STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - February 08, 2006)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Hurricane Katrina Working Family Tax Relief Act of 2006. I am proud to introduce this bill, along with Senators LANDRIEU, DURBIN, and KERRY, to keep a promise the President made to rebuild the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Last week the Senate approved a $70 billion bill laden with tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected. This bill, which costs less than 1 percent as much, uses a proven tool in our tax code--the child tax credit--to extend aid to low-income working families affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Currently, the child credit allows families with qualifying children to receive a credit of $1,000 per child against their Federal income tax. Unfortunately, families that earn less than $11,000 get no benefit from the refundable child credit. That means that a child is left out of the credit even if her parent works full time at minimum wage, which has not increased since 1997. And the child doesn't get the full benefit of the $1,000 credit until her parent earns close to $18,000, or even more if the child has siblings. And if her parents' income does not keep up with inflation, for any reason, the value of the credit drops or even disappears.
We all know of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. It will be a long time before families on the Gulf Coast can rebuild their lives. Many of them have seen their homes destroyed, their jobs eliminated, their families separated, and their lives irrevocably changed. Unfortunately, the Federal response so far has been inadequate to get these families effectively back on their feet. We are now learning of thousands of evacuees getting kicked out of their hotel rooms because FEMA has stopped paying the bills.
We can do better for these families. Life was hard for many of them even before Katrina hit. Prior to the hurricane, there were over 2 million people living below poverty in the affected States. In some of the affected counties and parishes, more than 1 in 4 children lived below the poverty level.
In Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, for example, more than 900,000 children under 17-years-old were so poor that they got no child tax credit or only a partial credit. These States had among the highest rates in the Nation of children too poor to get the full credit.
This bill will provide necessary assistance to many of these families. The bill eliminates the income threshold that excluded all children in families with less than $11,000 of income. With this bill, the children of low-income working parents affected by Hurricane Katrina will no longer be denied the child credit.
It's simple: if you work, your kids get a benefit. This bill provides a partial credit starting with the first dollar of a parent's income for families who lived in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. You work, your kids get a benefit. If you don't work, no benefit.
That's a commonsense way to support families with children, especially families that have experienced the huge cost--psychological and financial--of a natural disaster.
This bill is also narrowly tailored and fiscally responsible. It provides short-term support targeted at families affected by the hurricane, and its costs can easily be absorbed within the $97 billion already committed to hurricane relief.
I urge my colleagues to support this bill, which will enable hundreds of thousands of this country's most disadvantaged children to see an increase in their credit. Katrina offered a reminder of poverty in our own country. Let's not forget so quickly. We owe it to the American people to do something to provide a chance for our neediest children to rebuild their lives with dignity, hope, and opportunity.
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, today, I am introducing new legislation to build on the excellent work my colleagues began with the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act.
That bill would close the revolving door between Capitol Hill and lobbying jobs. It would end all lobbyist-funded gifts, meals, and travel, and it would shine a bright light of monitoring and public disclosure on lobbyists' operations, secret conference committee negotiations and last-minute special-interest provisions.
These are important steps forward that should be approved by this Congress and signed into law. The first bill I am introducing now builds on these steps by focusing on enforcement. We can pass all the new ethics rules in the world, but if we don't establish a body that can monitor and enforce those rules, it'll be easy to break them.
My legislation will establish a nonpartisan, independent Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission that would investigate ethics violations and report their findings to the public.
The idea of an independent Commission to conduct initial investigations is not new. It is modeled on successful efforts in a number of States including Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee. Similar commissions in those States have a track record of working well and making the ethics enforcement process much more effective.
My commission would be staffed with former judges and former members of Congress, and it would allow any citizen to report a possible ethics violation by lawmakers, staff, or lobbyists. It would have the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, and provide public reports to the Senate Ethics Committee or Department of Justice so that any wrongdoing can be punished accordingly.
To prevent this Commission from being manipulated for partisan political purposes, the bill establishes stiff sanctions for the filing of frivolous complaints, and prohibits the filing of complaints three months before an election.
Although, the ultimate power to reprimand members would remain with the Ethics Committees in Congress and the Department of Justice, the new Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission would make these bodies more effective by removing political pressure from the initial fact-finding phase of ethics investigations. In addition, the Commission's independent capacity to issue public findings would encourage the Ethics Committees to act.
I am proud that this legislation has support across the political spectrum, earning the endorsement of both Common Cause and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. Ornstein said this about my enforcement bill: ``This approach to ethics enforcement is just the kind of balanced and reasonable alternative we need. . . . It deserves strong bipartisan support.''
I strongly encourage my colleagues to join me in creating this Commission to restore credibility to the body on the enforcement of ethics.
I am also introducing legislation to build on the CLEAN UP Act (S. 2179) that I introduced last month.
The CLEAN UP Act was written to provide for greater transparency in the legislative process and in conference committees in particular. It has won the support of eight of my colleagues, and I hope the Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act that I am introducing today will gain their support, as well as the rest of my colleagues.
The Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act would require that information about all earmarks, including the name of the lawmaker requesting it and a justification of why they want it, be disclosed 72 hours before they are considered by the full Senate.
The bill would also place some common-sense limits on earmarks. Members would be prohibited from advocating for an earmark if they have a financial interest in the project or its recipient. Earmarks also could not be used to secure promises from lawmakers in exchange for a vote on a bill. Finally, earmark recipients would have to disclose the amount that they spent on lobbyists in order to get their project passed. These earmark reforms won't solve every abuse, but the idea is this: if you're proud enough about an earmark to issue a press release about it, then you should be able to defend it to the public.
Several of these ideas are contained in a bill introduced by Rep. David Obey. I am grateful for his leadership on this issue in the House.
I know this is not the only proposal on earmarks before the Senate. But I believe this combines the best ideas without creating procedural roadblocks to legitimate projects in our communities. This is a balanced approach that I believe a majority of the Senate can--and should--support. Thank you.