October 18, 2004 - Volume I: Edition VII
As the Congressional leadership rushed to end legislative business before November, many of us in Congress were unhappy that the 108th Congress left town without doing anything about some of our country’s greatest needs. The Republican leadership - in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives - has lost important opportunities to get things done. There are many areas in which this Congress has done little or nothing:
We still don’t have a fair distribution system for homeland security money. We all know the statistic that Wyoming received $38.31 per person in state grants last year, while New York only got $5.47. The 108th Congress has failed to do away with state minimums that guarantee money to each state, regardless of threat level.
Correcting the economy - Our nation has lost 1.6 million private sector jobs over the past four years and has a record $422 billion budget deficit. Still, the leadership did not pass a job-creating highway bill, it did not change the current tax code that encourages outsourcing of jobs overseas, and it did not even reauthorize Small Business Administration funding.
Lowering health care costs - Instead of real health care reform, this Congress passed a disastrous drug-industry bill that could soon spell the end of Medicare as we know it. This Congress has, in essence, given a $139 billion payout to drug companies and created a $46 billion slush fund for HMOs.
Educating our children - After passing landmark education legislation in 2001, Congress, taking a cue from the White House, has underfunded those programs by $9 billion a year.
Powering our nation - Even after gasoline prices skyrocketed to record levels and the major blackout of 2003 disrupted the lives of millions of New Yorkers and cost the economy an estimated $6 billion, Congress has still not re-crafted and passed a bi-partisan energy package that would also protect our environment.
We face so many pivotal issues, and there is so much that we could do. Still, the House leadership chose to convene Congress for fewer days than any single session of Congress since 1948. You can be sure that my Democratic colleagues and I will continue to fight to enact legislation that moves our country in the right direction.
To learn more about what Congress has and has not accomplished in the 108th Congress at, visit www.democraticwhip.house.gov.
Fighting for the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations
To its credit, the Senate worked in a collaborative, bipartisan manner to quickly pass strong legislation endorsed by the 9/11 Commission that mirrors its recommendations. To our nation’s detriment, the House did not.
Since the commission released its report, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and I have lead the House effort to implement the Commission’s recommendations as they were intended. We formed the 9/11 Commission Caucus and we introduced companion legislation to the Senate’s bill. Still, the House Republican leadership decided to introduce its own, alternative legislation, H.R. 10 - a bill that implements only 11 of the 41 Commission recommendations, creates a National Intelligence Director without sufficient power to get the job done, leaves out key civil rights protections and includes 50 extraneous and potentially-divisive provision, including an expansion of the Patriot Act. That’s why I voted against H.R. 10.
Make no mistake, the House bill is holding up reform. The 9/11 Commission endorsed the Senate bill. The 9/11 Family Steering Committee endorsed it. Even the White House endorsed it. Still, we are left with potentially long and drawn-out House/Senate negotiations over a final bill because the House bill is so different and controversial. There may indeed be additional measures that we should consider separately, but that is for a different time.
Although we are facing the real possibility of more delay in reforming our security system, the Republican leadership has promised to get a bill to the President's desk sooner rather than later. Rep. Shays, the 9/11 families and I, along with others, will fight to make sure they keep this important promise to make America safer.
A brighter note: Landmark rape justice legislation is about to become law
In June of 2001, I met Debbie Smith at a Government Reform Committee hearing on DNA. She was a victim of rape, and her attacker went unidentified for six years - until DNA technology was used. When she was done telling her story, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I introduced the Debbie Smith Act to erase the backlog of untested rape DNA kits and to strengthen the use of DNA technology in rape cases. As we speak, there are thousands of kits across the country that sit on laboratory shelves - the Debbie Smith law will identify rapists, get them off the streets and throw them behind bars.
In the 108th Congress, I worked closely with my colleague from the other side of the aisle, Mark Green (WI), to pass the Debbie Smith Act. We became hopeful when the provisions from our bill were attached to two promising, bi-partisan DNA technology bills - the “Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act” and the “Justice for All Act.”
Both passed the House. Then, as the Senate prepared to adjourn, they passed H.R. 5107, the “Justice for All Act.”
The Debbie Smith bill will soon make it to the president’s desk. It will soon become law. This is a big victory for victims of rape - past, present and future - and for justice in our country.