Politics

Gitmo Only Brings Bush Political Points

I think that the American people are quite relieved that the terrorists are interned in Guantanamo, not in the United States. I do not think the suicides will generate any sympathy for them and I think that this is one of the issues which works in Bush's favor. Iraq is costing him votes. But anything about homeland security, including Guantanamo, gains him support.

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We Are Further Away From A Nuclear Waste Repository

In 2002, Yucca Mountain was certified as the site for the nation's repository for spent nuclear fuel; however, currently, there is no projected date on which the facility's operations will commence. The Nuclear Waste Act set an original goal of 1998 for opening a repository, and by missing that date, the Department of Energy (DOE) was found in breach of that obligation. More recently, the Department had indicated that it hoped to file a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by December 2004 and to begin accepting waste in 2010. The target for the license application was missed and the Department no longer believes that the facility will be open in 2010.In addition, the long standing issue of funding for the Yucca Mountain project continues to be of concern. While the balance in the Nuclear Waste Fund is currently $19 billion, annual appropriations are only a fraction of the amount contributed by ratepayers.

 

As a strong supporter of the Yucca Mountain program, I am concerned about these issues which are affecting the filing of the license application and the ultimate opening of the facility.

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Security, Decency, Refineries Lead Week in Congress

Last week on the House Floor...[HR:5441], the Fiscal Year 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill.This bill would provide $33.1 billion for the Homeland Security Department and related activities. The bill includes $7.7 billion for customs and border protection; $6.4 billion for the Transportation Security Administration, including fees; $8.1 billion for the Coast Guard; $1.3 billion for the Secret Service; and $2.6 billion for response and recovery efforts conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. H.R. 5441 passed the House, with my support, 389-9.

[HR:5521], the Fiscal Year 2007 Legislative Branch bill.

This bill would appropriate $3 billion for legislative branch operations, excluding Senate operation. It would provide $1.1 billion for operations of the House of Representative, $570 million for the Library of Congress, $488 milllion for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), $259 million for the Capitol Police, and $131 million for the Government Printing Office. It would abolish the office of Architect of the Capitol and transfer its functions to the GAO. H.R. 5521 passed the House, with my support, 361-53.

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Preventing Medical Errors From Becoming Fatal Flaws

With tens of thousands of patients dying every year from preventable medical errors, it is imperative that we embrace available technologies and drastically improve the way medical records are handled and processed. The success of my bill, The Federal Family Health Information Technology Act of 2006, will set the stage for Health Information Technology implementation nationwide.
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The Death Tax--Irrelevant and Incomprehensible

The death tax is the only tax we have which has nothing to do with economic events. It just has to do with an unfortunate luck of the draw. It's you're crossing the street, and you get run over by a postal truck and die, which is enough action to upset your day, then the IRS comes by and they run over you again. So you end up not only having your day ruined. You end up having your day totally ruined because you got run over by the postal truck to begin with, and then your family has their day ruined because they have not only lost you, now they suddenly have to pay this huge tax if you're a entrepreneur. The problem is that it hits the small entrepreneurs in our society who basically create jobs, the small business person or the person who has made an investment and built assets throughout their life– people who go out and start a restaurant and maybe employ ten, 15, 20 people; people who go out and start a printing business or maybe make an investment in some real estate, an apartment, build housing for people. They're just getting going and they don't have a whole lot of assets. They're not very liquid usually. In fact, these folks aren't liquid at all because it's mostly tied up in real estate usually, and suddenly they have this traumatic event of the key person in the family dying who has maybe built this business, and then they get hit with a tax.

And not only is it a tax which has nothing to do with economic activity, it is actually tax that has the ironic and unintended consequence- I presume but it's exactly what happens- of actually crushing economic activity and reducing economic activity and in many cases costing jobs because the small family business or the farm which was being operated by this sole proprietor in most instances or this small family unit suddenly can't find itself capable of meeting the costs of paying the estate tax.

They didn't ever plan for that, and if they did plan for that, the cost of planning for that was pretty high. So they have to sell their assets, which usually means that the people who they employ are at risk or maybe they have to just close the whole thing down. And so the economic activity contracts instead of having a business that might have been growing, you end up with a forced sale, the practical effect of which is you contract economic activity.

So first you have this really incomprehensible concept that you're going to tax people not for economic gain, not because they've made economic gain, but simply because they've had a terrible thing happen, which is that they died, maybe accidentally, and then you're going to say that instead of encouraging economic activity, which is what the purpose of our tax laws should be, you're actually going to create a tax which contracts economic activity.

And so it's discriminatory and inappropriate and irrational, and on top of that, to make things worse, the United States has the third highest estate tax, death tax rate, of the industrialized world. In fact, our rate is so high that we're even above, and this is hard to believe, we're even above France. Now, when you get above France in an area of taxation, you have really started to suffocate economic activity, entrepreneurship and creativity because they're sort of the poster child for how you basically make an economy nonproductive and encourage people to work and basically be a socialist state.

We need to put in place a clear statement of what the tax policy is going to be if you have the unfortunate experience of being run over by a postal truck. And it should be a clear statement that if you're a small entrepreneur with a family-type business or a farmer that you're not going to be wiped out. Your family is not going to be wiped out by the IRS coming in on top of this terrible event and taking basically a disproportionate and inappropriate share of your assets and basically contracting and eliminating your business and putting your family's livelihood at risk.

The reason we need to do it now, even though most of this won't take effect until 2010, I can tell you as an estate tax planner before I took this job, before I got into public service, you need that sort of lead time to do it right. You know, you just can't overnight plan for tax policy. You have to have lead time. You have to have a clear statement of what the tax policy is going to be and consistency is critical here. So putting this in place now so that it will be effective in 2011, which most of the proposals are, is absolutely essential if we're going to have an effective reform of this death tax law, which we presently have.

 
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A Republican Hurdle For Patient Privacy

As a nurse, I am always looking for ways to improve patient care.

Recent innovations in health information technology have shown a great deal of promise in enhancing the quality of care by reducing clerical errors, facilitating communication between hospitals and other health care facilities, and improving the transfer of x-rays and other images. This new technology has the potential to save lives by reducing medical accidents attributed to human error, such as illegible hand-written prescriptions, and save money by reducing paperwork and increasing the speed with which medical records are accessed. Unfortunately, these innovations are also fraught with potential problems, particularly with regards to protecting the privacy of patients as their personal medical records are more easily accessible to a larger number of people.

Just recently we saw the names, birthdates, social security numbers, addresses and disability information of 26.2 million veterans and active duty military stolen from a single laptop belonging to the Veterans Administration. This lapse in judgment compromised the sensitive personal records of millions of veterans and their families, leaving them extremely vulnerable to fraud and identity theft. I fear that if we don't take necessary precautions, the same security breach could affect the rest of the public. We must ensure safeguards are in place to protect sensitive medical information from being accessed by the wrong parties or being used to discriminate against individuals.

Last week in the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce committee we considered a bill on health information technology. I offered an amendment to this bill that would have expanded and improved existing federal medical privacy law. My amendment would have improved privacy protections for patients in several ways. First, it would require health groups to get consent from patients before sharing medical information. Second, it would allow patients to control the sharing of particularly sensitive records -- such as mental health or HIV/AIDS cases. Third it would ensure that patients are notified in the event that their information has been inappropriately accessed and it would provide a means of legal recourse for patients whose medical records are compromised.

Unfortunately my amendment was rejected in the subcommittee on a party line vote of 12 to 10. I am hopeful that when the Health Information Technology bill is considered by the full Energy and Commerce committee later this week, my colleagues will act to protect the sensitive private medical records of our constituents.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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