Maurice Hinchey was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1992. From January 1993 through December 1998, he was a member of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services and the House Committee on Natural Resources. He was then elected by his colleagues to the House Appropriations Committee and serves on its subcommittees on Agriculture and the Interior. The congressman is also one of 20 members on the bicameral and bipartisan Joint Economic Committee. Additionally, Hinchey serves on the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Early in his first year in Congress, Hinchey initiated and led the successful effort to preserve Sterling Forest, the last significant area of open space in the New York metropolitan region and an important watershed for southeastern New York and northern New Jersey. He also introduced and saw enacted legislation to create the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, the first federal action formally recognizing the fundamentally significant role the people of the Hudson Valley played in the early development of America and its institutions.
As a member of the House Banking Committee, Hinchey's pointed and persistent questioning of Alan Greenspan forced the Federal Reserve Board Chairman to admit to the existence of taped recordings of the meetings of the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC), the board's policy making body. As a result, the public now has, for the first time, direct insight into the thinking of the FOMC and the logic behind the decisions affecting interest rates and other important economic policies.
On the Appropriations Committee, Hinchey has been a strong advocate for the integrity of American agriculture, focusing on protecting the family farm and the safety of the food supply. He continues to be a firm and effective defender of America's natural resources, especially our national parks and wilderness areas. Hinchey is the author of legislation that would desig [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Hinchey was born on Manhattan's Lower West Side in 1938 and raised there and in Saugerties, New York. He is the father of three children. He and his wife, Allison Lee, make their home in Hurley, New York.
Hinchey enrolled in the State University of New York at New Paltz and put himself through college working as a night-shift toll collector on the New York State Thruway. He went on to earn a master's degree at SUNY New Paltz and did advanced graduate work in public administration and economics at the State University of New York at Albany.
Hinchey has varied professional experience, including:
Seaman Third Class, United States Navy, 1956-1959
Analyst, New York State Department of Education
Toll Collector, New York State Thruway
Teacher, State University of New York at New Paltz.
Hinchey enlisted in the U.S. Navy after high school graduation, serving in the Pacific on the destroyer U.S.S. Marshall.
Member, National Conference of State Legislators
National Guard & Reserve Components Congressional Members Organization
Member, Board of Directors, Ulster-Greene ARC
Member, Board of Directors, WAMU Public Radio
New York State Council of Governments.
Now serving in his ninth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Hinchey is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds in the federal budget. On that panel, he serves on the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; and the Subcommittee on Defense. Hinchey is also a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, serving on the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. Additionally, the congressman is one of only 20 members on the bicameral Joint Economic Committee. The congressman also serves on the Board of Visitors for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Prior to coming to Congress in January 1993, Hinchey served 18 years in the New York State Assembly, including 14 years as Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation.
Hinchey was the first Democrat elected to the state legislature from Ulster County since 1912, and only the second since the Civil War. He became Chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee in 1979. Under his leadership, the committee conducted a successful investigation into the causes of "Love Canal," the nation's first major toxic dumpsite, and developed landmark environmental legislation including the nation's first law to control acid rain. Between 1982 and 1992, Hinchey led an investigation into organized crime's control of the waste-hauling industry that led to the conviction of more than 20 criminal figures. He successfully led the fight --first in Albany and later in Washington-- to force the cleanup of PCBs from the Hudson River. During his tenure in Albany, he was responsible for the development of the statewide system of Urban Cultural Parks (now called Heritage Areas), including those in Kingston and Binghamton. Hinchey is the author of the act that created the Hudson River Valley Greenway. He also served on the Ways and Means, Rules, Banks, Health, Higher Education, Labor, Energy and Agriculture committees.
As member of US House of Representatives, from January 1993 through December 1998, he was a member of the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services and the House Committee on Natural Resources. He was then elected by his colleagues to the House Appropriations Committee and serves on its subcommittees on Agriculture and the Interior. The congressman is also one of 20 members on the bicameral and bipartisan Joint Economic Committee. Additionally, Hinchey serves on the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The Right to Choose
I believe the government should protect each woman's health, and respect whatever decision she makes about the care she wants. I, like millions of Americans, view abortion as an issue of choice. I believe the decision of whether to have an abortion should be left up to the woman herself, and not be placed in the hands of government.
Family Planning and Contraceptives
Family planning is important, and I strongly support both domestic and international family planning programs. Federally funded family planning programs have been an integral part of our nation's health care system, providing high-quality contraceptive services and other preventative health care to millions of Americans, most of whom would otherwise lack access to such services. I support increased funding for these programs. I am also a strong supporter of equity in prescription coverage for contraceptives. Women pay 68 percent more in out of pocket expenses for health care, mainly because they are often forced to pay for the full cost of contraceptives. This unfair practice must stop.
Source: Candidate Website (10/04/2008)
I, like millions of Americans, view abortion as an issue of choice. I believe the decision of whether to have an abortion should be left up to the woman herself, and not be placed in the hands of government.
When George Bush assumed the presidency in January of 2001 he inherited a slowing, yet fiscally sound American economy. The federal government, for the fourth consecutive year, was running an annual budget surplus. The publicly held federal debt was being paid down and budget forecasters predicted federal surpluses for nearly as far as the eye could see --10 years into the future.
The country's fiscal situation was so strong, that during the previous year's presidential campaign, Governor Bush called for two trillion dollars worth of tax cuts, most of which would go to the wealthiest Americans because otherwise we in Washington would spend the surplus on needless things like education and health care.
As it became clear that the economy was slowing down, however, President Bush continued to call for massive tax cuts but changed his reasoning. Now he argued the tax cuts were necessary to stop the sliding economy and put people back to work.
In March 2001, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. economy entered a difficult recession. Millions of jobs --most estimates say nearly three million-- were lost in a short period of time. But the recession was brief and the economy began growing again, albeit slowly, in the fourth quarter of 2001. And it's becoming clear that the expansion we have witnessed is going to continue. Some economists are predicting at least a four percent increase in our Gross Domestic Product this year alone.
While a growing economy is always good news, most Americans have not felt its benefits this time. Historically, this is one of the most painful recoveries on record for the middle class. Worse, it is built on a house of cards. And unless the White House recognizes that fact and changes course, our economic house will crumble.
In many ways the Bush economy is similar to the Reagan economy: economic expansion, combined with massive federal deficits. But while the consequences of Reagan's irresponsible fiscal policies were remedied, in part by the first President Bush and further when Bill Clinton took office, the same solutions will not work today.
When President Clinton and we Democrats in Congress passed an economic recovery package in 1993 and laid the groundwork for the sustained economic expansion of the 1990s, most of the baby boomer generation was still 20 years from retirement. Now, retirement is less than nine years away for most of that generation. Instead of preparing for that eventuality, President Bush and congressional Republicans are digging us deeper and deeper into debt and trying to kill the safety net programs that we promised current and future retirees.
Long gone are the days of fiscal responsibility coupled with sound economic growth. President Bush has no plan to deal with the growing deficit. No plan to improve the weak labor market. No plan to increase wages. No plan to address the rise in poverty. No plan to address the loss of health care coverage and rising health care costs. No plan to make higher education more affordable. No plan to fix the AMT. In fact, his budget that is making its way through Congress right now will make many of these conditions even worse. Republicans have set new budget rules that no money can borrowed to pay for non-defense spending increases, but they exempt defense spending and future tax cuts --the primary causes of our deficits-- from that requirement.
Given these realities, I am deeply worried about our economy in both the short and long term. I believe the current economic expansion will continue in its present form, with most of its negative aspects, but only for a short period of time. President Bush's failure to address the myriad problems I have laid before you today will set us up for massive economic distress.
President Bush's House-of-Cards Recovery
The current recovery has been characterized by unprecedented, and seemingly contradictory, economic indicators. It has also been accompanied by a fiscal policy that is radically different from that of the 1990's. In order to judge whether our economic recovery can be sustained, it is necessary to examine what has transpired on the economic landscape since President George W. Bush took office.
While a growing economy is always good news, most Americans have n [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Using public funds to support private schools is bad for our educational system. While many public schools have fundamental problems that need to be fixed, a voucher system would create a whole new set of problems while only helping some students. Vouchers would give some students opportunities to attend better schools, but unless the voucher paid the full cost of tuition, it would not help the poorest kids. Those who would have to remain in public schools because they couldn't make up the remainder of the cost of tuition would suffer under worse conditions than they do now. By implementing such a system nationwide, we would be ensuring that young people would not have equal access to education. That is why I have opposed every effort to divert federal funds to private school vouchers. Instead, I believe very strongly that the government should commit itself to improving all public schools so that every student can have access to a quality education.
I support a substantial increase in federal funding of public education. The current system relies heavily on state and local funding, with local property taxes providing the bulk of it. This leads to good schools in wealthier communities and poor schools in less affluent neighborhoods. To fix this inequality, the federal government should increase its investment in all public schools so that all children have an equal opportunity to learn. Increased federal funding could be used to improve teachers' salaries, finance school construction and modernization, make art and music education available to all students, encourage diverse and creative curricula, provide before- and after-school programming, and encourage a smaller student-to-teacher ratio in our classrooms.
Congress has never adequately funded education for children with disabilities, leaving state and local governments to pick up the slack. That's why I have always fought for increased funding for IDEA and other crucial education programs. Over twenty-five years ago, Congress pledged to meet 40 percent of average per pupil expenditures to help students with disabilities, but it has fallen short of that level every year. I assure you of my continued support for increasing the federal investment in IDEA and in our public schools.
Democrats on the House Education and Workforce Committee have been working with states and the higher education community to formulate a policy that will benefit the students and not unfairly penalize the higher education institutions. My goal is to make college more affordable and accessible, without placing penalties on higher education institutions or students. It is important that the federal government make it easier for students to attend and pay for college, and not make it more difficult for institutions to provide that necessary education.
Before Title IX was enacted, schools at all levels limited the participation of women and girls in the classroom and on the playing field. Since the enactment of Title IX in 1972, much has been accomplished in expanding our country's definition of equality. Despite this progress, barriers still remain for girls and women in our schools and more must be done to make Title IX the vehicle for equity that it was intended to be.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the massive education reform bill, required local schools to comply with new national testing standards. The president, however, did not live up to his commitment to provide adequate funding to improve schools. Under-funding federal education mandates creates a domino effect that ultimately ends at the local property owner's doorstep. Since the federal government won't pay for the programs it requires schools to implement, the cost of NCLB has been passed down to the states. The states in turn pass the burden of education funding down to the local communities and school districts, resulting in both increased property taxes and decreased or diminished school programs. We pay more to get less.
Federal Funding of Public Education
No Child Left Behind
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), the massive education reform bill, required local schools to comply with new national testing standards. The president, however, did not live up to his commitment to provide adequate funding to improve schools. Under-funding federal education mandates creates a domino effect that ultimately ends at the local property owner's doorstep. Since the federal government won't pay for the programs it requires schools to implement, the cost of NCLB has been passed down to the states. The states in turn pass the burden of education fundin [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
By promoting renewable energy technologies and gains in energy efficiency, the United States can become a global energy leader and strengthen our economy instead of spending tens of billions of dollars on foreign oil every year. Increased funding and incentives for renewable energy technologies could create millions of high-wage jobs, while saving energy, reducing pollution, cleaning up the environment, and ending our addiction for foreign oil. Unless President Bush and Congress act to take the lead in developing these technologies, the United States risks losing out on this enormous global market. In Congress, I am supporting numerous bills that should be part of any comprehensive energy package. These bills would provide:
tax credits for the production of renewable energy such as wind, solar and fuel cells;
incentives for the purchase of energy efficient appliances, and upgrades of heating, cooling and hot water systems that would help families reduce energy consumption and their utility bills;
tax credits for energy-efficient building equipment, including electric heat pumps, hot water heaters and natural gas heat pumps;
tax credits for energy efficiency improvements to existing homes and for the construction of new ones.
Not only would these steps greatly reduce our energy demand, they would create jobs as well. Energy and environmental technologies are poised to become one of the largest, if not the largest, source of new high-wage, high-tech jobs.
The federal government should be doing much more to promote this industry. Currently our spending priorities are skewed -77 cents of every energy research dollar from 1973 to 1997 has gone to nuclear and fossil fuels. In 1980 we were headed in the right direction, spending $1 billion on renewable energy programs. But subsequent Administrations gutted these programs and twenty years later we have not yet fully reversed these cuts. If the U.S. is serious about energy independence and leadership in creating [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
National Energy Policy
The continuing problem of high fuel costs in the Northeast and elsewhere, the growing need for power in the changing economy, and our increasing dependence on foreign oil, should be a wakeup call to the United States government. It is inconceivable that we do not have a coherent national energy policy. Establishing such a policy should be an urgent priority of the Congress and the Bush Administration. But the residents of New York's 22nd Congressional District will not benefit from this national plan unless it focuses on reducing the demand for oil and promoting technologies for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Reducing the Demand for Oil is the Key
Any serious energy plan must focus our efforts on reducing our demand for oil rather than on increasing our supplies, as the Bush Administration seems determined to do. Oil is a global commodity, and its price will always be driven by world market factors beyond our control. The United States has only 2 percent of the world's oil reserves but generates about 25 percent of world demand, while Gulf State OPEC members control about two-thirds of proven reserves. We currently depend on imports for over half of our oil supplies and by 2015 this dependence is expected to increase to more than 68%. While the U.S. currently produces 12% of the global oil, domestic production will continue to decline, whether or not we open more federally protected lands for production. These facts tell us that we cannot simply drill our way to energy independence. Our energy security depends on reducing our oil addiction. The following measures will help us accomplish that task and will strengthen our economy along the way.
Promote Energy Efficiency and the Development of Renewable Energy Technologies
By promoting renewable energy technologies and gains in energy efficiency, the United States can become a global energy leader and strengthen our economy instead of spending tens of billio [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Congress must act to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, particularly for light trucks and SUVs. This is the single most effective way to promote our energy independence in the short-term. Current standards save more than three million barrels of oil a day. But instead of continuing this progress, the Republicans have prevented the Department of Transportation from even examining the need to raise CAFE standards for the past five years.
When Congress passed the CAFE law in 1975, it required stepped increases for cars, but not for light trucks, because they accounted for such a small percentage of the market. But light truck and SUV sales have exploded, and now SUVs and other light trucks guzzle 20% of the oil we use. Because of the growing market share of SUVs and the Republicans' prohibition on raising efficiency standards, the average fuel economy of all new passenger vehicles is at its lowest point since 1980.
Raising CAFE standards would spur technological innovation, save consumers money, and lead to cleaner air and lower levels of greenhouse gases.
The centerpiece of the Bush Administration's energy plan is to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This move would simply be a gift to the oil companies that would do little, if anything, to affect our energy prices or security. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the amount of oil that could be recovered from the Arctic Refuge would amount to less than a six-month supply for American consumers. It will take 7 to 10 years for any oil from the Arctic Refuge to make it to market - and it wouldn't even help our region. None of it is shipped east of the Rocky Mountains and no Alaska oil is refined into home heating oil. At no time would oil from the refuge be expected to meet more than 2 percent of U.S. demand. The Arctic Refuge is one of our national treasures and it deserves to be protected as wilderness, not despoiled for a few months worth of oil.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Raise Fuel Efficiency Standards
Raising CAFE standards would spur technological innovation, save con [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Under President Bush our country went from record budget surpluses to record budget deficits. In fiscal year 2001, we had a $127 billion budget surplus. Three years later that surplus has been turned instead into a $500 billion deficit. The $5.6 trillion ten-year surplus that was predicted three years ago has been turned into a $2.9 trillion deficit projection. Most of this turn-around is due to the president's nearly $3 trillion in tax cuts, which required the federal government to borrow tremendous sums of money from foreign lenders.
The growing annual federal deficit and resulting debt will "crowd out" funds for private investment, as the government is forced to borrow more to cover its operating expenses. The International Monetary Fund reports that the Bush Administration's policies have set the United States on a course to increase its net debt to 40 percent of GDP within the next few years, "an unprecedented level of debt for a large industrial country." This will inevitably lead to a rise in long-term interest rates. Alan Greenspan recently indicated that he has no plans to increase rates at the next Federal Reserve meeting. But as the economy continues to expand and inflationary pressures increase, you can be assured that the Fed will raise short-term interest rates in the near future.
As interest rates rise and personal incomes remain stalled, Americans will not be able to keep spending at the same pace. Mortgage payments, credit card payments and car payments will all increase as rates go up, leaving little disposable income in the household budget. Thus, the foundation of this house of cards --consumer spending-- will crumble.
It's very clear how this dangerous debt bubble was created. The Bush tax cuts account for more than three-fourths of the growing deficit. Increased spending --including military, homeland security, and the Iraq war-- accounts for slightly less than a quarter. Of the ten-year projected deficit of $3.6 trillion, the revenue [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Bush White House Blinded by Ideology
This White House is unlikely to enact the necessary change since its policy decisions are driven by an unyielding neo-conservative ideology. [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
I opposed going to war against Iraq and voted against giving President Bush the authority to wage war on Iraq. It is now clear that the administration overstated the threat presented by Iraq, as no weapons of mass destruction have been found. It is also clear that President Bush was not prepared for the aftermath of the war. U.S. soldiers are now mired in a dangerous and deadly situation. They are subject to nearly 20 attacks a day and we are now losing almost 7 young soldiers each week. While I firmly support our troops, I voted against the additional $87 billion President Bush requested for Iraq. I did so because it continues a failing policy and unfairly burdens American taxpayers for the cost of rebuilding Iraq at a time of record deficits and when we can't even meet our domestic needs - failing schools, crumbling hospitals, outdated electricity grid, and gaps in our homeland security.
Now that the U.S. has removed Saddam Hussein's government, we must recognize that our actions in post-war Iraq are as important, if not more important, than our actions during the war. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has refused to recognize that its unilateral strategy is not working. Abandoning Iraq now that we removed its prior government is not an option. The U.S. must do more to bring in allies and international organizations to the reconstruction of Iraq. Our recent efforts to seek greater U.N. involvement are a start, but a comprehensive and genuine effort to enlist others to share the burden in Iraq is required.
Investigating Pre-War Intelligence
This was a war of choice, billed as a war of necessity. President Bush and his advisors and staff regularly overstated the threat presented by Iraq and the certainty of the evidence of that threat. While it certainly seemed likely that Saddam Hussein had some weapons of mass destruction, we clearly did not have evidence of any immediate threat to our national security from Iraq. Rather than apprising the [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Human Rights/Latin America
As a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, I have been working to condemn and combat human rights abuses around the world. I have been particularly active in Latin America, where numerous countries have been plagued by massive human rights abuses. As the western hemisphere's dominant power, the U.S. has supported numerous regimes in Latin America that were responsible to widespread abuses. During the last century, this support was part of the U.S. larger efforts to combat communism. It is critical for our government to be open about the role the U.S. played during this period.
I succeeded in passing legislation that required the CIA to report to Congress on its involvement in the 1973 coup of Chile's democratically elected President, Salvador Allende. Following the coup, President Allende was assassinated and General Augusto Pinochet began his 17-year dictatorship. The report, now known as the Hinchey Report, makes a clear case that the United States - at the very highest levels of our government - was deeply involved in the destabilization of Chile's government and economy over a period of nearly twenty years. The Hinchey Report revealed that, beginning in the early 1960s and continuing through the late 1970s, the U.S. funneled millions of dollars to opposition groups to prevent the rise to power of the Chilean left. The CIA admitted its participation in an unsuccessful 1970 plot to prevent President Allende from taking office and its knowledge of the 1973 coup that led to Allende's death and the rise of Pinochet.
Currently I am drafting legislation to investigate what role the U.S. played in the human rights abuses throughout Latin America during the Cold War.
Exposing Nazis in Argentina
In May 2003 I introduced a resolution, H. Res. 235, calling on Argentina to build upon the steps it has already taken to shed light on the relocation of Nazis to Argentina following the end of World War II, and to make public [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Health Care Coverage for All Americans
I am deeply concerned about the cost of health care and its accessibility to a large segment of the population. I strongly support the establishment of a national health care system. It is the best way that we can ensure that every single American has affordable, quality health care. More than 43 million Americans have no health insurance today, and millions more have inadequate insurance. Employers who have long provided quality coverage for their employees are cutting back benefits and raising workers' out-of-pocket expenses to deal with the rising cost of health premiums.
A single-payer health care system would not only be the smart and humane thing to do, it would save money in the long run. Today, almost 30 percent of the money spent on health care in America -- billions of dollars -- is spent on administration, advertising and overhead by health insurance companies. That's more than enough to cover the cost of providing insurance to people who don't have coverage now. By contrast, the administrative costs of Medicare, our universal health care system for seniors, make up only two percent of the program's spending.
Fair Payments for Medicare Providers
In order to ensure the solvency of Medicare, Congress enacted a series of cuts to health care providers as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Combined with the inflation of health care costs, a shortage of professional health care workers that has raised wages, and reduced payments from private insurers, these cuts have severely damaged the viability of many hospitals, nursing homes, home health providers and physicians.
I strongly believe that we must restore these cuts before patient care suffers and facilities in our communities are forced to shut their doors. I support comprehensive Medicare reform that addresses the payment levels for all providers, instead of just singling out a few. I also believe that comprehensive reform must go hand-in-hand w [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Prescription Drug Benefit for Seniors
As pharmaceutical companies post record profits, millions of Americans are struggling to pay for the medications they need. This is a particularly serious problem for seniors because Medicare, the primary insurer for people over 65, does not provide coverage for prescription drugs. As a result, more than one-third of retirees have no insurance coverage for pharmaceutical drugs and must pay full price.
Medicare should provide a comprehensive, affordable prescription drug benefit for all seniors. The legislation I have cosponsored, the House Democratic proposal, would create a true Medicare drug benefit with monthly premiums of $24 and low co-payments that would be available to any senior who chooses to enroll. It would also ensure that no retiree spends more [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
It is now clear that the administration overstated the threat presented by Iraq, as no weapons of mass destruction have been found. President Bush and his advisors and staff regularly overstated the threat presented by Iraq and the certainty of the evidence of that threat. While it certainly seemed likely that Saddam Hussein had some weapons of mass destruction, we clearly did not have evidence of any immediate threat to our national security from Iraq.
It is now clear that the administration overstated the threat presented by Iraq, as no weapons of mass destruction have been found. This was a war of choice, billed as a war of necessity. President Bush and his advisors and staff regularly overstated the threat presented by Iraq and the certainty of the evidence of that threat. While it certainly seemed likely that Saddam Hussein had some weapons of mass destruction, we clearly did not have evidence of any immediate threat to our national security from Iraq. Rather than apprising the American people of the facts, they used spin and deception to win support for this unnecessary war.
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, we witnessed the greatest assault on the United States in our history. Almost 3000 innocent civilians were murdered. No one will ever forget the tragic images and tremendous losses we witnessed that day.
I supported the war against al Qaeda and removing the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan. It was clear that the al Qaeda terrorist network based in Afghanistan was behind the 9/11 attacks. We needed to take action to dismantle that terrorist network, destroy its bases, and remove the Taliban regime that permitted al Qaeda to operate freely. The men and women in our armed forces did an outstanding job. The terrorist bases have been destroyed and the tyrannical Taliban regime no longer runs Afghanistan.
It is critical to now follow that success by remaining in Afghanistan as part of an international coalition and ensuring that it does not fall back in to chaos. Following the fall of the Taliban, I supported an expanded international security force to restore stability to all of Afghanistan. Regrettably, the Bush Administration refused to allow the international force to operate beyond the capital of Kabul. This has allowed warlords to fill the power vacuums outside Kabul and threatens to undermine our progress. Fortunately, it appears that President Bush is lifting his objection and will allow the international security force to expand beyond Kabul. I fervently hope this is the case, so that security and stability can be provided to all of Afghanistan.
Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' survey of households, 8.2 million Americans are unemployed --2.2 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the Bush Administration. This is the first time since the Great Depression that jobs have disappeared over the course of one presidential term and the first time in over 70 years that there has not been a net job gain at this point in the business cycle.
Only recently have we witnessed any discernable job creation, but our current unemployment rate --5.7 percent-- remains 1.5 percent higher than when President Bush took office.
Using the unemployment figure alone is insufficient if we want a true picture of the current state of the labor market under the Bush economy. To understand the severity of the situation, we must also factor in the number of people who want to work but gave up looking for a job and the number of people working part time who want to be working full time. According to BLS, these groups bring the rate up to 9.9 percent.
It's important to note that this is long-term unemployment we're discussing. The number of people unemployed for more than 26 weeks has tripled under President Bush. Twenty-six weeks, as you know, is the cut-off point for regular state unemployment benefits. The president and the Republican-controlled Congress, however, refused to renew the Temporary Unemployment Compensation program when it expired in December. As a result, those who have exhausted their regular state benefits will receive no additional federal benefits, despite the still weak labor market.
Other Distressing Indicators
President Bush is on track to have the worst job creation record of any modern president. But if that were the end of the story, most Americans could consider themselves lucky. Unfortunately, this recovery is wrought with more distressing news. According to the most recent Census data, median household income dropped significantly in 2002 for th [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
While a growing economy is always good news, most Americans have not [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Medicare should provide a comprehensive, affordable prescription drug benefit for all seniors. The legislation I have cosponsored, the House Democratic proposal, would create a true Medicare drug benefit with monthly premiums of $24 and low co-payments that would be available to any senior who chooses to enroll. It would also ensure that no retiree spends more than $2000 per year, and would allow seniors to get their prescriptions filled at any pharmacy they choose.
I strongly believe that we must restore [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Early detection, research and education are key components of understanding and treating breast cancer. I have cosponsored numerous bills that would provide medical coverage for hospital stays and secondary consultations. I have also supported legislation that would permit states to use Medicaid funding to pay for breast cancer treatment.
Patients shouldn't have to fight with their Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) or other managed care plans in order to get coverage for medical treatment that their physicians say they need. It's a persistent problem, and one that has needed the urgent attention of Congress for a long time.
Since 1996, I have been an original cosponsor of legislation, known as the Patients' Bill of Rights, which would restrain the abuses of these insurance companies. The bill would guarantee access to specialists and emergency care, would prohibit discrimination based on genetic information, would allow women to designate an OB-GYN as their primary care providers, and would hold insurance companies accountable for the decisions they make.
I am dedicated to the peace process because it is the only way to ensure the long-term security of a Jewish state of Israel and achieve the Palestinians' long sought goal of statehood.
I am committed to ending the terrorist attacks on Israel and ensuring Israel's security. I also support the Palestinian peoples' aspirations for a state of their own and for the improvement of humanitarian conditions. Like everyone, I am deeply saddened by the terrorism that has plagued Israel for nearly three years. I condemn all acts of terrorism against Israel unequivocally. The murder of innocent Israelis must stop. Those who would perpetrate these senseless and vicious acts of terror should understand that they prevent the realization of the Palestinian people's goal of a state of their own.
Most importantly I am dedicated to the peace process because it is the only way to ensure the long-term security of a Jewish state of Israel and achieve the Palestinians' long sought goal of statehood.
I was very disappointed that direct U.S. involvement in the Middle East effectively ended when President Bush came to office. While it is true that the Clinton Administration was not able to bring about a final peace agreement, American involvement has always decreased the violence in the Middle East. I am pleased that Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush finally decided to join the peace effort. I believe the U.S. must be an honest broker throughout this difficult process. The U.S. is the only country that can arrange a settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Our country must continue to exercise leadership by urging both parties to return to the negotiating table. Innocent Israelis and Palestinians die nearly every day. It is my sincere hope that we will see peace in the Middle East during my lifetime. This will only be accomplished when both sides make compromises.
Prescription Drug Fairness for all Americans
Prescription drug reform is a necessary component of health care reform for all Americans, not just seniors. Although high drug prices disproportionately affect the elderly, the affordability of pharmaceuticals is becoming a crisis for millions of working families, including those who have employer-provided insurance coverage. Prescription drug costs have been the number one cause of rising health insurance expenditures for the past five years. When health expenditures go up, so do health insurance premiums. Many health insurance plans are combining higher premiums with reduced coverage for drugs and higher co-payments. Even for people who have good employer-provided insurance, prices are climbing out of reach of many families. For families who don't have any health insurance at all, the dramatic increase in health costs is devastating, forcing tens of millions of people in this country to go without the care they need.
Despite the fact that drug prices have risen at three and four times the rate of inflatio [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
I strongly believe that we must restore these cuts before patient care suffers and facilities in our communities are forced to shut their doors. I support comprehensive Medicare reform that addresses the payment levels for all providers, instead of just singling out a few. I also believe that comprehensive reform must go hand-in-hand with the addition of a prescription drug benefit for seniors, our most important Medicare priority.
The president has proposed a privatization plan for Social Security that would divert up to one-third of a worker's Social Security payroll taxes to a private account, leaving the rest in the Social Security Trust Fund. The president claims that workers would have a choice to stay in traditional Social Security or opt for a private account. But whichever they choose, their benefits will be cut, and once a worker opts into the private accounts, he or she can never opt out.
President Bush will replace a guaranteed benefit with a guaranteed benefit cut, leaving benefits in worse shape than if we did nothing at all to the system. Privatization will not fix the Social Security shortfall. It will not improve or address Social Security's finances, and instead beneficiaries will see cuts of up to 46 percent in their benefits.
The government would need to borrow nearly $5 trillion over the first 20 years of the privatized program, with trillions more needed in future years. Our national debt is already at record levels and President Bush wants to add more to it. This will mean higher long-term interest rates for consumers, a greater share of the federal budget devoted to debt payments, and the inability of the government to provide needed services.
The president also tells workers that if they choose private accounts, the money in that account is theirs. This is misleading. His plan will dictate where workers can invest, when workers can take their money out (only at retirement), and it will cut workers' Social Security benefits to offset the money they diverted to their accounts from Social Security.
Social Security should never involve risk. Privatization would take this country's safest and most successful insurance program and put it at the mercy of the stock market.
Hundreds of companies across the country, including IBM and other large employers in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley regions, have converted their traditional defined benefit pension plans to cash-balance plans. While the switch to cash-balance pension plans is probably a good deal for younger workers who want flexibility and portability in their benefits, these plans are often structured in such a way that older workers lose a significant amount of their final benefits after conversion. In a traditional defined benefit plan, contributions rise exponentially the closer workers are to retirement, while under a cash-balance plan, the rate of accrual remains basically constant throughout an employee's tenure.
Since IBM announced its intention to switch to a cash-balance plan in 1999, I have called for strong federal protections for workers whose benefits would be decreased by the conversion. I have also sponsored legislation that would give employees a choice between the two types of pension plans when a conversion is proposed.
In July, a U.S. District Court ruled that cash-balance formulas inherently violate federal pensions laws against age discrimination.
Specifically, the court found that "the rate of benefit accrual decreases because of the attainment of a certain age." Despite this ruling, the Treasury Department is continuing to pursue regulations it proposed last year that would allow cash-balance plans. I am pleased to report that in September, the House of Representatives passed the Sanders-Gutknecht-Miller-Hinchey-Emanuel Pension Amendment, which would prevent Treasury from working to overturn the court ruling. Whether this measure will remain in the final legislation is not yet known.
President Bush is scaring the American public into believing that there is an immediate crisis in Social Security. There is not. According to the Social Security trustees, Social Security can pay all benefits through 2042 and 70 percent of benefits after that. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Social Security can pay all benefits until 2052 and 80 percent of benefits after that. Social Security does face long-term challenges that need to be addressed, and these can be fixed with modest changes to the system.
Social Security is a safety net for retirees, disabled workers, and survivors, and it is the only system that provides guaranteed benefits to workers. When a worker retires or becomes disabled, a person is widowed, o [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Interest payments on the national debt are the most obligatory item in the federal budget. As the national debt increases, American taxpayers are required to pay increasing interest payments. This effectively creates a debt tax. If each American family is assumed to pay the same share of debt service, or interest on that national debt, then this year a family of four is paying a $2,109 debt tax. This amounts to 58.7 percent of the income tax liability for a median-income family of four. By 2008, under the same assumptions, the debt tax rises to $3,705 or 71.1 percent of the typical family's tax liability.
Of course each family doesn't pay the same share of debt service, but the point remains valid: the debt tax is a significant cost to taxpayers. Worse, it's money that is going solely to pay our debt interest - not to education, health care, medical research or any other vital services.
When a Tax Cut is Actually a Tax Increase
Unfortunately, a debt bubble is not the only matter we need to be concerned with. The tax cuts that make up the entirety of President Bush's economic policy have amounted to tax increases --at the local and state levels-- on the majority of Americans.
States and localities have just been through some of the most difficult economic times in over 50 years. At the same time, they have been forced to pay for an increasing number of federal mandates. These range from Medicaid services to the changes required in the No Child Left Behind Act. It would be logical to most people that the federal government would provide assistance to the states for these federal obligations. But, as we all know, that didn't happen. Instead the president passed his unaffordable tax cuts. This left states and localities with little choice but to cut programs and services and raise property taxes. If it were understood that the Bush tax cut represented a choice between a few hundred dollars in federa [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Recently the president signed free-trade agreements (FTAs) with Chile and Singapore. His administration is currently negotiating a "Free Trade Agreement of the Americas" that would expand NAFTA to the entire western hemisphere. These agreements fail to protect American jobs from unfair foreign competition. Because they hold our trading partners to much lower standards than are required in the United States, FTAs cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs and erode the bargaining power of our workers.
Veterans' Health Care
The veterans' health care system is in a state of crisis. Hundreds of thousands of enrolled veterans are currently being denied timely access to quality health care. An average of 200,000 veterans are waiting six months or more for appointments at VA hospitals. As a veteran myself, I believe that this restriction of care for the men and women who so proudly served our nation is a disgrace. Our government made a commitment to those who served and I for one believe that we ought to honor it by providing the best possible health care to every veteran who needs it.
The decline in the availability and quality of care is the direct result of inadequate funding by the Bush Administration and Congress. For nearly a decade, the Republican leadership's desire to cut government spending has resulted in too little funding for the VA medical system. Despite the growing demand for care and the increase in enrollment in VA health programs, funding has not even kept up with the rate of inflation.
This year is no different. The president's budget falls far short of funding veterans' needs. The Republican leaders in Congress promised to do better for veterans, but their budget plans provide the same inadequate amount of funding as President Bush's proposal.
In a joint press release, the major veterans' advocacy organizations denounced the inadequate funding, stating that, "This meager increase is simply inadequate to provide health care to sick and disabled veterans, and represents a flagrant disregard for promises made to veterans by this Congress." I wholeheartedly agree.
We need to fund veterans' health care at a higher level that keeps pace with the rising cost of providing it and the growth in the number of veterans enrolled. We should be working to address the long waiting times and reduced services that veterans are already experiencing by providing more resources.
Our wounded troops returning from service in Iraq are overcoming gra [Response was truncated to maximum response length of 2000 characters.]
Because it does not account for regional differences in health care costs, the formula that allocates veterans health care funding across the country, the Veterans Equitable Resource Allocation (VERA), effectively penalizes veterans in the Northeast, particularly in the Hudson Valley region. Funds that used to come to the Northeast are now sent to the South and West. Due to these funding reductions, since 1995, the VA's Hudson Valley Health Care system has cut the number of employees by 34 percent and the number of beds by 52 percent. Meanwhile the number of patients has increased by 76 percent and the number of visits has risen by 84 percent. Congress's investigative arm, the General Accounting Office (GAO) conducted a study that confirmed that VERA does not allocate resources around the country in proportion to need.
For several years I have offered an amendment to prevent the VA from using the VERA formula to allocate veterans medical dollars. I have also joined with several of my Northeast colleagues in introducing two bills that would require the VA to devise a truly equitable formula for allocating veterans medical care dollars so that all of our veterans, regardless of where they live, will have access to the same quality of medical care they have all earned.
I will continue fighting to bring equal access to health care to veterans in the Northeast.