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The Democratic Agenda

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Location: Washington, DC


THE DEMOCRATIC AGENDA -- (House of Representatives - January 12, 2007)

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the time, and I appreciate the leadership, our House Republican leadership designating the time for us to be able to use today. We want to continue our discussion with the American people and put the emphasis on what has happened since we gaveled in for the 110th session of Congress.

It is going to be such an interesting Congress, we know that. There is a lot of work to do, and our constituents are depending on us to get the job done for them. We all look forward to that. We are excited about representing our constituents.

What we are not real excited about are some of the things that the majority has pushed forward and the way in which they have gone about it this week. What was to be openness, what was to be transparency, has devolved into a Rules Committee not being put into place, our regular order not being recognized, bills not going to committees, opportunities to amend those bills not being given, and it has made for quite an interesting 54 hours and 48 minutes as of this morning.

I am joined by a couple of my colleagues, and they are going to give some of their thoughts. I would like to recognize first, Mr. Davis from Tennessee, who is new to the House this year. He is a Member of the freshman class. He served in the Tennessee General Assembly, and we are so delighted that he did.

When I was in the State Senate in Tennessee, he served in the State House, and he has given to the process of open government, and to government reform and was a leader on those issues in this State.

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman from Tennessee. I welcome his comments. He is on target, Mr. Speaker, and just as he always has been in the General Assembly of Tennessee. Government is not the solution to many problems. Government many times itself causes the problem.

We all know that when you have a situation out there that if you put government into that mix to solve that problem, you don't get a private sector or a not-for-profit solution to that problem. You get a taxpayer-funded bureaucracy that is guaranteed to grow, guaranteed to grow, because they never go back to dollar one to build that budget. They go back to what is called baseline budgeting. Baseline budgeting says you take what you had last year and you build on it.

I tell you what, one of my constituents the other day, they were talking about this, compounding, and compounding interest in order to build a retirement nest egg, and what a wonderful concept compounding interest is.

It came to mind, as he said, you know, that is what the liberals have been doing with that Federal budget. It is compounded spending, because every year you take what you had and you add to it, and you grow it a little more and spending always grows.

As the gentleman from Tennessee said, in their PAYGO rules, what they have done is make it easier to raise taxes without you knowing about it, without the American people knowing about it.

So the 110th Congress is going to be the hang-on-to-your-wallet Congress, because it is coming at you. They are after your wallet, and they are going to take more and more of your wallet, your money that you have earned, and they are going to give it to the government, to the bureaucrats, to solve your problems in a way you don't want. So hang on, it is coming.

But in order to get some help, we have got some great Members here on our side of the aisle who are going to be fighting for the American people every single step of the way. One of those great Members is the former lieutenant governor from the State of Oklahoma, and she joins us this year as a member of the freshman class. She has been such a stalwart for conservative ideas and for helping Oklahoma set its course toward a State that is dynamic, even developed some pretty good football players along the way, and we are absolutely delighted to have the gentlewoman from Oklahoma join us and share her thoughts on her first couple of weeks here in Washington.

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentlewoman from Oklahoma, and I thank her for the contribution and the insight that she is bringing.

One of the things that we have to realize with legislation that we pass is it is a partnership effort, whether it is the local, the State, and the Federal levels working together. And her expertise, with 16 years of State government, as a legislator, as a lieutenant governor, helping the State chart a new way forward into the 21st century, that is so vital to the work that we do to be certain that we don't gather in the power and keep it here in Washington; that we send it to the States.

And the gentlewoman speaks so eloquently of missed opportunities, of wanting to bring that expertise to

bear, not only for the benefit of her constituents, but for the benefit of all Americans, to be certain that we respect this Nation, we respect this House, and that we respect the sovereignty which each and every one of us hold so very, very dear.

You know, my colleagues have mentioned some of the things that have taken place this week. And as I said at the outset, the Democrats brought forward what would be their 100-hour agenda, and they have talked about the things that they had wanted to pass. And we have heard some in the 5-minute and 1-minute presentations and the speeches on the floor that we have got some creative clock keeping going on around these parts. But, Mr. Speaker, I will tell you, when I was in school in the 1950s and 1960s, they weren't teaching new math, so I just know how to do it the old way. And going by the old clock, it is 54 hours, 48 minutes, as of the time we gaveled in this morning, that had passed off the clock.

Now, the American people may be interested to know some of the things that have transpired in this 54 hours, 48 minutes. As I said, this is kind of the hang-on-to-your-wallet Congress, because it is expensive. And what we are seeing that they are doing in the first half of this 100 hours is passing legislation that our small businesses have told us, that the associations that work with many of these small businesses, the chambers, the independent business organizations have said would be crippling to businesses that create three out of every four new jobs in this country.

Now, you know, somebody may say, well, that doesn't sound that bad. You know what? When you go back to 2003 and you look at the fact that we have had nearly 7 million new jobs created since 2003, that is a lot of jobs. When you look at the fact that personal wages have increased over 9 percent in the past couple of years, that is a lot of money in the take-home paycheck. Then you see it makes a difference. Creating jobs, creating better jobs, creating 21st century jobs is so vitally important to have a robust economy that is going to work. And the body, the majority chose to pass a minimum wage bill that was an unfunded mandate on small business.

Now, I didn't come up with the total of what this is going to cost small business. I went to the Congressional Budget Office. The Congressional Budget Office says it is going to be $5 billion to $7 billion in unfunded mandates on small businesses to meet this one piece of legislation alone.

Now, I tell you, my constituents in Tennessee's Seventh District aren't willing to fork over another $5 billion to $7 billion out of their paychecks. They want first right of refusal on their paychecks. They don't want the Federal Government getting first right of refusal on their paychecks. The Federal Government takes too much as it is. And we all know government doesn't have a revenue problem. Goodness gracious, government has brought in more revenue than ever before in the past couple of years, and it happened because of tax reductions. Government has a spending problem, and it has a spending problem because of programs that have been put in place from the new deal, put in place from the Lyndon Johnson years, programs that have grown and grown and grown and have never been reduced. That is why we have a spending problem. And I have said many years, the bureaucracy in this town is a monument to the Democrats. They are the ones that built it through the 1940s, through the 1950s, through the 1960s, and it is like that plant in Little Shop of Horrors: Feed me, Seymour. Give me more money. It is what it is going to take to keep it going. So it is an expensive, expensive 54 hours, 48 minutes.

My colleague from Tennessee mentioned a little bit about the tax and spending, and I pulled an article out of the Wall Street Journal. There again, not the opinion of me, but the opinion of some of those that are watching this process. And he spoke a little bit about making it easier to raise taxes and the provision that was adjusted in the rules package. And I think this is so important for our constituents to know.

We have had a rule went into place in 1994 with Speaker Gingrich that provided that a three-fifths majority of the House was required to raise taxes. Well, our friends, our colleagues across the aisle have decided to put a loophole that you could drop that or waive that rule with a simple majority. That is very unfortunate. Very unfortunate. And it is disappointing.

The way we are going to reduce the size of government is to reduce the size of spending. And as my colleagues have said, that is what the American people want. Government is too big, too bureaucratic, too arrogant and too unresponsive. We saw it in Katrina. We see it any time we try to get through to a Federal agency and dial a number and get put on hold and told to punch another number and then told to select a language we want to hear it in. Those are the problems that frustrate every single one of us, and the way we address it is to reduce what government has to spend. As I said, crippling small businesses with the legislation that they have passed, making it easier to raise taxes.

Also the majority party refused to acknowledge morally sound proven life-saving stem cell treatments that are going to spend your tax dollars. They are going to spend your tax dollars. American people, I hope you hear this one. They are going to spend your tax dollars on ethically controversial research that has never produced results. That is in our stem cell legislation. And then today we have had a vote on the Medicare part D. They are voting to revamp a very successful, highly popular Medicare part D, has over a 75 percent approval rating, and they have voted to revamp that.

And in the midst of all of this, we have Tunagate. And the Speaker had I understand has retracted her comments or has said that she is going to have this provision addressed. But we had the Del Monte Corporation that owns StarKist Tuna involved in this, and it seems that American Samoa is where they have their plant. And, Mr. Speaker, it was brought to our attention that they were exempted from the minimum wage law.

We do hope that that is addressed. But I have pulled a sheet, again, not my thoughts but this is coming out of Congress Daily, and I just wanted to read a comment that was in the article discussing this employer from the Speaker's district with the work that they do over in American Samoa with tuna. And they are talking about the competitiveness of the tuna industry and why they don't need a raise in the minimum wage.

And it was so very interesting to me because this company and this delegate is saying, well, we don't want the minimum wage raised because it would hurt our competitiveness. Now, I guess, Mr. Speaker that it is fine for Del Monte Corporation or for American Samoa to say that but it is not fine for my small business owners in the Seventh District of Tennessee to say that. It is not fine for small business owners around the country to say that. But I guess the majority thinks it is fine to vote for $5 billion to $7 billion, with a ``b,' worth of unfunded mandates on small businesses.

Now, these were the comments from the delegate from American Samoa today regarding the minimum wage, and I am quoting from Congress Daily: ``The truth is the global tuna industry is so competitive that it is no longer possible for the Federal Government to demand mainland minimum wage rates for American Samoa without causing the collapse of our economy and making us welfare wards of the Federal Government.'

Mr. Speaker, every single business we have in this country is subject to global competition. It does not matter if we are in hardwoods or if we are in softwoods. If we are in hardwoods and producing furniture, we have got global competition. If we are in softwoods and we are producing pulp, we have got global competition. If we are in California growing tomatoes, we have got global competition. If we are a citrus producer and farmer in Florida, we have got global competition. If we are a shrimp farmer in Mississippi, we have got global competition.

Mr. Speaker, if it is good for American Samoa not to have a minimum wage, maybe we need to think about what we are doing to other small businesses and small business manufacturers. Do we really, really, really want to pass $5 billion to $7 billion worth of unfunded mandates on the producers of our Nation's jobs, three out of every four jobs, 7 million new jobs in the past couple of years? Mr. Speaker, I would submit to you that that is a failed policy. It is a failed policy.

What we need to be doing is continuing to do what the Republicans as a majority did in this House, which was looking after the American taxpayers' pocket and making certain that they kept more of that paycheck at the end of the month; making certain that small businesses enjoyed tax relief, increased expensing, increased opportunities for depreciation; making certain that they had the ability to grow those small businesses and invest in those small businesses because that, Mr. Speaker, is how you grow an economy and that is how you grow jobs.

And as I said earlier, we have seen it play out, that when you reduce those taxes, when you leave that money with the taxpayer, they reinvest it, they grow those jobs, and guess what. The Federal Government ends up with more revenues. We had record years in 2005 and 2006 in Federal Government revenues, and it happened because of good tax policy that left more money with the taxpayer.

I mentioned also that the Democrats had refused to acknowledge morally sound, proven, lifesaving stem cell treatments and they are wanting to use your tax dollars on controversial treatments.

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman.

And if you will yield for a question, I want to be certain that I understood a couple of the comments that you made pertaining to stem cells and pertaining to the research because you have been such a leader on this. And I think we both would commend Dr. Burgess, the gentleman from Texas, who crafted our motion to recommit yesterday and worked diligently on that to be certain that cloning could not possibly take place.

But I want to be certain that we are clear on this and my constituents are clear on what you were saying because finding answers to some of the debilitating illnesses that many of our family members and friends have is important to each and every one of us and it is something that we are committed to.

And the gentleman has practiced medicine for so many years. I have spent many volunteer hours working on different boards, not for profits, for health care associations, whether it is the Arthritis Foundation or the Lung Association or the Cancer Society, and all of them are interested in this issue.

But I want to be certain that I understood you correctly, that according to the Journal of Science, they have documented 25 years' worth of research that has been done on different types of stem cell research and stem cell therapies and that much of this is taking place at the NIH and that we are, indeed, funding much of that research at the NIH. And I think that is important for people to understand.

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I appreciate the gentleman's comments. This is something that has been funded here. There is funding that is there for the adult stem cell lines, the cord blood lines, and the amniotic fluid lines with the research that was presented last week from the scientists and researchers from Wake Forest and Harvard that are all proven. They are proven with results.

I thank the gentleman for the clarification on that and for the excellent work that he does for this body in making certain that the deception is peeled away and people realize where the commitment of the Republicans, the minority in Congress, lie in being certain that we protect the American taxpayers and we protect the morals and values on which our Nation stands. I thank the gentleman.

Now I want to talk about the Medicare vote that took place today. There is a saying when I was growing up, Mr. Speaker, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

This is a program our seniors will tell us over 75 percent are fine with this. If any of my colleagues were to say I get 75 percent of the vote when I go to the polls, that would be a landslide of monumental, monumental proportions.

But they want to take this program and change it for the sake of changing it. They have been asked by the American Legion not to do this, by the ALS Association not to do this. Epilepsy, don't change this, it is working. It is working.

The thing that I thought was so unfortunate was with our veterans and changing the pricing and price controls going into place, we have to realize the VA system is very different from the Medicare system. The VA system, it is comparing apples and oranges. The VA system is a direct provision of those health care services. Medicare Part D is an insurance plan, and we know that the prices come down on that. Some States have plans that are under $20 a month. The plan is about $200 billion less than was estimated when it first went into place.

So it is so interesting that the Democrats decided they wanted to change this plan. Let me just read some of the quotes from some of the groups that oppose the price controls that were put in place today. Groups that oppose, and I have heard estimates as high as $750 million extra that it is going to cost VA on this plan. Let me read the comments from some of these groups.

The American Legion, a group everybody knows, it is a veterans service organization, has nearly 3 million members and yesterday they sent out a letter opposing H.R. 4 asking for a ``no' vote saying, ``It is not in the best interest of America's veterans and their families.'

Again quoting, ``Every time the Federal Government has enacted pharmaceutical price control legislation, the Department of Veterans Affairs experiences significant increases in its pharmaceutical cost as an unintended consequence.'

Mr. Speaker, those are not my words, those are the words of the American Legion on behalf of the 3 million veterans they represent asking that this not be done.

So in addition to passing $5 to $7 billion of unfunded mandates on to the Nation's small businesses, in addition to passing hundreds of billions of dollars worth of extra cost to our shippers because of the homeland security provisions, you also are going to put nearly three-quarters of a billion of extra cost onto the Veterans Administration health services.

I tell you what, as I said, Mr. Speaker, this is hang-onto-your-wallet Congress because in the first 54 hours and 48 minutes that is where we have gotten. It is a lot of money, and the tote board just seems to be adding right on up.

The ALS Association, Lou Gehrig's disease, voiced strong opposition to H.R. 4 saying, ``Legislation that authorizes the Federal Government to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices will significantly limit the ability of people with ALS to access the drugs they need, and will seriously jeopardize the future development of treatments for the disease.' Those are not my words, that is the ALS Association in their opposition to the legislation that this body passed.

Epilepsy Foundation, and I am quoting from their letter, ``Access to the right medications for epilepsy can make the difference between living in the community, being employed, and leading a healthy and productive life. The consequences of denying the appropriate medication for an individual with epilepsy can be life threatening and can include injury, emergency room visits, hospitalization or other types of costly medical interventions.'

Mr. Speaker, that is the Epilepsy Foundation asking that the bill the majority passed today, H.R. 4, not pass because of the implications for those who suffer with epilepsy in securing the medications that they need.

Now here is the National Alliance for Mental Illness. They have had reservations and concerns about this legislation. I am quoting from their letter, ``NAMI is extremely concerned that placing this new legal mandate on the secretary would directly result in loss of the all or substantially-all guidance in the six protected classes and therefore poses a significant risk to Medicare beneficiaries with mental illness.'

Mr. Speaker, these again are not my words. They are concerns that have been expressed. They have been expressed by individuals that were concerned about what they saw happening in the first 100 hours in this administration.

What people thought they were going to see was transparency. They thought they were going to see openness. They thought they were going to see a willingness to step towards bipartisanship.

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that what we have seen is missed opportunities. We have seen a closed process. The Rules Committee has not functioned. Legislation has gone straight to the floor. No debate in committee. No open process, and that has been unfortunate for the people of this Nation.

As I close, I will once again say that one of the things that does concern us is the impact on the American taxpayer and figuring out who is going to pay for this. Mr. Speaker, it does appear, it absolutely does appear that it is going to be the American taxpayer that is going to see government grow, government expand and government is going to continue to expand in the 110th Congress.

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