Hezbollah's Only Choice Is To Disarm

Today, so much has changed in the Middle East since the Syria Accountability Act passed. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon is over and the U.N. investigator has implicated the Assad regime in the Hariri murder.

The Syria Accountability Act had four conditions, only one of which was ending Syria's occupation of Lebanon. Congress also demanded that the Assad regime end support for terrorism, halt development of weapons of mass destruction, and stop guerillas from entering Iraq. Clearly, these conditions have not been met. Nor has Syria demonstrated any measurable willingness to clamp down on Hezbollah or pursue peace talks with Israel.

So, have we been successful? Absolutely yes! Syria is out of Lebanon and has nowhere to turn except, of course, to Iran. What should we do now?

First and foremost, I believe that our goals remain the same as when Congress adopted the Syria Accountability Act: ending terror and WMD programs and the flow of guerillas into Iraq. Yet, with Syria's continuing transgressions, not all of the penalties in the law have been implemented. When Secretary Rice testified before the Committee earlier this year, I asked her why the Administration has not carried out all sanctions authorized by the Syria Accountability Act. The time has come to impose the full range of penalties envisioned in the Act.

As we move forward, we should keep our eyes on several trends in Syria, Lebanon, and the region. I am concerned that the inter-religious violence in Iraq and the dangerous situation in Iran may spill over the border into Syria and Lebanon.

I think we need to watch Hezbollah very carefully in the coming months. It is high on our list of terrorist groups and occasionally lobs shells over the border into northern Israel. With Syria's withdrawal there actually is a debate in Lebanon about whether Hezbollah should disarm. But, a debate is not enough. We must demand nothing less than full disarmament.

We should also be very careful about taking sides in Lebanon. Lebanon's leaders should know that America wants to support them, but only if they are creating a real democracy without terrorist groups on its soil. Likewise, I would like to assist the Lebanese military and hope it deploys throughout the country as the one unified army of Lebanon. But, until it presents a plan to become truly professional, we should not provide more than advice and technical assistance.

Confronting the GOP Assault On Student Aid

Families across America are pinching pennies to put their children through college and the last thing they need is an increase in the interest rates on student loans. I commend the Appropriations Committee members for giving families a break by resisting efforts by lenders to increase the burden of college debt on working families and for expanding loan consolidation options. In February, the Republican Congress perpetrated the biggest raid on student aid in the history of the program, stripping $12 billion from the student loan programs to pay for tax giveaways for the wealthy. We must do more to help struggling families afford college – the Committee’s actions are a step in the right direction.

Conferees Bringing Louisianians Closer to Hope and Help

After several long days and nights of bipartisan negotiations and waiting, I was proud to sign the conference report that will bring so many Louisianians one step closer to hope for their rebuilding and protection. I look forward to seeing the bill come to the floor of each chamber in the coming days, where we expect it to be passed easily and be signed into law shortly thereafter.

This legislation marks an important victory for our state, and I am particularly proud of the diligence shown by the Louisiana Congressional delegation, our governor, Chairman Cochran and Senator Byrd, as well as Recovery Coordinator Don Powell and other White House officials, who came through as strong allies when we needed their support, energy and leverage the most.

Changing the Internet for The Worse

Two nights ago Congress passed legislation that could very well lead to serious, negative changes in the way the Internet works in the future. I voted against this flawed bill.

The main point of the bill, the COPE Act, is to provide the phone companies with national video franchises so they can provide alternative cable TV choices. The bill passed 321 to 101.

As I considered this legislation, I talked to constituents and industry experts both in Washington, D.C. and back home. Everyone I talked to expressed support for the broad concepts of increasing competition to cable, lowering prices, and offering consumers better choices. Yet many had grave concerns that the legislation as written failed to ensure better services for all consumers and potentially threatened next generation technologies.

One of my biggest problems with this bill is that it fails to insure "network neutrality" on the Internet. Net neutrality has become a buzzword of sorts as the debate over this bill intensified both on Capitol Hill and on the Central and South Coast.

The phone companies have made clear their intentions to establish a system where they decide the speed at which different bits of data can move across the network, in essence creating a "fast lane" and a "slow lane" and maybe many in between. If they do so, the cable companies will quickly follow suit.

This is a bad idea for two reasons. First, it means that small players on the Internet will find it harder to use the world wide reach of the Internet to bring their new ideas to market. This could prevent the next Google or MySpace from emerging due to the inability to pay phone and cable company fees for the "fast lane" of internet access.

Second, the lack of nondiscrimination among data bits allows for the distinct possibility that the phone and cable companies could block or slow the sites and services of their competitors.

I don't see in the phone and cable industries the kind of wide open competition that is present today on the Internet. And given that lack of competition, I question the commitment of those companies to protecting a system that allows open competition and fosters innovation. The absence of net neutrality poses serious threats to the next generation of internet innovators and to consumers who should be allowed to choose the best product regardless of whether it is offered by an established firm or a new technology start up.

I was a strong supporter of an amendment offered by my colleague Rep. Markey that would have ensured "Network Neutrality" by maintaining our current system of nondiscrimination for access to the World Wide Web network. Unfortunately, this amendment failed last night. Thus legislation that was supposed to be about creating more competition and giving consumers more choices and lower prices will likely produce fewer choices and higher prices.

With Some Work, Pension Bill To Be Ready By July 4th

The delay in completing action on the pension bill is testimony to the very sensitive balancing act we have before us. The pension bill must ensure that more money goes into pension plans, but the new rules cannot be so strict that they cause companies, pension plans, and jobs to disappear. What's true in medicine is true in government: A cure that's so strong that it kills the patient isn't worth much in the long run.

I am proud of my colleagues for their sincere desire to craft the best possible rules with the health of the pension system in mind. It hasn't been easy, but we have made enormous progress. With hard work and a little elbow grease, I fully expect to complete the pension bill by the July 4th recess.

Now Is Not The Time For Estate Tax

Given the massive continuing demands of Gulf Coast hurricane recovery, I do not believe it is now the time for a full repeal of the federal estate tax. Nor do I believe that the true costs and deficit impact of the backloaded proposals offered to date have been honestly represented to the American taxpayer.

I do, however, support exempting most family farms and small businesses from the tax entirely and I support raising the individual exemption. And so, I support and remain committed to seeking a fiscally responsible bill that provides reform and stable tax relief for all taxpayers in a more certain and stable way for the future. I will continue to work closely with my colleagues in the days and weeks ahead to achieve this more balanced result.

Subtly Siding With Insurers Over Patients

I joined Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Congressmen Rob Andrews (D-NJ) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) for a press conference yesterday in opposing a little-known proposed section of the Pension Reform Act that would allow insurance companies to collect money before victims are able to cover the costs of hospitals and other bills during their recovery.

This anti-patient provision penalizes an injured individual for someone else's negligence. Had Section 307 of H.R. 2830 been in place after my accident in the 1980s, my life would be very different. My parents could have been unable to cover my medical expenses and changing needs if the insurance companies were allowed to sue for payment before my situation was settled. This provision will trump strong laws in states like Rhode Island and allow insurance companies to act against victims. Removing this provision means protecting patient rights.

In addition to what this means for patient rights, Section 307 was never discussed or debated before it was slipped into this critical piece of legislation at the eleventh hour. This health insurance provision is not germane to the pension legislation it was placed in. The Pension Reform Act is currently in conference with the Senate, and I am hopeful that Section 307 will be removed during this process.

Re:Internet Marketplace--Playing Field is Anything But Level

I am extremely disappointed that the House voted for the COPE Act yesterday without any essential net neutrality protection. By blocking the Markey Amendment, the Republican Congress has allowed 'the pipes' to control content in a way that goes directly against the level playing field and innovative spirit created by the Internet. Because no net neutrality provisions were adopted, the broadband duopolies and monopolies will be able to turn the Internet into the equivalent of cable television. I hope the U.S. Senate will stand up for freedom and, unlike the House, insist on net neutrality to save the Internet as we know it.

Opening The Internet Marketplace

Yesterday's passage of the Communications, Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 opens the door for much needed competition in the video market, which will spur advances in technology, diverse programming and ownership opportunities, as well as provide critical relief of steep cable costs for consumers. I was clear about serving the interests of my constituents, and passage of this bipartisan bill proves that the rest of the nation deserves the same high priority treatment.

Competition has always served as the catalyst for innovation, but it has also served as the driver of building enhanced services and multi-layered opportunities for underserved groups and populations. The Cope Act represents a huge step in providing equal access and equal opportunities in an industry that advances our thoughts, emotions and actions.

Re:Refinery Bill--Certainty for Companies, Relief for Consumers

This legislation simply helps establish some certainty for companies making a huge financial commitment and long time commitment to building a new refinery. A federal coordinator would be established who would work with the federal agencies involved in the permitting process. The agencies would have to stick to their time lines without endless delays in making decisions.

There are no changes to environmental standards in this bill. And state and local processes would go on as usual.