March 22, 2004 - Volume I: Edition I

Mar 22, 2004

Dear Friend:

Thank you for taking the time to read my very first e-newsletter. I am delighted to help you stay informed about some of the things my colleagues and I are doing in Washington. I will continue to keep you up to date about recent developments through future newsletters.

I plan to send these updates every few weeks. Of course, for an update of what I am doing on a daily basis, please visit my frequently updated website,

Here is a look at some of my major concerns over the past few weeks:

Firefighters Day: Working to Get New York City's Fair Share

As we New Yorkers know better than anyone else, our firefighters and other first responders are brave, selfless, and heroic. They saved countless lives on 9/11 by risking their own. Should terrorists strike again, not just here, but anywhere in America, firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel will be the first ones on the scene saving lives. They need real federal support and resources to help them prepare.

As head of the House Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security, I have spoken with and seen evidence that far too many firefighters in New York and across the country are receiving too little assistance in terrorism preparedness from the federal government. Although New York City firefighters were the front-line homeland security workers most devastated by 9/11, the city closed six of our firehouses last year due to budget problems. Too many other fire departments around the country have similar glaring needs - some are severely short-staffed while others have gas masks made in the 1950s.

To raise awareness and force action in Congress for firefighter assistance, my Task Force coordinated a national Firefighters Day during which members of our Caucus fanned out across America to meet with and highlight the needs of firefighters in their hometowns. Here in New York, Reps. Joseph Crowley, Anthony Weiner, and I met with firefighters in front of a shut-down firehouse in Queens to discuss how little assistance the City's firefighters receive from Washington.

I released a report on the FIRE Act - the lone Homeland Security program meant specifically to assist fire departments - detailing how this well-intentioned program created before 9/11 to aid rural firefighters has since ballooned into a huge Homeland Security program. Because it retains old restrictions that made sense when the program was aimed at assisting small towns, it fundamentally shortchanges big cities like New York.

Would you believe that the FIRE Act stipulates that the biggest grant any fire department - including our huge department that serves more than 8 million New York residents - can receive is $750,000? Would you believe that our City gets 9 cents per resident from the FIRE Act, while the state of Montana, which is not a terror target, received $9.07? According to the FDNY, New York City's current homeland security needs total $277 million. This is why we need to revamp our Homeland Security assistance for our brave firefighters.

9/11 Commission: Seeking the Truth

The independent, bipartisan commission investigating the lead-up to 9/11 serves invaluable purposes for our country and for those directly impacted by the horrific terrorist attacks. An accurate and thorough final report would teach us serious lessons about our preparation for terrorism and will guide our nation's security in the future. Furthermore, it will bring a measure of understanding and closure to the victims' loved ones and indeed to all New Yorkers, since all of us were affected by 9/11.

That is why the Administration's persistent refusal to cooperate fully with the commission is particularly disturbing. It has refused to share key documents, and it has placed severe restrictions on testimony the President gives to the commission.

Last month, I joined with my Republican colleague from New York Vito Fossella (Staten Island) to introduce a bill that would give the commission's deadline for a final report a much-needed extension until January of next year.

Unfortunately, despite widespread support for at least a 60-day extension, House Speaker Dennis Hastert threatened to block any effort to give the commission an extension.

Thankfully, public pressure from my colleagues and I who want to get the commission's report done right persuaded Speaker Hastert to relent. An extension has become an absolute must given the roadblocks the commission has encountered.  I publicly expressed my relief that the Speaker agreed to extend the deadline and that the House passed the measure to do so. However, the Administration must finally begin cooperating with the 9/11 commission so we can get an accurate and useful final report.

In the past few days, the White House has made comments about finally allowing the President to interview with the commission for more than an hour, although it says it still believes little more than an hour will be needed. The ambiguity of these statements concerns me, and I will continue to monitor this situation and take any appropriate action. It would be a setback for our country if the commission releases a report without ever receiving full cooperation from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Dollar Coin: Generating Money for the US Treasury

Have you ever had to stand at a vending machine for minutes on end, ironing out your paper dollar bill before the machine accepts it? Well, it turns out that eliminating that particular daily hassle is only the least of the benefits of a reinvigorated dollar coin program. When coins become collectibles, they add billions to the Treasury.

As the Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee for Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology, I joined with Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) to introduce a bill that would put each former President of the United States on the front of the dollar coin in succession for a 10-year period, after which the great Sacagewea would return. The back of the coin would feature Lady Liberty herself.

We are near the midway point of the state quarters program, which has been a resounding success. Not only have the state quarters been a useful educational and historical tool, but professional and first-time collectors like my daughter have kept stashes of the quarters, creating a $4 billion windfall for the U.S. Treasury.

Creating coins depicting each former President will give educators a fun way to teach our nation's history. An initial report suggests that implementing the program could benefit the Treasury by some $5 billion dollars. Just like the coin itself, there are two sides to the coin program's benefit.

It is also very important that Lady Liberty, our nation's most recognizable symbol of freedom and a symbol of New York City's strength, would adorn the back of the coin. In the aftermath of 9/11, this is a most fitting way to pay homage to our city's resilience.

Front of Coin -- Back of Coin

Jobs Record Bleaker by the Month: Jobless Recovery Continues

The February unemployment figures showing that only 21,000 jobs were created nationwide were a tremendous disappointment. Remember, the economy needs to gain more than 100,000 jobs a month just to keep up with the growing population of workers. The Bush Administration has presided over the loss of almost three million private sector jobs - the worst record since Herbert Hoover. Its now time for the Administration to stop being unsympathetic to the unemployed and support an extension of unemployment benefits.

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Hellenic Caucus Report: Cyprus Negotiations Continue

Negotiations currently are underway to find a solution to the thirty-year division of Cyprus so that a reunited Cyprus will join the European Union on May 1, 2004. These talks are using the plan sponsored by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan as a basis for negotiations. Should an agreement remain unreachable by the end of the month, the Secretary General will attempt to resolve any final disagreements, and on April 20, two simultaneous referenda will be held on Cyprus to approve the final settlement. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, I arranged meetings with Secretary General Annan and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman to express our concerns that the final settlement contain, among other provisions, respect for basic human rights and the demilitarization of Cyprus.

Federal Budget: House Democrats View of the Administration's Budget

hd_banner_med_red.gif launches BudgetWatch. As Congress begins to write a new federal budget, House Democrats are launching BudgetWatch so that the American people can hold Congress accountable for how it spends federal dollars. You can sign up to receive BudgetWatch updates via email.