December 20, 2005 E-Newsletter: Udall Outlines Principles For Iraq Withdrawal
On December 15, I joined a coalition of moderate Democrats in the U.S. House in sending a letter to President Bush outlining four principles for a plan in Iraq.
Because of recent developments and elections in Iraq, now is the time for the U.S. to accelerate the transition to full Iraqi sovereignty and create the conditions for the redeployment of American forces from Iraq.
2006 ought to be a period of significant transition in Iraq, where political and diplomatic success eases the burden on our military. After nearly three years of intimate U.S. involvement with Iraq's political development and security operations, the election of a permanent Iraqi government means the United States has the opportunity to scale back its involvement in Iraq.
The four principles that should guide U.S. policy in Iraq include: the new Iraqi government be inclusive and non-sectarian; the Iraqi government must take full responsibility for defeating all domestic security threats; the United States military presence in Iraq should decrease significantly in the next twelve months and the U.S. role should be to isolate and defeat foreign terrorists and foreign jihadists in Iraq; and Iraq, its regional neighbors and the international community must take on more of the nation-building portion of the mission in Iraq.
I opposed the resolution authorizing war in Iraq. Now, we need a plan that is designed to bring our troops home and make clear to the Islamic world that we harbor no ambitions for permanent bases, Iraqi oil revenues or any military occupation. But how we withdraw is as important as when we withdraw. This means giving the Iraqis time to form a permanent government and establish the means for international support. We must exercise care in the way our country withdraws because leaving a failed state in Iraq will deeply endanger our country.
BORDER SECURITY BILL ONLY PART OF IMMIGRATION REFORM
Even though there is much in H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act that concerns me, I voted for it because its primary purpose is to make necessary improvements in securing our borders, which I think is needed as part - but only part - of immigration-reform legislation.
If this bill represented our last word on immigration reform, I would have voted against it. By focusing exclusively on the question of border security and immigration enforcement, the House Republican leadership is ignoring the most difficult and challenging aspect of immigration reform, namely the question of how to deal humanely and effectively with the estimated 8-11 million illegal immigrants currently living and working in this country.
I am not in favor of making every man, woman and child who overstays a visa or resides in this country illegally a criminal. By making any violation of immigration rules a criminal rather than a civil offense we may only end up discouraging law enforcement from discovering real threats of terrorism or violent criminal conduct. Driving illegal immigrants deeper underground, even more than current law, which keeps them in the shadows, is a terrible tactic if our overarching goal is national security.
There are some strong reasons for voting against this legislation. It offers no full solution to the problem of illegal immigration; it is unnecessarily punitive toward otherwise law-abiding individuals, and it unwisely commits this country to the construction of a costly border fence that many security experts believe will divert resources away from more important homeland security needs.
My readiness to support this bill was also reduced by the rhetoric of some who are most vocally in support of it. There is perhaps no more divisive issue in our country than immigration, and sadly, the tone and content of much of the debate in the House has only fueled the division. I discussed the tone and substance of this debate with a good friend and colleague from the Republican side of the aisle and found that we agreed that the House was missing an opportunity to unite the country and pass a sorely-needed comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Despite these concerns, I voted in favor of this bill because we have to make necessary investments in border security and enforcement. The 9/11 Commission has recommended increased immigration enforcement personnel, stronger surveillance, tougher entry-and-exit procedures and the use of better technologies to enhance our border security. This bill addresses these concerns and I favor all of these provisions.
Finally, I am convinced that reassuring the American people that we have taken strong action to strengthen enforcement and secure our borders is a necessary predicate for the harder and more complicated task of addressing the problem of existing illegal and undocumented workers.
With stronger border security and enforcement established we can work with the Administration and our colleagues in the Senate to build a consensus for the harder task of clarifying the status of existing illegal immigrants, most of whom are hard-working and otherwise law-abiding people, in a humane and thoughtful way that will protect children, include guest-worker needs and establish a fairer process for legalized entry. If that effort succeeds - as I think it can and am convinced it must - the result not only will be better than the bill before us, it will be a measure that deserves to be sent to the president for signing into law.
BETTY DICK BILL BEING BLOCKED BY PROCEDURAL MOVE
You all may remember my battle to help Betty Dick stay in the cabin she has used as a home for 25 years in Rocky Mountain National Park. In July, the House approved my bill that would allow Betty to stay on her property, but cosmetic and largely unnecessary changes were made in the Senate. Now it is back in the House and it is currently being held up by a Wisconsin congressman, who is forcing additional and unnecessary procedures on a bill that has already enjoyed unanimous support in the House.
First, Ms. Dick was caught in a needless bureaucratic nightmare with the National Park Service, and now she is facing the same with the U.S. Congress. Of course, we wouldn't be in this situation if the Senate had just passed the House bill instead of making cosmetic changes and passing the Senate bill. It's no wonder that the public has such a low opinion of Congress. It can't even get its act together to pass a simple bill to help an 83-year old grandmother keep her home in a National Park!
Ms. Dick would like to stay and the community would like her to stay. She has been a wonderful neighbor and an excellent steward of the land. I think it is pretty clear that she should be allowed to live out her life on this property and continue to contribute to the park and surrounding community. The House should pass this bill immediately. It's simply the right thing to do.
BILL WOULD EASE MEDICARE Rx DRUG PLAN ENROLLMENT
I have cosponsored legislation that would help ease some of the confusion seniors are experiencing while trying to enroll in the new Medicare prescription drug program.
On November 15, 2005, seniors throughout the country began enrolling in the new Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. There has been a lot of confusion with the process of enrolling because beneficiaries are confronted with dozens of plan choices and are required to weigh not only which drug plan best suits them, but also which Medicare Advantage plan provides the best menu of benefits. These options vary by region and have made the selection process even more confusing for seniors.
H.R. 3861, The Medicare Informed Choice Act of 2005, would address some critical shortcomings in the Medicare Prescription Drug, Modernization and Improvement Act of 2003.
Currently, the enrollment period is between November 15, 2005 and May 15, 2006. If a senior does not enroll during this initial enrollment period, they will have to pay a higher premium if they enroll later. H.R. 3861 extends the enrollment period to December 31, 2006, and allows seniors to change plans once during this initial open enrollment period without penalty. The bill also prohibits an employer from involuntarily discontinuing a retiree's health coverage under its group health plan during 2006 because the retiree enrolled in a Medicare Advantage or Part D plan. This will allow the retiree to resume coverage under a retiree plan in case he/she discovers that their retiree coverage is better than the Medicare Advantage or Part D plan they enrolled in.
The bill has 110 cosponsors. A similar version of the bill has been introduced in the Senate.
UDALL OPPOSES ADDING ARCTIC DRILLING PROVISION TO DEFENSE SPENDING BILL
Over the years, Republican leaders have failed to win enough votes to pass a law that would allow drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, so they have tried to attach it to must pass legislation. Each of these attempts has failed, but Senator Ted Stevens (Alaska) succeeded this year in attaching a drilling measure to the defense spending bill.
This was a cynical political ploy designed to create a false choice between protecting the environment and supplying our defense needs. If this were a necessary choice, every member of Congress would obviously decide to support our defense needs, but this choice was imposed by Republican leadership in order to circumvent rules of order and bully a result they knew was unacceptable to the Congress as a whole. It is outrageous to make essential funding for the armed forces dependent on any domestic policy issue, particularly at a time of war.
I refused to play this cynical game and, therefore, voted against the bill. I am hopeful that the Senate will reject the bill, which will enable us to rework it and possibly strip out the ANWR provision.
This was the latest in a series of outrageous attempts by the Republican House leadership to divide the country. Our brave men and women in uniform should not be held hostage, and Congress should decide the refuge's future management on its own merits.
Congressman Mark Udall
Serving Colorado's Front Range and Western Slope