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This Week in Congress:
The House has recessed for the month of August (see more on this below) and the Senate will join them after they finish a number of legislative measures this week.
A whirlwind of activity accompanied the House’s final pre-recess days. Several long awaited conference reports were passed, including the bill to allow Presidential Trade Promotion Authority, the supplemental conference report, and corporate accountability legislation. They also passed the Homeland Security Act and voted to expel one of their own, Congressman Jim Traficant (D-Ohio). A flamboyant character, known for his tirades on the House floor and tag line, “Beam me up, Mr. Speaker,” Traficant was recently convicted of bribery, tax evasion and racketeering.
The Senate schedule for this week should also prove quite demanding. They will begin the week on prescription drugs with a final vote expected by mid-week. Other legislation under consideration includes the trade promotion authority and homeland security.
Both chambers expect to resume their legislative activity the first week of September.
Members are home for August Recess – go out there and make them work for their money!
In last week’s column I detailed the imminent pay raise for Congressional members from $150,000 to $155,000. Despite the fact that the bill encompassing this pay raise is still in the legislative process, the raise is all but assured.
This month Congress starts its annual August recess – the only month that, without fail every year, both the House and Senate recess to allow their members time at home. So go on out there and make your member of Congress or your Senator work for his/her money!! Call their district office and schedule an appointment or check out our handy townhall meeting list to see if they are hosting a meeting near you. While there are other recesses scheduled, due to the incongruity of the congressional calendar this may be the last, best opportunity to meet with your Member of Congress before the November election.
Remember, Members of Congress only serve in Washington, DC because you elect them -- as a constituent they need to be responsive to you!!
If you do get a chance to meet with your legislator here are two issues you may want to weigh in on:
CSE Stand: President Bush needs worker flexibility to properly implement this new agency. By simply transferring current regulations over to the new Department, the government dooms any chance at ensuring a streamlined, effective agency.
At the behest of President Bush, both houses of Congress are working on the largest re-organization of the federal government in modern history. Spanning a dozen agencies and affecting over 170,000 federal employees, the new Homeland Security Department would be in charge of protecting Americans from terrorism and other threats. However, to do this properly he needs government flexibility. Our federal government, long the butt of jokes around the world, is not known for its flexibility. There is minimal accountability and zero innovation with union bosses determining programmatic changes based on their membership, rather than what benefits the American taxpayer or makes the department more efficient.
When student visas were sent three months after the 9/11 attacks to the terrorists that the perpetrated them was anyone fired? No, because of the intransigence of the federal government. If all the current civil service laws are kept in place for the creation of this new Department -- what the federal employees union and Democrats want -- the new Secretary would spend a majority of his time dealing with petty union and employee issues rather than protecting our safety. Where is the sanity in that? This has to change, and it has to change now! The House bill includes a provision to allow flexibility within the civil service, the Senate bill does not – let’s make sure the final bill gives this crucial power to President Bush.
CSE Stand: No prescription drug bill should be passed without including comprehensive Medicare reform.
Both the House and Senate have long advocated the provision of free or government subsidized prescription drugs to seniors. The House recently passed its version of a bill that would provide the benefit through private insurers at a cost of $350 billion over 10 years. The Senate is poised to vote on a $400 billion bill that would require the government to provide coverage to low-income seniors and for those with over $4,000 in costs a year. Whichever bill eventually makes it into the President’s hands, the taxpayers stand to lose out, because neither of these bills contains significant Medicare reform. Tacking on hundreds of billions of dollars to a failing system is the equivalent of moving around the deck chairs on the Titanic. Responsible politicians would use the need for prescription drugs as an opportunity to bring sanity and responsibility back to the Medicare system. Once seniors are given carte blanche access to prescription drugs, the nation has instantly lost any incentive to reform the Medicare system and will instead just watch it plunge into the red and self-immolate. Tell our politicians to use this chance to get real reform of Medicare!