Congressman Bob Filner's Congressional Update
The State of Our Union, 2007
Last November, the American people demanded a change at home and abroad. With the ongoing war in Iraq and middle-class families struggling to make ends meet, voters across the county said it was time for a new direction.
Now in the majority, Democrats in Congress are providing that change, reaching out to Republicans and delivering results on the priorities of the American people. Congress has already passed bills - with bipartisan majorities -- to take America in a new direction by making our nation more energy secure, improving healthcare, and cutting costs for middle-class families.
Democrats in Congress are eager to work with this Administration to move forward with this agenda for American families.
Last week, in his State of the Union address, President Bush once again correctly identified many of the challenges confronting our families. However, Democrats were disappointed that, on Iraq, the President is still not listening to the American people, and that on domestic issues, although his goals are laudatory, the remedies he laid out are insufficient.
In the President's speech, he put forward his plan to escalate the war in Iraq! His escalation plan flies in the face of the reality on the ground, the advice of the military generals, and the opinion of the American people. It will not bring success in Iraq or make America more secure.
That is why a bipartisan coalition in Congress will oppose the President's plan. Instead of this escalation, Democrats, Republicans, and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have offered a plan to end our open-ended commitment to Iraq, transition the U.S. mission, and begin the phased redeployment of American troops. We believe this is the best way to honor the 19,626 citizens of California who are now serving in Iraq, as well as the 342 heroic individuals from California who have lost their lives in the war in Iraq.
President Bush has repeatedly promised to reduce the number of uninsured, but in every year of his Administration, the number of Americans without health insurance has gone up - now having reached 47 million, while health costs continue to skyrocket.
President Bush's proposal on health care is another step in the wrong direction. It would jeopardize good health insurance for those lucky enough to have it and push many Americans into the individual insurance market - a market where insurers are able to refuse coverage to workers based on their health. Quite simply, it's the wrong medicine for the 6,961,000 without health care coverage here in California. Further, it will not help families in California who have faced an average increase of 81 percent in their health care costs since 2000.
In his State of the Union address, the President laid out proposals on energy and global warming, and Democrats are committed to working with the President, on a bipartisan basis, to achieve these vital goals.
Democrats are off on a good start in putting America on the path to energy independence, having passed legislation to repeal $14 billion in subsidies to Big Oil in order to invest in clean renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Some of the President's energy policies represent a good first step for moving forward. But Democrats are disappointed that a number of the President's proposals are too modest. More needs to be done to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which leaves people here in California paying 77 percent more than in 2001 for gasoline.
"100 Hours" Bills
In addition to the energy bill, the House of Representatives has already succeeded in passing legislation to raise the minimum wage, cut the interest rates on student loans, expand federal funding for stem cell research, implement the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, and require negotiation for lower prescription drug costs in our first 100 legislative hours.
Here in California, an increase in the federal minimum wage will not apply, as we have already leapt ahead of the rest of the nation in dealing with this issue. Cutting the interest rate on student loans in half will help 228,489 college students, saving them an average of $4,830 over five years.
In addition, the House has adopted the strict pay-as-you-go budget policy as the first step to put an end to the fiscal mess that Republicans have created, which has imposed a net burden of $30,812 for a typical family of four here in California over the last five years.
Congress has demonstrated that great things happen for the American people when we work together, and these "100 hours" bills are just the beginning. The new Congress will do more to take America in a new direction, and we hope President Bush and congressional Republicans will join us on behalf of America's families.
Veterans' Committee Holds First Meeting
I recently led the first meeting as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. This organizational meeting was held to announce the roster of the Democratic members serving on the Committee, as well as the Members selected to lead the panel's respective subcommittees.
During the meeting, the Committee ratified the full panel's membership, staff, and Committee rules. The Committee also adopted an oversight plan for the 110th Congress, outlining areas of interest or concern with respect to veterans' services and benefits.
The following Democratic members have been selected to chair subcommittees during the 110th Congress:
Cong. Michael Michaud (ME) - Chairman of the Health Subcommittee;
Cong. Stephanie Herseth (SD) - Chairwoman of the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee;
Cong. Harry E. Mitchell (AZ) - Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee;
Cong. John J. Hall (NY) - Chairman of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.
In addition, the following Democratic members will also serve on the Committee during the 110th Congress:
Corrine Brown (FL); Vic Snyder (AR); Phil Hare (IL); Michael F. Doyle (PA); Shelley Berkley (NV); John T. Salazar (CO); Ciro Rodriguez (TX); Joe Donnelly (IN); Jerry McNerney (CA); Zack Space (OH); and Timothy J. Walz (MN).
The Members serving on this panel are talented, bright and hardworking individuals. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to provide our veterans and military families the services and benefits they have earned and deserve.
I am honored to be the Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and I am excited that we have held our first committee meeting and we are ready to get down to business. Now that we are formally organized and reconstituted, I plan an aggressive agenda, beginning with addressing the President's budget submission for fiscal year 2008.
The Committee met on Thursday, February 8th, 2007 to examine the FY 2008 budget request for the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Feel free to stay updated on the Committee activities by visiting www.veterans.house.gov.
FY 2007 Funding Bill Keeps the Faith with Veterans --$3.6 Billion More!
I am thrilled to announce that the House passed H. Res. 20, a bill to fund the government, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, for the remainder of the fiscal year. We will provide $32.3 billion for veterans' health care, an increase of $3.6 billion over FY 2006 levels. This funding measure was made necessary by the inability of the Republican Congress to pass a veterans' funding bill last year.
I am grateful that Appropriations Chairman Obey, Military Construction & Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Edwards, and the Democratic Leadership listened to my pleas and the pleas of veterans to provide the funding that veterans' need. I am proud that we did all we can for veterans in the tight fiscal climate we now face. I think it shows that where veterans are concerned Democrats will do the job.
VA had been forced to operate at prior year funding levels since the new fiscal year started on October 1, 2006.
FY2008 Funding Bill
The Bush Administration released its FY 2008 budget on February 5, 2007, and the Committee on Veterans' Affairs held a hearing on that budget submission on February 8, 2007.
As we are celebrating finally getting adequate VA funding in place for this year, we will now turn our attention to the Bush Administration's budget request for the coming year. I am deeply concerned that this Administration has failed to request the budget levels needed to provide timely, quality health care to veterans and to improve the intolerable delays and backlogs faced by veterans seeking benefits they have earned. I will be fighting for a budget that is worthy of our veterans!
Supporting Study of Latino History
I am proud to announce my co-sponsorship of two bills of importance to the Latino community in my Congressional District.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, persons of Hispanic or Latino origin make up 14.4% of the U.S. population and over 50% of California's 51st district. It is only right that we honor the contributions of Latino Americans by preserving historical sites and artifacts for future generations. These two bills will take a step in the right direction towards ensuring preservation of Latino history and culture.
The first bill, H.R. 359, would authorize the National Park Service to conduct a special resource study of sites in Arizona, California and other states significant to the life of Cesar E. Chavez and the U.S. farm labor movement. By working in consultation with the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation, the United Farm Workers, and state and local historical associations, the National Park Service would determine whether any of the sites examined meet the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places or designation as a national historic landmark. H.R. 359 requires the National Park Service to report back to Congress on the findings of the study and any recommendations for action.
The second bill, H.R. 512, was passed by the House on February 6. H.R. 512 would establish a commission to develop a plan of action for the establishment and maintenance of a National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, DC. The commission would consist of seven members appointed by the President and Congressional Leadership. House passage of H.R. 512 takes us a step closer toward ensuring preservation of Latino history and culture. It is my hope the Senate will quickly pass this important bill.
Citizens of the Month
I am honored to recognize the Holtville Athletic Club as my January "Citizens of the Month" for their commitment and outstanding efforts to preserve the long tradition of the annual Holtville Rib Cook-Off that benefits the Holtville Athletic Club's commitment to Imperial Valley's youth and sports.
On the last Saturday in January, one weekend prior to the Super Bowl, the Holtville Athletic Club hosts what has now become an Imperial Valley tradition, the Rib Cook-Off Extravaganza. Two teams of dedicated volunteers, the Viola Café and Red-Neck Ribs come together to battle for the "Pinnacle Award." The teams are expected to barbecue in excess of six thousand pounds of pork spare ribs combined.
In 2004, the Holtville Athletic Club initiated a special groundbreaking project named "Ribs to Iraq Project" where 1,000 pounds of ribs were cooked by volunteers and sent to troops in Iraq. I presented a Congressional Record Statement in Congress to honor their efforts.
This year, the Holtville Athletic Club celebrates its 47th anniversary. The club is a non-profit organization designed to benefit the region's youth and surrounding athletic organizations. Approximately 20,000 people attended this year's Cook-Off. All proceeds go to benefit the region's athletic organizations like the high school football team, girl's volleyball, Little League, soccer teams, and cheerleaders.
The Holtville Athletic Club has gone far in helping the Valley's youth and deserve to be commended for their efforts.
Presenting the Holtville Athletic Club with my January Citizen of the Month Award
Constituent Mail Bag
From National City
Dear Representative Filner:
As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution for FY 2007, please let your Leadership know that you support an "adjustment" allowing a $181 million increase for Community Health Centers.
The House, the Senate and the Administration have made increased funding for health centers a top priority: 240 Representatives signed a Dear Colleague letter calling for the $181 million increase.
Health Centers received a 1% cut in FY06. Given the continued growth in the number of uninsured that health centers serve and the increasing costs of providing service to existing patients, another year with no increase would be devastating to health centers.
Congressman Filner replies:
Thank you for contacting me about community health center funding.
I wholeheartedly agree with you--community health centers provide valuable services to our society! The federal government should do more to ensure community health centers receive the funding they desperately need. Rest assured, I will continue to work with my colleagues to support community health centers in the 110th Congress.
I appreciate your advocacy on this most important issue!
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COOL WEB SITE: The Smithsonian Presents Black History Month
February is Black History Month. The Smithsonian Museums are hosting a series of online exhibits displaying the achievements of the African American community. Poetry, Science, Music, and Art are only a few of the categories displayed online at: http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/heritage_month/