Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats’ Legislative Priorities for the 111th Congress Will Deliver the Change America Needs

Senate Democrats are committed to honoring the faith Americans have placed in us to lead the 111th Congress by advancing a bold, aggressive, forward-looking agenda that will rebuild and reinvest in America.  In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to working with our Republican colleagues in the Senate, the House of Representatives, the incoming Obama Administration, industry leaders, and the American people to revive our economy, get Americans working again, protect homeowners and consumers, make America more energy independent, strengthen our national security, expand access to quality health care, and improve educational opportunities. 

Our nation is confronting some of the most severe problems we have faced in generations.  Those problems did not develop overnight nor will they be solved in a day, but our challenges are no match for the strength and ingenuity of the American people.  Working together, we can move our nation forward to deliver the change Americans demand and the progress America so desperately needs.

Economic Recovery and Reinvestment

Over the past eight years, Americans have seen their dreams of prosperity and security undermined by a government that has ignored the middle class at the behest of special interests, adopted reckless fiscal policies, and failed to protect consumers, investors and the economy.  The official determination that the nation has fallen into a deep recession comes as no surprise to hard-working American families, who are struggling with some of the most severe economic problems in generations.  The United States now has a 6.7 percent unemployment rate – the highest in fifteen years, representing 10.3 million people out of work – and has Seen.11 straight months of job losses, including 1.3 million job losses in the last three months alone.  The 533,000 jobs lost in November represent the biggest one-month decline in 34 years,

Democrats believe that we need a plan that will create jobs and improve our economy now — and strengthen our nation over the long-term.  The plan should be focused on the most important priorities – creating good-paying jobs, helping the middle class, and making targeted, responsible investments in our future, while demanding transparency and accountability to guarantee that all taxpayer money is used properly.  By focusing on energy independence, job-creating investments in America’s infrastructure, and middle class tax relief, we can re-energize our economy and make it work for all Americans. 

S. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, outlines the Senate Democrats’ plan to create jobs, restore economic growth, and strengthen America’s middle class.  S. 1 calls formeasures to: 1) modernize the nation’s infrastructure; 2) enhance America’s energy independence; 3) expand educational opportunities, 4) preserve and improve affordable health care; 5) provide tax relief; and 6) protect those in greatest need.

Middle-Class Opportunity  

The economic policies of the past eight years have left the vast majority of middle-class American families – the backbone of our nation –  behind.  Even though the American people have worked harder, they have made less and been afforded fewer benefits at work.  Since 2000, worker productivity has increased by 20.9 percent.  Unfortunately, median household income, adjusted for inflation, has declined by $333, from $50,566 in 2000 to $50,233 in 2007 (U.S. Census Bureau), the share of people with employer-sponsored health insurance has dropped from 64 percent to 59 percent over the same period, and the portion of private-sector workers with a pension has dropped from 50 percent to 45 percent.  Worse, while Americans have been earning less, they have been forced to spend more.  The cost of basic necessities such as food, housing, energy, health care, and education has skyrocketed since 2000.  The result is a middle class that is finding it harder and harder to achieve the American Dream.

In the 111th Congress, Democrats will strengthen the middle class and make work pay.  By providing tax relief and ensuring equal pay for equal work, we will make middle-class life more affordable and help families who have been squeezed for years by declining incomes and rising prices.  We will make college, child care, elder care and retirement more affordable and strengthen workers’ rights to secure fair wages and benefits.

S. 2, the Middle Class Opportunity Act of 2009, would include measures to:  1) provide middle-class tax relief while making the tax laws simpler and more reliable; 2) promote investments in the new economy and enacting policies that create good, well-paying jobs in the United States; 3) enhance incentives and protections to help middle-class families adequately meet their needs in retirement; 4) improve programs to help families acquire the education and training to be productive participants in the modern economy; 5) strengthen families by improving the access and affordability of child and elder care; 6) restore fairness, prosperity, and economic security for working families by ensuring workers can exercise their rights to freely choose to form a union without employer interference; and 7) remove barriers to fair pay for all workers.

Homeowner Protection and Wall Street Accountability

American families are reeling from the highest home foreclosure rate on record, with an estimated two million Americans at risk of losing their homes in the next two years.  This explosion in foreclosures and related decline in property values are playing a central role in the severe financial crisis that is threatening to cripple our economy.  The credit crisis that has followed is making it difficult, if not impossible, for many Americans individuals and businesses to access loans of any kind.  Even credit cards, which have traditionally helped families through tough economic times, have become the source of anguish for American families and individuals, with an industry that has outdated standards of disclosure and responsibility.  And Wall Street firms, which pressed for more and more deregulation, have teetered on the brink of a collapse with a very negative impact on the broader economy.

Democrats will restore confidence in our economy by protecting consumers from Wall Street abuses and protecting homeowners from foreclosure.  We will stabilize the housing market and help families keep their homes.  The economy cannot recover without a healthy financial system, so we will reform the way Wall Street operates, increasing transparency and accountability from lenders to prevent risky bets that threaten the whole system.  We will also enhance consumer protections to prevent predatory lending practices, and stabilize credit markets for small businesses so they once again safely and responsibly invest in America to create jobs and grow our economy.

S.3, the Homeowner Protection and Wall Street Accountability Act of 2009, outlines the Senate Democrats’ legislative priorities to protect homeowners, consumers, and businesses during this housing and credit crises, and to reform the financial regulatory system to ensure that similar crises do not occur in the future.  S.3 calls for measures to:  1) stabilize the housing market and assist homeowners by imposing a temporary moratorium on foreclosures, removing impediments to the modification of distressed mortgages, creating tax and other incentives to help prevent foreclosures and encourage refinancing into affordable and sustainable mortgage solutions, and pursuing other foreclosure prevention policies through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) or other programs; 2) ensure the safety and soundness of the United States financial system by reforming the financial-regulatory system, strengthening systemic-risk regulation, enhancing market transparency, and increasing consumer protections in financial regulation to prevent predatory lending practices; 3) ensure credit-card accountability, responsibility and disclosure; and 4) stabilize credit markets for small-business lenders to enhance their ability to make loans to small firms, and stimulate the small-business loan markets by temporarily streamlining and investing in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.

Affordable and Accessible Health Care

American families are struggling to find affordable health insurance coverage.  Skyrocketing health care costs are straining family budgets as well as state budgets, forcing employers to drop or scale back health insurance coverage for their workers, increasing the number of uninsured Americans, and impeding access to needed health care services.  Democrats will lower costs and increase value so that all Americans can afford quality health care.  We will protect existing coverage when it is good, improve it when it is not, and guarantee health care for the 46 million Americans, including 9 million children, who have none.  S.4, the Comprehensive Health Reform Act of 2009, will guarantee quality, affordable health coverage for all Americans.

A Cleaner and Greener America

Over the last several years, volatile energy prices, declining resources, growing evidence of environmental damage, and national security concerns have highlighted the need for major changes in the direction of our energy policy.  We can no longer afford business as usual practices that fail to consider and address these concerns and simply add a greater burden to future generations.

S.5,the Cleaner, Greener, and Smarter America Actof 2009, outlines the priorities that future energy legislation will need to include so that we can strengthen the economy, reduce the dependence of the United States on foreign and unsustainable energy sources, and address the risks of global warming.  These priorities are:  1) making and encouraging significant investment in green job creation and clean energy; 2) diversifying and rapidly expanding the use of secure, efficient, and environmentally-friendly energy supplies and technologies; 3) transforming the infrastructure of the United States to make our infrastructure sustainable and the United States more competitive globally, including transmission grid modernization and transportation sector electrification; 4) requiring reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States and achieving reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases abroad;5) protecting consumers from volatile energy prices through better market oversight and enhanced energy efficiency standards and incentives; and 6) eliminating wasteful and unnecessary tax breaks and giveaways.

Restoring America’s Power

Years of misplaced priorities and shortsighted strategies have severely undermined America’s national security and leadership in the world.  Today, we face a Taliban threat that is stronger than at any point since 2001, a reconstituted al-Qaeda movement that poses a grave danger to the U.S. homeland and our interests around the world, and other global challenges that have not been adequately addressed.  The policies of the last eight years also have resulted in a growing strain on our military forces and an unacceptable shortfall in care and support for our nation’s troops and veterans.  It is critical that we change course to secure America, restore our standing in the world, and bring real solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

S.6, the Restoring America’s Power Act of 2009, outlines a legislative strategy for making America safer at home and abroad.  The bill will restore and enhance the national security of the United States by: 1) strengthening America’s military capabilities and recognizing the service of the United States troops and the commitment of their families by ensuring our Armed Forces receive proper training and equipment prior to deployment, support and medical care when they return home, and adequate dwell time between deployments; 2) addressing the threat posed by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups with a comprehensive military, intelligence, homeland security and diplomatic strategy and refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan as the United States transitions in Iraq; 3) defeating extremist ideology by increasing the effectiveness of United States intelligence, diplomatic, and foreign assistance capabilities; restoring the United States standing in the world and strengthening alliances; and addressing transnational humanitarian and development challenges; and 4) reducing the threat posed by unsecured nuclear materials and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and effectively addressing the security challenges posed by Iran and North Korea.

Preparing Our Children for the Future

All students deserve a quality education that develops their abilities and prepares them to succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.  Unfortunately over the past eight years, college has become less affordable, key education programs have been consistently underfunded, and U.S. students continue to lag behind their peers in other countries. To address these and other challenges, Senate Democrats introduced S.7, the Education Opportunity Act of 2009.

This bill outlines efforts to expand educational opportunities for all Americans and prepare them to succeed in the global economy, including the following priorities : 1) increasing access to high-quality early childhood education and expanding child care, after school, and extended learning opportunities; 2) improving accountability and assessment measures for elementary and secondary school students, increasing secondary graduation rates and supporting school improvement efforts; 3) strengthening teacher preparation, induction and support in order to recruit and retain qualified and effective teachers in high-need schools; 4) enhancing the rigor and relevance of state academic standards and encouraging innovative reform at the middle and high school levels; 5) strengthening mathematics and science curricula and instruction; and 6) increasing federal grant aid for students and the families of students, improving the rate of postsecondary degree completion, and providing tax incentives to make higher education more affordable. 

Returning Government to the People

Part of the much-needed change Democrats have promised to bring to Washington, after eight years of the Bush Administration, is governmental accountability and transparency — as well as a restoration of the balance of power between the branches of government.  We will start by reviewing the Bush Administration’s controversial "midnight regulations," many of which have not received proper scrutiny and stand to hurt American workers, their families, their safety, their health care, and the environment.  S.8, the Returning Government to the American People Act, outlines Senate Democrats’ commitment to working with the incoming Obama Administration to review and, if appropriate, revise or reject harmful regulations recklessly pushed through at agencies during the waning days of the Bush Administration.

Strong Borders, Strong Economy

America’s immigration system is broken.  Inadequate pathways to legal immigration and ineffective law enforcement have contributed to approximately 12 million people living and working inside the United States without authorization, harming both American workers and undocumented immigrants and jeopardizing homeland security.  Unfortunately, previous bipartisan efforts to comprehensively address our nation’s immigration challenges have been blocked in favor of the status quo or otherwise unworkable solutions.  The American people deserve better.  In the 111th Congress, Senate Democrats are committed to advancing the tough, fair, and practical immigration reform our country so desperately needs.

S.9, the Stronger Economy, Stronger Borders Act of 2009, outlines Senate Democrats’ legislative commitment to strengthening the economy and securing our homeland by: 1) providing for more effective border and employment enforcement; 2) preventing illegal immigration; and 3) reforming and rationalizing avenues for legal immigration. 

Restoring Fiscal Responsibility

Since 2001, a record $5.6 trillion ten-year projected surplus was squandered, leading to an explosion in gross debt — rising from $5.8 trillion in 2001 to over $10.6 trillion. This debt is accumulating at the worst possible time, just as the baby boom generation is retiring.  Much of the debt incurred over the past eight years has been purchased by foreign investors, making us more vulnerable to economic and political pressure from abroad.  The fiscal irresponsibility of recent years has weakened the economy and will force American taxpayers to pay billions more in interest for years to come. 

S.10, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, outlines the Senate Democrats’ commitment to restore fiscal discipline and begin to address the long-term fiscal challenges facing the United States.  The legislation calls for:

·         Strong pay-as-you-go rules, to help block the approval of measures that would increase the deficit;

·         Recognition of warnings by both the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that the Federal budget is on an unsustainable path of rising deficits and debt;  

·         A process to seek a bipartisan agreement, or set of agreements, to address the nation’s long term fiscal challenges;

·         A review of all federal spending and tax expenditures that identifies items that are outdated, inefficient, poorly run, unnecessary, or otherwise undeserving of scarce Federal resources or that are in need of reform; and

·         A review of the current system of taxation of the United States to ensure that burdens are borne fairly and equitably.