February 3, 2005 - E-Newsletter Vol II: Ed I

Feb 3, 2005

Dear friends:

I hope all of you are having a wonderful new year and are staying warm this snowy winter. I have spent the new year preparing legislative initiatives for the new session of Congress, and getting ready for what is sure to be a fierce fight on some vitally important issues for New Yorkers and all Americans.

In this E-newsletter:

Protecting Social Security

Most of you are probably aware that President Bush has proposed sweeping changes to Social Security, which is perhaps the single most successful government assistance program in American history. In talking with many of you in the City and through your correspondence, I am well aware that there is great concern about the future of Social Security benefits under the president’s plan. I want you to know that I am strongly opposed to the president’s plan. The idea of privatizing Social Security or parts of it and jeopardizing guaranteed benefits for seniors is reckless. On top of that, I have heard leaders in Congress discuss such out-of-bounds ideas as altering benefits based on gender and race. I will vigorously oppose such irresponsible plans. To be sure, we must strengthen Social Security to make sure it is a permanent staple. But ideas that threaten to eliminate guaranteed benefits for seniors will have my whole-hearted resistance.

Preparing the World for Tsunamis

Like everyone else around the world, I was horrified at the destructive scope of the recent Asian tsunami. The generosity of the American people in the relief effort has been one heartening development in this devastating time. I believe that our government, aside from monetary donations, can provide another lasting contribution. My colleague Rep. Christopher Shays (CT-4) and I have introduced H.R. 499, the House companion to Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (CT) bill to create a worldwide tsunami warning system. If enacted, the world would benefit from not only advanced sensors to detect tsunamis, but an extensive communications network to warn people in the tsunami’s path. None of us ever want to see loss to the extent of what happened in Southeast Asia ever again. I hope Congress will do its part to save lives in the future.

Emergency Contraceptive Still Not Available Without a Prescription

Last year, women’s health suffered a setback when the Food and Drug Administration overruled the overwhelming recommendation of its own scientific panel to deny over-the-counter status for the Plan B ® contraceptive - commonly called the morning-after pill. The FDA let ideology trump sound science, an attitude that runs counter to the agency’s mission. I successfully attached an amendment to the FY05 Agriculture Appropriations bill that prohibits the FDA from further acting in a manner contrary to sound science. Since then, the maker of Plan B ® has reapplied for over-the-counter status for women over 16 only. To my disappointment, and in violation of the new law, the FDA has extended its deadline on a decision to further deliberate the application. Sound science clearly dictates that Plan B ® should be available over the counter immediately. As the FDA ignores science once again, and violates the law at the same time, I am pressing them to approve the application without further delay.

Omission Will Hurt Rape Victims

The Department of Justice has released its first-ever national protocol on treating rape victims - guidelines local medical examiners will use when treating the victims of sexual assault. One important part of rape treatment ought to be the option for giving victims emergency contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Scientists have strongly supported that sentiment. Rape victims, at the very least, deserve the right to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Earlier drafts of the rape treatment guidelines did indeed include mention of emergency contraceptives, but it was deleted from the final version, providing yet another example of this administration allowing its ideology to get in the way of scientific conclusions. Ninety-six of my colleagues joined me in asking the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women to revise the protocol so that it includes the option of emergency contraceptives. For the sake of women’s health and the rights of rape victims, the Department of Justice must make that change.

9/11 responders and areas residents attend State of the Union

During the president’s State of the Union address, 9/11 rescue workers and Ground Zero neighbors who remain ill from of the health effects of 9/11 were sitting in the balcony of the House Chamber. I traveled with them to Washington, and I helped them secure tickets to view the speech, so that they could meet with lawmakers to explain the dire need for more federal help. The fact of the matter is that the federal government’s health monitoring program for Ground Zero workers and neighbors is limited, even though four medical reports published in late 2004 confirm that 9/11 and its aftermath have caused severe and lasting illness. Furthermore, many of the workers and neighbors never knew they were eligible for assistance from the Victims Compensation Fund until the fund was terminated, or their illnesses came on too late for them to apply. Last session of Congress, I introduced “The Remember 9/11 Health Act” to expand health monitoring and the “Victims Compensation Fund Extension Act” to extend the application deadline, and I will reintroduce them shortly.

Q: Who’s monitoring the Department of Homeland Security?

A: A tangled mess of 88 committees and subcommittees in Congress. This confusing system ensures that nobody on Capitol Hill can develop enough expertise on homeland security issues and that homeland security officials spend too much of their time bouncing around the Capitol from one hearing to the next. One of the 9/11 Commission’s top three recommendations - the only one that remains to be enacted - was that Congress reform itself by creating a permanent homeland security committee that does not have to share jurisdiction of its issues with other powerful committees. The Rules of the 109th Congress fail to make that change. As Congress was sworn in earlier this month, 9/11 family members joined Rep. Shays and me in Washington to announce our proposed change to the House rules that would create a much stronger Homeland Security Committee.

Honored to Lead the House Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee

I was honored to accept House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s request that I lead the House Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee (JEC). The committee is the bicameral congressional body charged with reviewing economic conditions and recommending improvements in economic policy. We will hold frequents hearings to examine key economic indicators, regularly question the president’s Council of Economic Advisors and issue reports on the strength of the economy. I have served on the committee for eight years, and I look forward to closely examining our economy - an issue of vital importance for our city and our nation.

I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you around the City!

Member of Congress