December 30, 2004 - E-Newsletter Vol I: Ed IX

Dec 30, 2004

Dear friends,

As 2004 draws to a close, the 108th Congress is now history.  In the waning hours of the session, despite stiff resistance, we took historic action to make our country safer.

A Step Forward for National Security

Our national security has been bolstered by the first major restructuring of intelligence since the National Security Act of 1947. The final action of this Congress was to pass overwhelmingly the intelligence reform born out of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.

Certainly, this was not a perfect bill – negotiators had to reconcile a good Senate bill, which I supported and co-sponsored in the House, and a deeply-flawed House Republican leadership bill that contained certain unacceptable extraneous provisions. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), many of the disastrous House provisions were removed. We still can do better on issues such as protecting our civil liberties by creating a stronger civil liberties board, and I will push for that progress.

We owe a great deal of thanks to the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, made up of families that lost loved ones on 9/11. They have turned their personal tragedy into public service and now public policy. They worked tirelessly in Washington and saw the legislation through to passage. I am proud to work alongside them and to call them my friends. Their commitment is inspiring, and reform would not have happened without them.

I was also proud to work with my colleague from across the aisle, Rep. Christopher Shays (CT-4), from the moment the 9/11 Commission’s report was released, including the creation of the 9/11 Commission Caucus and the introduction of legislation true to the spirit of their recommendations in the House of Representatives.

The final bill that Congress approved will create a strong Director of National Intelligence (DNI), as well as a counterterrorism center. It adds more border agents, more cargo screeners, and tighter visa restrictions.

The legislation we passed implements two of the Commission’s self-described three most important recommendations, but we still must tackle the other one: the reorganization of Congress itself. I, along with Rep. Shays, have introduced legislation to reorganize Congress, and this will be the center of a huge fight in the new year. Nevertheless, the 108th Congress successfully started this nation down the road to a safer future.

2nd Ave Subway Still on Track

For the fifth consecutive year, the federal government will contribute to the effort to build a 2nd Avenue Subway. In this year’s Omnibus Appropriations bill, I worked with Senator Schumer and Senator Clinton to garner another $2.5 million. It is estimated that the subways will serve 600,000 passengers a day and will create 70,000 construction jobs and 86,000 additional jobs once it is up and running. In other words, the subway will not only be an important transportation cog for our city, it will be an economic engine for New York as well.

Despite Improvement, New York Still Shortchanged in Homeland Security Funds

The Department of Homeland Security recently announced the homeland security funding distribution for 2005. The upshot for us is that the city will see a welcome increase in high-threat money, but New York state as a whole is still receiving far less per person than most of the low-risk states.

Unfortunately, homeland security funding has been distributed like pork ever since the first rounds of grants went out two years ago. The 9/11 Commission strongly recommended that the distribution of security funds be based solely on threat level. While the administration has made some slight improvements in funding for New York City, it is still a pork barrel process, even though it might be slightly leaner pork. It is my hope that the next Secretary of Homeland Security will tackle this problem immediately.

Investigating the Election Problems

Every American who legally voted on Election Day must have their vote counted. To deny them that is to take away their most basic right.

Responding to several unresolved questions about the electoral process and vote counting in Ohio and elsewhere, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is beginning an investigation, requested by my colleagues Reps. John Conyers (MI-14) and Jerrold Nadler (NY-08).

Even before the election, my office handled many reports and complaints about the inaccessibility of absentee ballot applications for Americans living overseas. The Ranking Member of the House Government Reform Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (CA-30), and I asked the GAO back then to investigate the accessibility of overseas voting.  We have learned that this investigation will be undertaken at the same time as GAO’s larger examination of voting irregularities requested by my colleagues.

It doesn’t matter if patriotic, law-abiding, taxpaying Americans are living in Ohio or Oslo – they must have access to a ballot, and their ballots must be counted.

Getting Deposits Into Your Bank Accounts Quicker

Under a new law, banks are able to use the latest electronic technology to clear checks almost in an instant. There is no reason that consumers shouldn’t benefit from the same technology – when you make a deposit at your bank, it shouldn’t be subject to an unnecessary hold time when the money can be in your account just as quickly.

For that reason, I’ve introduced legislation to make deposits clear faster. While it is too late for passage this year, I hope the rest of Congress will take action to benefit consumers and put this at the top of the financial services agenda in the 109th Congress