A New Direction Means New Committee Priorities

The message from this election is clear. There’s little doubt that the American people want a change of course in Iraq. But they also want a government that stands with them and their families as they look to the future – jobs that reward their hard work, health care that is good and affordable, and education that continues to open the door to the American dream for all of our citizens.

That was the agenda of the voters in this election and it will be the agenda of our Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee when we convene in the new year. And with Senator Reid as our majority leader, America’s families will see great progress on the issues that they care most about.

My first priority will be to increase the minimum wage. Americans are working harder than ever, but millions of hard-working men and women across the country aren’t getting their fair share. We’re not rewarding work fairly anymore, and working families are falling behind.

Another high priority is to remove the barriers to lifesaving stem cell research. We are in the era of the life sciences, and no area of medical research has more promise than stem cell research to speed the search for new cures for diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer, and many other serious illnesses. Last year, a broad bipartisan majority approved legislation to tear down the barriers that have kept NIH scientists from realizing the full potential of this research. That bill was rejected by the President, but hope can never be vetoed. We will be back again and again next year until we succeed in overturning the restrictions on stem cell research that hinder the search for new cures, and delay the day when the hope of a better future becomes a reality for patients across America.

We must also address the crisis in college affordability that affects every low and middle income family and that threatens our economic progress. It is more important than ever for our citizens to have a college education so they can compete in the global economy and have a fair chance at the American Dream. But because of soaring college costs, stagnant student aid and heavy student loan debt, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for our citizens to get such an education.

Today, students and families are pinching every penny to save for college – but it’s not enough. Each year, 400,000 low income students do not attend a four year college because of cost factors. Student debt is also a barrier to the pursuit of vital but lower-paying professions like teaching, public health, and social work.

And at long last, we can no longer ignore the need for health care reform. We must reduce the cost of health and we must make it available to each and every American. Every Member of the Senate, and their staffs, and every federal employee has a sense of security about health care that is denied to millions of Americans. Members of Congress know that if we get sick, or if our children need medical care, our health insurance plan will cover virtually all of the costs. The time is long overdue to address the crisis in health care. Bipartisan health care reform is possible, and our first step toward it should be effective legislation to strengthen and re-authorize CHIP, the program that provides quality health care for 4 million children. But our experience with health reform in Massachusetts showed that we can do more. We proved that people from all parts of the political spectrum can come together to provide health care for all. So this, too, is one of our top goals for the coming Congress.

Together, we can – we must -- make the promise of this century of the life sciences a reality for all Americans by seeing that every American has quality, affordable health care.

We must pass the CLASS Act and create a long-term care infrastructure in this country that will support every American’s choice to live at home and be part of their community. Every older or disabled American has this right, and it’s our job in Congress to provide them with the support they need to make this a reality. We will strengthen early learning opportunities, starting at birth, for each of our children. Prevention works in health care and it can work in education as well. We must also ensure that our schools are equipped to meet the challenges of the global economy. Our nation’s future depends on many things, but certainly one of the most important measures of the strength of our democracy is the excellence of our public schools. This year, we’ll revisit the reforms contained in the No Child Left Behind Act. In addition, we must give workers a stronger voice in their own futures and in meeting the needs of their families. We must protect workers’ right to join together and fight for better wages and working conditions, free from employer intimidation. Workers need opportunities to improve their skills through job training programs. And families deserve paid sick days to care for loved ones without fear of losing their jobs.

These will be my priorities as Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next year. They come directly out of this election where the American people spoke loud and clear. And I look forward to working with my colleagues to make important progress for America’s families.