February 11, 2009 - Vol VI: Ed I
All presidential inaugurations are historic, but this was one for the ages: on January 20, 2009, the world watched as the U.S. inaugurated the first African-American President in its history.
President Barack Obama embodies the hopes for a new era of American leadership, at what will be seen as one of the most difficult points in our nation’s history. But his life story is a reminder that anything is possible in our country and that however great the challenges before us, the American people are equal to the task.
It was an honor to be on the stage as the President took the oath of office, and I look forward to working with him to tackle America’s problems.
The new Congress has wasted no time in tackling the problems facing our nation. The House of Representatives has already passed H.R. 1, the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”
This legislation will give 95% of American workers an immediate tax cut, create or save 3 to 4 million jobs, make us greener and more energy independent, and transform our economy for long-term growth. It will impact the economy quickly with 75% spent in the first 18 months.
New York itself will benefit greatly from the stimulus package, with over $20 billion in new funding:
As I write, the Senate has passed its version of recovery legislation, and a Conference Committee is meeting to resolve House and Senate differences.
On January 14, 2009, I joined a sizable majority of my House colleagues in passing, for a third time, an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). President Bush twice vetoed a similar measure in the last Congress, but President Obama is expected to sign the new bill.
The State Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act preserves health insurance for all 7.1 million children currently covered by SCHIP (including 651,853 kids in New York) and extends coverage to 4.1 million additional children nationwide.
No child in America should have to go without proper health care. I’m proud that a bipartisan majority stood up to right one of the enduring wrongs of the previous administration, and I’m glad we finally have a President who will protect the fundamental human rights of children.
I’m thrilled to report that the new Congress also passed the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” in its first days, reversing a Supreme Court decision that has kept women from pursuing pay discrimination claims. The bill was the first bill the President signed into law.
Forty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act and Title VI, statistics show that women continue to be paid less than their male colleagues. When I entered the workforce, women were paid 59 cents to every dollar a man earned. Today, it’s only up to 78 cents--a disparity which costs women an estimated $400,000 to $2 million dollars in lost wages over a lifetime!
In passing Lilly Ledbetter, Congress has sent a resounding message of fairness and equity to women and families.
I’m honored that Speaker Pelosi has appointed me to chair the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) in the 111th Congress. Created by an Act of Congress in 1946, the Joint Economic Committee is one of just four joint Congressional Committees.
In such a challenging year, I’m pleased to work with our first woman Speaker of the House as the first woman to chair the JEC. I look forward to working closely with the President's economic team and to continuing to work with Senator Chuck Schumer as Vice Chair on long-term solutions to the grim economic situation facing our country--and putting the needs and concerns of America's working families front-and-center in Washington.
In the coming weeks the JEC will focus on the financial crisis as it continues to unfold and the complex set of related issues: the labor market, the housing market, consumer spending and credit, as well as economic recovery and stimulus measures and the reform of financial regulation.
On January 22, I reintroduced the “Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights” (CCBOR), H.R. 627. This comprehensive reform is aimed at leveling the playing field between credit card companies and consumers and abolishes industry abuses that have been described by regulators as “unfair,” “deceptive,” and “anti-competitive.”
The story so far: last September, after 18 months of roundtables and hearings within my Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, my bill passed the floor of the House by an unprecedented bipartisan 312-112 vote, but it died in the Senate. This year, I’m proud to have convinced Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mark Udall to sponsor the companion to H.R. 627 in the Senate.
In December the Federal Reserve released final regulations that would ban many of these practices-- but their new rule does not take effect until July 2010. This year’s H.R. 627 would take effect 90 days after the President signs.
I hope that with the Senate support and stronger Democratic majorities in both houses—and the support of the President, who is on record in favor of credit card reform—we can finally level the playing field between consumers and credit card issuers.
I’ve also reintroduced two family-friendly bills in the 111th Congress which would help working parents deal with the challenges of family life.
The “Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act” (FEPPLA), H.R. 626, is bipartisan legislation that would provide all federal employees with four weeks of paid parental leave. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Jim Webb (VA).
The “Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act,” H.R. 626, would allow more workers to take unpaid leave to care for their family member. Since the original FMLA took effect early in the Clinton Administration, tens of millions of employees of companies larger than 50 employees have taken leave to care for newborn and adopted children. My new bill enlarges the companies covered to those of 25 employees or more, and also allows up to 24 additional hours of unpaid leave for parents or grandparents to attend parent-teacher conferences or to take family members—children or aging parents—to the doctor for regular medical or dental appointments.
Every other industrialized nation on the planet allows for employees to accommodate their family responsibilities around their work obligations. It’s time for the United States to catch up.
I’m pleased to report two big changes in family planning policy announced by President Obama in his first days: repeal of the “global gag rule” and funding in the next fiscal year for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
The gag rule was first ordered by President Bush and bars both foreign non-governmental and multilateral organizations from receiving U.S. family planning funds if - with other, non-U.S. funds - they provide legal abortion services or “engage in any activity or effort to alter the laws or governmental policies of any foreign country concerning the circumstances under which abortion is permitted, regulated, or prohibited.”
The UNFPA works in 154 countries to provide family planning information and services. Since 2002, the U.S. has been isolated and singular in withholding its contribution to UNFPA. This administration is signaling that we will now join the community of 180 nations in supporting UNFPA's life-saving work.
My goal has been to give women around the globe all the options about their reproductive health, save lives, and improve the lives of women and children everywhere. In announcing support for UNFPA funding and repealing the gag rule, President Obama sends a clear and resounding message to women and children around the world: after eight long years the United States is back on your side.
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