Senate Democrats Lay Out Opposition Agenda This Morning
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will do something this morning that an opposition party is supposed to do: Senate Democrats stopped playing defense and will begin playing offense by setting forward an ambitious agenda of their own. In a conference call earlier this morning, Reid�s staff announced their top ten priority bills for the 109th Congress, and they address many of the needs accumulated by this country but ignored by the White House the GOP Congress under Bill Frist and Denny Hastert.
Some of these priorities are:
Senate Bill 11 will address our troop strength problems brought about by George W. Bush�s foreign policy and backdoor draft. It will increase Army and Marine endstrength by up to 40,000 by 2007, provide a National Guard Bill of Rights that requires among other things straight answers about deployment/service obligations; and would address the financial and physical health for servicemembers and their families. S 11 would also require the President to report to Congress on U.S., Iraqi, and foreign contributions to Iraq�s reconstruction before any new U.S. reconstruction funds are appropriated. Furthermore, the President would be required to certify to Congress that he has been unable to generate additional support from Iraqi oil revenues or other nations before any new U.S. reconstruction funds can be allocated.
Senate Bill 12 establishes four interlocking pillars necessary to wage an effective war on terrorism: (1) taking the fight to the terrorists, (2) drying up the breeding grounds that produce terrorism, (3) enhancing the U.S. government�s accountability and effectiveness to deal with this issue, and (4) reducing the possibility terrorists could acquire and use nuclear materials as a weapon, the greatest single threat to U.S. national security.
Senate Bill 13 addresses Bush�s abandonment of our veterans by ensuring all veterans get the health care they deserve by 2006; expand mental health services to all VA hospitals by 2006; make prescription drugs readily available to veterans; and enact a new GI Bill for the 21st century.
Senate Bill 14 lays out an ambitious list of measures to deal with economic opportunity, ranging from the restoration of overtime pay for 6 million wage earners who have lost it under Bush; increases the Federal minimum wage over the next two years; supports relief for multi-employer pension plans, which are used predominantly by small businesses to provide pension benefits to an estimated 9.7 million American workers. It would also end tax breaks for companies exporting jobs; and would call for a recommitment to funding infrastructure improvements here at home.
Senate Bill 15 deals with education by strengthening Head Start and child care programs; it would create a federal program for rural school districts to purchase new buses so that they can retire substandard buses; fixes some of the problems caused for local districts by the No Child Left Behind law; creates a tuition-free program for future teachers in math, science, and special education teachers; restores the formula for Pell Grants, saving 1.3 million students from receiving decreased funding. Democrats will also increase the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,100 starting in FY2006, and take other measures to make college more affordable.
Senate Bill 16 deals with health care, by legalizing the safe importation of FDA-approved prescription drugs from other industrialized countries where they are more affordable. The bill also addresses the safety of prescription drugs and provides for better monitoring of drugs after they are approved for use. S 16 will provide small businesses relief by offering tax credits to help small employers provide coverage for their employees. The bill would create 25 pilot programs to build on the innovation of several programs across the country that help small employers cover their employees. This legislation would provide coverage to all children and would increase coverage for pregnant women. It also affirms Democrats� commitment to protect the Medicaid program that provides coverage to more than 40 million Americans.
Senate 17 deals with voting reform, through a broad range of measures including among other things: requiring that all voting systems used in Federal elections provide a voter verified ballot that is fully accessible to the disabled and ensures privacy and independence; requiring each state to adopt Election Day registration procedures for Federal elections; creates a National Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (NFWAB) for Federal offices that every and any eligible voter is entitled to cast from anywhere inside or outside the United States and requires the NFWAB be counted without regard to which polling place, precinct, local unit of government, state, or country the NFWAB is cast in; requires states to provide public notice of all proposed purged names from voting rolls 60 days in advance of a Federal election. It also prohibits states from purging names of voters from the list without specific notice provided in accordance with National Voting Rights Act (NVRA); requires states to establish early voting periods for a minimum of fifteen calendar days prior to a Federal election, with uniform mandatory Saturday hours, and a minimum of four hours per day, including Saturdays; requires punch card voting systems to provide in-person notice of over-votes; and prohibits central count optical scan systems from meeting the voter verification requirements without the public's knowledge or accountability; and requires notice provisions, public statements, and other transparency/accountability measures with regard to election administrators.
Senate Bill 18 deals with Medicare by addressing the corporate welfare that Bush larded onto the HMOs and drug companies with the Medicare drug benefit, by removing the prohibition against the federal government negotiating for best price; it also addresses the current gaps in coverage that exist in the law; and protects retirees from losing drug coverage, among other changes.
Senate Bill 19 is the Fiscal Responsibility for a Sound Future Act, which would among other things restore the Senate pay-as-you-go rule to require that mandatory spending and tax legislation be fully paid for, or be subject to a 60-vote point of order; would also reinstate sequestration (across-the-board spending cuts) to enforce pay-go and discretionary spending limits; prevents procedural gimmicks from being used to increase the deficit. The bill allows the Senate�s fast-track �reconciliation� procedures, which cut off debate after only 20 hours, to be used only for deficit reduction. Legislation that would increase the deficit could still be considered in the Senate, but could not be expedited. This would restore reconciliation to its original purpose of deficit reduction, and ensure that any legislation increasing deficits is subject to full scrutiny, debate, and consideration in the Senate. In addition, the legislation would prohibit the fast-tracking of Congressional budget resolutions that contain a reconciliation instruction that would worsen the deficit.
Senate Bill 20 deals with reducing unintended pregnancies and reduces abortions through increasing access to family planning services. It will also provide relief to Medicaid by decreasing the financial burden of pregnancy-related and newborn care.
You will note that Social Security is not on the agenda, because that will be a separate tooth-and-nail battle that will evolve once Bush�s plan is announced. There are moves afoot already in the blogosphere to assist in that campaign as well, as you can see from the �There Is No Crisis� link on this page. We are continuing to discuss implementation of Truth Squad activities district by district across the country using Social Security as our launching pad and battering ram against the GOP leading up to the 2006 elections.
This agenda is not yet a unified agenda with the House, but Reid�s staff feels that a great deal of this will make its way into Pelosi�s agenda for the run up to the midterms. Also, this is a legislative strategy but not necessarily a communications roadmap, and the blogosphere will be moving ahead with discussions on translating these priorities into the Democrats� version of Gingrich�s Contract with America. Democrats will however be stressing that we intend to keep America�s promise through possibly a Promise To America, whereby the overall agenda is translated into 8-10 themes that can be used to batter the status-quo and corporate-owned GOP entrenched machinery for the next two years. And you can bet that congressional reform and Tom DeLay�s corruption will figure prominently into the overall anti-GOP incumbency message.
There will be more to come on this in the days and weeks ahead, but give Reid and his staff credit for acting like an opposition party and coming out with an alternate agenda that can be used by Democrats on offense instead of reacting defensively to the White House and congressional GOP leadership.