2010 census: answers to the top 10 most frequently asked questions (Rep. John B. Larson)

Do I have to respond to the 2010 census?

Yes, participation in the 2010 census is vital and required by law.

By being counted, you're helping your community secure the resources and representation it needs and deserves.  Accurate data reflecting changes in your community are crucial in deciding how almost $450 billion in federal funding per year is allocated for projects like new hospitals, roads, job training centers, and schools.  That's more than $4 trillion over a 10-year period.  Census data also determine apportionment in the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures.


New report reinforces need to pass comprehensive food safety reform now (Sen. Tom Harkin)

Today the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General released a new report on the Food and Drug Administration’s inspections of domestic food facilities.  Among its findings, the report identifies significant weaknesses in FDA’s inspections of food facilities, including the fact that FDA inspects less than a quarter of food facilities each year, and that more than half of all food facilities have gone five or more years without an FDA inspection.   

The report shows what we have feared for too long: that that our domestic food facilities are not being adequately inspected and FDA needs additional authorities to keep the food on our tables safe.  This is unacceptable in our modern society and an important reminder that we must provide FDA with the needed tools to properly inspect food facilities and effectively react to problems in order to ensure the safety of the food American families eat.  Quite simply, picking up food at the grocery store should not be a health risk.

At a time when party line bickering seems to have reached an all time high, efforts to pass comprehensive food safety legislation have risen above partisanship.  In fact, our food safety bill passed out of the Senate HELP Committee without a single ‘no’ vote and a similar bill passed in the House with strong bipartisan support.  This legislation is long overdue and it is my hope that we can soon pass the FDA Food Modernization Act of 2009 on the Senate floor in order to get the bill reconciled with the House and on the President’s desk to be signed into law.

The author is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.


The Big Question: How has the Tea Party changed politics?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today's question:

How has the Tea Party movement changed American politics in the last year?


Returning the census is our constitutional duty

I’m worried about this year’s census.

I’m not worried about ACORN rigging the count – we already succeeded in kicking them out of the census. I’m not worried about the President’s attempt to run the census out of the White House – we beat that power grab back last year. I’m not even worried about privacy – this year’s 10-question census form is the shortest in memory.

No, what worries me is blatant misinformation coming from otherwise well-meaning conservatives. They are trying to do the right thing, but instead they are helping big government liberals by discouraging fellow conservatives from filling out their census forms.


End the denial; label China a currency manipulator

America and China share a terrible delusion. They are in denial about currency manipulation. Both officially state that China is not devaluing its currency.  

In mid-March, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao flatly denied that China deliberately suppresses the value of its currency against the dollar, a practice that decreases the price of its exports and increases the cost of America goods imported into China. Similarly, the U.S. Treasury Department, which is required by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 to name foreign currency manipulators in bi-annual reports, has not in the past decade and a half called out China -- including in the past two reports submitted during the Obama administration.  

China and America decline to acknowledge what everyone else knows: China suppresses the value of its currency to gain a trade advantage over America. The New York Times reported on the practice in a story published March 14 describing how currency manipulation has worked wonders for Chinese industry while killing American manufacturing.  


7 new tax credits now available through the Recovery Act (Rep. John B. Larson)

Tax cuts were the biggest individual component of the Recovery Act. Even though only half of taxpayers have filed so far this year, tax refunds are already up nearly 10% from last year due to the Recovery Act.

As you file your 2009 income taxes, you may qualify for a series of new tax cuts that were established through the Recovery Act. You could, for example, save money for attending college, making energy-saving home improvements, purchasing a home for the first time, or buying a new car.

Here are some of the new tax credits available through the Recovery Act that you may be eligible for:


Bridging the other digital divide: National broadband plan can generate jobs for hard-hit communities

The National Broadband Plan, released last week by the Federal Communications Commission and being discussed by the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet this Thursday, represents an important step in bringing the social and economic benefits of broadband access to all. Now, we must make sure that the many thousands of jobs this effort will create benefit the communities that need them most.

The national unemployment rate of 9.7 percent has created hardship across the country. But in communities of color, this recession feels an awful lot like a full-fledged depression. For Latinos, the unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, and for African-Americans, it’s an appalling 15.8 percent.

Implementation of the NBP can help address these inequalities. Creation of the infrastructure needed to bring broadband access to the 93 million Americans who lack it will create jobs all across the country. Communities of color desperately need their fair share of those jobs.


Restoring voting rights to millions

Today Congress is listening to 4 million silenced Americans.  Leaders of the House Judiciary Committee are holding a hearing on the Democracy Restoration Act, legislation that seeks to restore the right to vote to people with a criminal records who are out of prison, living in the community.   This bill would eliminate the last blanket barrier to the franchise, and reverse decade of discrimination create by laws firmly rooted in our country’s Jim Crow history.


Today 5.3 million American citizens are denied the right to vote because of a criminal conviction in their past. Four million are people who are out of prison, living in the community.  States vary on whether, when and how they restore voting rights to people with criminal conviction, but all told 35 states continue to disenfranchise people who are out of prison, often for decades and sometimes for life.


Criminal disenfranchisement laws trace directly back to Jim Crow and were part of a concerted effort to maintain white control over access to the polls. Enacted alongside poll taxes and literacy tests, criminal disenfranchisement laws were part of a larger backlash against the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments. At the same time states enacted these disenfranchisement provisions, they began to expand the criminal codes to punish offense they believed freed slaves were most likely to commit. The result: suppressed African-American political power for decades.  Today, 13% of African-American men in our country have lost the right to vote.  


ESEA blueprint a step forward for public education (Sen. Tom Harkin)

This past Sunday I was thrilled to host Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at two forums, one in Cedar Rapids and one in Des Moines, that focused on the future of our public schools.  Secretary Duncan’s Blueprint for Reform, which he unveiled this weekend, revises the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – also known as No Child Left Behind - to help states raise expectations of students and reward schools for producing dramatic gains in student achievement. Attending our forums were local education leaders, parents and students to ensure that our work to re-draft ESEA includes the ideas and needs of our communities.  I felt it was appropriate to begin this discussion in Iowa – the first state to establish core academic standards, and a state respected nationwide for the quality of its public schools and teachers.

We have an opportunity before us to fix the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act and start making federal policy that will help our educators ensure that all students succeed.  President Obama has taken the lead by laying out a bold vision for how we can make America’s schools the best in the world.  As Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee I look forward to working with the President, the Secretary and my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle to write an education law that maintains our focus on the success of all students, while giving states and districts the support to do their jobs.

The author is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.


The Refugee Act: more reason to celebrate Ted Kennedy's legacy (Sen. John Kerry)

My colleague of twenty five years, Ted Kennedy, left an enormous imprint on the Senate and on our country. Today we quietly mark the 30th anniversary of one of his most visionary legislative accomplishments.

The Refugee Act of 1980 paved the way for what is now the most robust and effective refugee program in the world. Thirty years later, we can celebrate the almost three million refugees we have welcomed into our land and our lives.

Many fled unspeakable horror and persecution. All learned firsthand our country's generous spirit of welcome. The "lost boy" from southern Sudan whose village was destroyed in civil war. The young man unlucky enough to be born an ethnic Rohingya in Burma, despised by his own government and denied even the basic identity papers that connote official personhood. The mother of three whose husband was killed by insurgents in return for his service to American troops in Iraq. The American people have welcomed all of them -- and many more.