July 25, 2006 - E-Newsletter Vol III: Ed IX
In my latest report to you from Congress, I want to share with you some hot topics from Washington and some of the issues on which I've been working hard:
In this E-Newsletter:
- Outrage over Con Ed Power Outage
- Veto of Stem Cell Bill Was a Setback
- Questions about bank records surveillance program deserve answers
- "Global War on Terror" resolution was unproductive
- Congress may undo key identity theft protection
- President apparently supports birth control, will his administration stop restricting access?
- Keeping the Net Neutral
As temperatures soared into the 90s, on July 17, 2006, large parts of Western Queens lost power. Western Queens has 6 power plants and supplies 60% of the power to New York City. Residents of this area bear the brunt of the health impacts of living near so many power plants, and now they are dealing with food spoilage, excessive heat and, in many cases, no hot water due to the blackout. When the first reports of power outages began coming in, my office immediately contacted Con Edison. First Con Ed denied there was a problem. Then they suggested that it was minimal - that only 1100 people had lost power. As time passed and the lights stayed off, I wrote to Con Edison Chairman, President and CEO Kevin Burke to demand some answers and better communication with those who are affected.
The more I learn about Con Edison's actions, the more appalled I become. The most recent estimate is that more than 25,000 customers lost power, or about 100,000 individuals. On July 21, 2006, I wrote again to Mr. Burke to express my outrage. I also wrote a letter to House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, requesting that the federal government investigate how the blackout happened, why it happened, and what must be done to reduce the vulnerability of the power grid in the nation's most prominent terrorist target. Today I joined a letter authored by Senator Clinton calling on FEMA to step in and declare Western Queens a disaster area, so that federal assistance would be available.
As of this writing, there is still no end to this crisis in sight. Con Edison cannot identify with specificity which customers are having problems - they rely on canvassing the neighborhood and customer reports. So, if your lights are still out, call 1-800-75CONED. If you have spoiled food due to lack of refrigeration, you may be able to claim some compensation from Con Edison -- $350 for residential customers, $7,000 for business customers. You can claim compensation by completing the forms found here.
- Read more about my response to the Con Ed Blackout >
It isn't every day that we have the opportunity to vote on the floor of the House of Representatives to generate medical breakthroughs and save lives. But we had that very opportunity when we passed HR 810, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act last year. That's why it was so disappointing when this bill was vetoed by the President Bush - the first veto ever under this administration - and the House failed to override the veto.
72% of Americans, and the overwhelming majority of scientists, researchers, and even Nobel laureates all support a lift on the ban of federal funding for stem cell research. The meager amount of stem cell lines approved for research by the president have rapidly dwindled. If we want to more effectively treat diseases including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease, we need further research. As a founder and co-chair of the Working Group on Parkinson's Disease, I strongly supported the stem cell bill that a bipartisan majority of House and Senate Members passed, and I strongly opposed the veto. It is a setback for medical innovation and the health of our nation.
The recent revelation that the administration has undertaken an international bank records surveillance program has raised concerns about its legality. Unfortunately, these concerns were all but forgotten when the administration and its allies in Congress chose to focus their efforts on criticizing The New York Times for reporting on the program instead of answering questions. I fully reject this criticism of the Times - members of the administration have freely and publically discussed terror finance tracking programs since 9/11. I made that clear at a recent hearing on the financing tracking program.
Tracking how terrorists get money is absolutely critical to fighting terrorism. No one disputes that. But it should be done in accordance with the law, and with full Congressional oversight - and we still don't know if the program was legal or why Congress was kept in the dark.
Instead of working on cutting the $8 trillion debt, getting health care to uninsured Americans or passing a minimum wage increase, Congress has unfortunately wasted its time by considering and debating non-binding resolutions. Last month, the Republican leadership brought to the floor for consideration a resolution on the "Global War on Terror" that was actually just a show support for our handling of Iraq. The resolution mentioned Iraq 18 times, but it did not mention Osama bin Laden even once. I staunchly opposed this unproductive legislation.
A decade ago, very few people had ever heard of identity theft. Now that electronic commerce, business and banking are permanent fixtures in our daily lives, identity theft is a household phrase and a growing problem that isn't going away. It's Congress' responsibility to protect Americans against threats, including identity theft, and that's why it is hard to believe that Congress is actually about to consider a bill that would roll back a key identity theft protection.
Currently, consumers in 18 states, now including New York, are able to freeze access to their credit reports at any time in order to prevent identity thieves from opening new lines of credit in their names. But a so-called "data security" bill on its way to the House of Representative's floor, H.R. 3997, would remove this protection - it would allow consumers nationwide to freeze their credit only after identity thieves have established false accounts in their names. Talk about the horse being out of the barn!
I believe that consumers should have "file freeze" ability at all times, and I have introduced legislation, H.R. 5482, that would grant this protection nationwide. As a member of the Financial Services Committee, I offered this as an amendment to H.R. 3997 earlier this year, but it was defeated. I will again fight for file freeze when H.R. 3997 is on the House floor. To roll back protections against identity theft is out of touch and behind the times.
In May 2005, a White House spokesman was first asked if the President supports birth control, but he didn't give a definitive answer. Shortly after that, I, along with colleagues, wrote our first letter to the President asking him the same. Almost a full year and five letters later, a member of the administration finally wrote us back to say that the President does support birth control. It's a mystery why it took him so long to answer this question, but I have no doubt that the 98 percent of sexually-active American women who have used birth control are glad to hear this news.
Now that the President's position on birth control is a matter of public record, I have expressed my hope that he will reverse his administrations actions which are restricting access to birth control. I believe that the Food and Drug Administration should finally adhere to sound science and make the Plan B emergency contraceptive available without a prescription. I believe that the Department of Justice's first-ever national protocol for treating rape victims should include the option of administering emergency contraceptives. And I believe that the administration should intervene to make sure that pharmacies fill all legal prescriptions, even if a particular pharmacist has a personal objection to giving out birth control.
The internet is an amazing tool for communication, commerce and information-gathering, and it is now a fixed part of our daily lives. Since the net's inception, we've had fair and equal access to websites of all kinds - we can view a personal blog just as easily as we can view the website for a major corporation. Unfortunately, some in Congress are trying to change that and fundamentally degrade our ability to access certain websites. H.R. 5252, the Communications Opportunity , Promotion, and Enhancement (COPE) Act, would essentially allow service providers to tax content providers in order to make their sites easily and quickly accessible. Should this bill become law, gone will be the days in which you can view a friend's personal webpage as quickly and easily as the major, most widely-viewed websites.
That's why I recently voted in favor of Rep. Markey's Net Neutrality amendment to H.R. 5252 - an amendment that is essentially the First Amendment of the internet. The Markey amendment would have strengthened the Net Neutrality provisions in the COPE Act, which originally offered few meaningful protections for Net Neutrality. Unfortunately, the Markey amendment was defeated by a vote of 152-269, and the COPE Act was ultimately passed by the House. It is now up to the Senate to take up this important issue. As this legislation moves forward, be assured that I will continue to fight to preserve a free and open Internet.
Please feel free to share this email with anyone who may be interested in these issues. As always, I appreciate your comments and invite you to write to me through my website.
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