployed workers (or 801,000 workers) were unemployed for more than 27 weeks. By 2007, that percentage had grown to 17.6 (or 1.24 million workers), and by some estimates, 2.5 million Americans exhausted their UI benefits last year. The situation has not improved in 2008 and all indicators point to it worsening. Last month, 1.44 million Americans, across the economic spectrum, were unemployed for more than 27 weeks, and Goldman Sachs projects that the national unemployment rate could soar to 6.5 percent by the end of 2009, and with it long term unemployment would also increase.

While UI is intended to be temporary, Congress has traditionally extended benefits during times of high unemployment and recession in the past, and the same remedy is needed now. Far from a handout, UI benefits are paid for by American workers to act as a safety-net in case of job loss. It is estimated that 77 percent of middle-class Americans do not have enough assets to cover three months of essential expenses.

Moreover, as American families have less, they spend less, which negatively impacts the consumer-driven industries that rely upon their dollars, which only leads to lower salaries for employed workers, more layoffs, and longer periods of unemployment. Investments in UI would help to stimulate our struggling economy and job market. According to Moody’s economist, Mark Zandi, every dollar invested in UI yields $1.64 in growth — more than any other stimulus program. Congressional Budget Office analysis confirms this general principal.

Nevertheless, President Bush and Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to responsibly extend these benefits to meet our current needs. Democrats, however, remain undeterred. Under the leadership of Senate Democrats, theSupplemental Appropriations bill would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks for all workers, nationwide, and provide for an additional 13 weeks for workers in high-unemployment areas.

Medicaid

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) have issued seven regulations that would reduce or eliminate Medicaid payments for a number of hospital and outpatient services, school-based health services, and services for individuals with disabilities. These regulations would undermine the Medicaid safety net and create barriers to accessing care. States, already facing tough economic times, strained budgets and increased demand for services like Medicaid, would either have to raise additional revenue or be forced to cut services to our nation’s most vulnerable at a time when they need help the most. Congress has already implemented moratoria on four of these regulations, but two of these moratoria will expire on May 25 and the other two on June 30. The Supplemental Appropriations bill would delay until next April implementation of all seven regulations.

CHIP

The Supplemental Appropriations bill would delay, until April of next year, the August 17 Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”) directive issued by CMS. The August 17 directive would, in effect, restrict states from covering children in families with incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Both the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have issued opinions indicating that CMS’s issuance of the August 17 directive violates the Congressional Review Act, but CMS remains adamant about proceeding with its implementation. Tens of thousands of children stand to lose their existing coverage as a result of this illegal directive, and hundreds of thousands of additional children who would otherwise gain coverage under their states’ coverage initiatives will remain uninsured.

Disaster Recovery Assistance

More than two and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast flood protection levees remain vulnerable and victims in these communities remain in critical need of emergency assistance.  The Bush Administration’s failure to ensure a rapid and full recovery has been devastating for the region: since the storm, the homeless population of New Orleans has nearly doubled, violent crime has risen dramatically, while more than half of area health facilities have not reopened.  At the same time, other parts of our country have been left inadequately protected and prepared for natural disasters.  In the last 18 months, the President has declared 59 disasters for floods in 32 states across the country, yet failed to request funding to protect these communities and prevent future damage.

Providing for a complete recovery from Hurricane Katrina, strengthening the hurricane protection system along the Gulf Coast and implementing disaster mitigation and preparedness initiatives in vulnerable areas across the country represent ongoing national emergencies. The Supplemental Appropriations bill will provide $10.4 billion to address these needs, which is $4.6 billion above the amount requested by the President.

State and Local Law Enforcement, Byrne Formula Grants

For years local law enforcement officers across the country have warned that 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 these warnings in favor of drastic funding cuts to critical law enforcement programs, including the COPS program and the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (Byrne Formula Grants). In 2005, the country reaped the consequences of that failed Bush 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 stopping this violent crime trend before it becomes a full-scale epidemic by adequately funding the law enforcement programs that keep our nation safe from crime, foreign and domestic. Last year, we rejected some of the President’s most outrageous cuts and program eliminations by providing $2.7 billion for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention grants. This year, in the Supplemental Appropriations bill, Democrats provide $490 million for Byrne Formula Grants, which help state and local governments improve the functioning of the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on combating violent crime and addressing serious offenders. 

Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program

According to the most recent report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the American taxpayer has already spent $334 million in Iraq on roads, bridges, and construction projects. At the same time, President Bush has opposed funding to repair storm-damaged roads in America.  For instance, President Bush threatened to veto last year’s transportation appropriations bill because the transportation funding level in the bill (as reported) was $1.24 billion (or almost two percent) more than President Bush’s budget request.  This year, the need to repair our nation’s highways and bridges has continued to mount as they have been damaged by unexpected catastrophes or natural disasters.  The Supplemental Appropriations bill would provide $451 million for the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program to repair and reconstruction of roads and bridges that have been.

Food and Drug Administration

Lax Bush Administration oversight at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and inadequate funding requests from the Administration has put the American people at risk.  As reported by the New York Times, the Bush budget request of $1.77 billion was not enough even to cover increased salary expenses at the agency. 

On May 15, 2008, the Commissioner of the FDA said that the agency needs an extra $275 million to help ensure the safety of foods, drugs and medical devices.  The decision by the FDA to request this additional funding comes “without regard to the competing priorities that the agency, the president, and their advisors must consider as budget submissions to the Congress are developed.”  The Supplemental Appropriations bill would provide $275 million for the FDA – including $125 million for food safety activities and $100 million for medical product and drug safety activities.

Rural Schools

Much of the land in some rural counties are owned by the federal government and not subject to property taxes. In lieu of the tax revenue that would be received if the land were privately owned, the federal government makes payments to more than 40 states. Rural counties use these payments to fund schools, law enforcement, roads, and other services, but the funding for those payments is slated to end in the near future.  Without that funding, many rural counties and schools will face devastating cuts and layoffs. The Emergency Supplemental bill would provide $400 million to ensure that almost 7,000 teachers and other educational staff will not have to be laid off.