Time to Reopen Medicare Enrollment and Make the Penalties Fair

In May, while I was doing meetings around my Ohio district, I realized that the penalty system in the Medicare Prescription Drug plan was pretty misleading.  We have been telling seniors that if they chose not to enroll before May 15th, they would face a 1% per month late penalty.  But seniors actually can't sign up until the open enrollment in November.  So, even if you wanted to enroll in June and pay a 1% penalty, you have to wait until November and pay 7%.  That seemed unfair to me so I introduced the TIME Act yesterday which opens enrollment again for the remainder of 2006 and charges a true 1% per month penalty.

I know there are over 100 proposals to change Medicare and I'm not here to add another log to the fire.  My bill is a compromise to the proposals to waive the late penalty altogether.  Because the program is brand new and the penalty stays with you for the rest of your life, we need to make sure seniors understand the late penalty and get a fair shake at participating.

Will The GOP Stand In The Way Of A Living Wage?

Unless the Republican leadership gets in the way, the House is now poised to vote to increase the national minimum wage for the first time in a decade, after a crucial vote in the Appropriations Committee yesterday on an amendment offered by Congressman Steny Hoyer to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25. For the almost 8 million American workers who struggle to survive on minimum wages, this potential raise is long overdue.

Congress has not raised the national minimum wage from $5.15 per hour since 1997, despite Democrats’ repeated efforts to do so. But the price of basic goods, like food and gasoline, have been rising, making it even harder for minimum wage workers to meet even the most basic needs. In fact, the national minimum wage is now at its lowest level in 50 years when adjusted for inflation, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

At $5.15 per hour – which comes to about $10,712 per year for a full-time worker – it is impossible to afford health care, enough nutritious food to eat, or safe and decent housing.

All Americans should get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It would be immoral for any members of Congress to stand in the way of this important vote.  



Incentives Will Ensure Necessary Training for New Military

Defense operations are moving into a new era using smaller, highly-trained units to complete missions, making our Special Forces troops more essential and in greater demand than ever before. Recent recommendations from the Quadrennial Defense Review call for a 15% increase in our Special Forces. Unfortunately, you cannot train a Special Operator overnight. The best way to grow our Special Forces is to retain current forces while we initiate new recruits in their extensive training requirements. I am introducing the Special Operations Forces Retention Improvement Act to provide incentives for current SOF to stay in military service because their experience is essential to our success. My legislation will allow special pays including, hazard duty pay, to be computed into an increase in retirement compensation.


Congress Must Push For Global Religious Freedom

Now, while we can, Congress must intrusively and decisively take a stand on behalf of Chinese Catholics and all others who wish to worship God in a manner and through a confession of their own choosing. We must insist that all members of the community of nations respect individual religious freedoms as the condition for mutual respect. Any nation that interferes with individual religious freedoms and the freedom of spiritual communities to order their own affairs, to the degree that the Chinese government has intervened in Catholicism, can aspire to no place of leadership in the modern world.


Transportation,Treasury HUD Bill, Reflects Real Reform

This is a fiscally responsible bill, funding high priority programs and eliminating Federal funds for other programs that are duplicative or ineffective.

To continue my committee's commitment to reform, this bill funds member projects at $986 billion - $2.1 billion below last year's level. This is a 70 percent reduction from the previous year. In addition, for the first time ever, the bill requires a 40 percent matching requirement for grantees receiving Economic Development Initiative funding.

All in all, after much hard work and discussion, I believe we have a balanced bill before us. No, we didn't fund every program, but we did fund the higher priorities under our jurisdiction that will deliver the best results to the most people, and that is our responsibility.


I Will Not Pay For Bush's Stay-The-Course Policy

Our troops in Iraq continue to serve with courage and bravery and I remain proud of them. Their successful mission to eliminate the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a great victory. However, al-Zarqawi's death does not change the fact that the President's failed policy in Iraq has cost too many American lives, tarnished America's image abroad, nearly exhausted our military, and taken our attention away from the Global War on Terrorism.

Today, I again sent a clear message to President Bush that he cannot count on me to continue paying for his stay-the-course policy in Iraq. We must re-deploy all our troops out of Iraq, returning most of them home and leaving a quick-reaction force in the region. It is time to change course and bring our troops home within six months.

U.S. involvement in Iraq has now claimed 2,497 lives and cost nearly $350 billion dollars. Our people would willingly bear the human and economic cost of the war in Iraq if it would actually save American lives in the long-run. It will not. Given the President's lost credibility and ever-changing excuses for taking our country to war, we can no longer justify the egregious loss of American life and hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent in Iraq.


It is Our Duty to Hold Administration Responsible for Overspending

Nineteen of 24 federal agencies cannot produce full audits that show how they are spending the taxpayer money they get from Congress every year, according to the Government Accountability Office's review of the books for 2005. The legislative branch isn't adequately examining where taxpayer money is going and whether it's being spent properly, even when istances of waste, fraud and abuse are identified by GAO, the White House's Office of Management and Budget, or the Inspectors General who work in each agency. This unchecked overspending has contributed to four record-high budget deficits in a row and a federal debt that has reached $8.3 trillion and is growing. American taxpayers, including the future generations who will have to pay back that debt with interest -- much of it to foreign coutries -- deserve to know how Washington is spending their money. Congress is letting them down.

We Need To Bring Amendments, Not Just Words

Over the last year, we have seen unspeakable horrors in Iraq. Indiscriminate suicide bombings have been creating havoc in the streets and, despite the political successes of three elections, Iraq has been pushed to the brink of civil war, or perhaps by now over the brink.

Through the midst of all this carnage, and the deaths of over 2600 Americans and the injuries of tens of thousands more since March of 2003, our men and women in uniform have been doing their utmost, sometimes without the necessary troop strength or adequate equipment, to make the international effort in Iraq a success.

The House Republican leadership has made a decision that we need a thorough debate about the conflict in Iraq and its conduct, about the nature of that conflict, and about the role of our troops in that conflict. Having made that decision, I think it is no longer enough to allow every member to make a speech on the House floor. And the debate should provide enough time so that every member has at least five minutes to express their views on Iraq.

It is time to let members bring their ideas to the floor in the form of amendments and work the will of our House. Anything short of that makes a mockery of the Republican leader’s expressed goal to produce a full and real debate on the issue of the U.S. involvement in Iraq. And it would dishonor our men and women in uniform who are struggling to protect and uphold democratic principles abroad.


Chemical Security To Ensure Homeland Security

The recent arrests of 17 Canadians charged with plotting to attack targets in and around Ontario with ammonium nitrate fertilizer-based bombs is just another compelling reason why Congress must act to regulate the ammonium nitrate fertilizer industry. A material of choice for domestic terrorists, ammonium nitrate was used in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and has been used in terrorist bombings around the world.

The ammonium nitrate industry has acted responsibly in asking for Congress's help and they should be commended for their proactive effort to protect ammonium nitrate from being abused or stockpiled by those wishing to do America harm. I also applaud the leadership of the House Homeland Security Committee for moving this bill forward for a full committee vote. This legislation will empower the Department of Homeland Security to regulate the sale of ammonium nitrate and help keep this potentially dangerous substance out of terrorist hands.


Heading Towards Reform,Away From Fiscal Irresponsibility

The Securing America's Future Economy (SAFE) Commission Act establishes a national commission to examine these systems and present long-term solutions to place the United States on a fiscally sustainable course and ensure the solvency of entitlement programs for future generations. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) has introduced a similar bill in the House.Last week I voted against the fiscally irresponsible repeal of the estate tax and called on Congress to heed Americans' demand for fundamental tax and entitlement reform. This legislation shows that I am serious about that call.