THE SUBURBAN AGENDA -- (House of Representatives - June 11, 2007)
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. It really is a privilege for me to come to the floor tonight and work with you, Mr. Kirk, for a few moments and to explain to our colleagues here in the House and to the Speaker about the suburban agenda, a very important area. I appreciate your leadership in this area. You have been steadfast in making certain that these issues, and they may not be top-tier issues, they may not be headlines in all of our newspapers, but your district, like my district, I have a suburban district outside of Atlanta, and folks there are concerned about what folks all across this Nation are concerned about.
Mr. KIRK. We have seen consistently that while events in Iran or Iraq, while issues concerning global climate change, and of course the immigration bill in the Senate are all front-burner issues, but for American families, education, health care, protecting the environment and saving for college are important issues.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. That really is true. When I talk with groups at home, and once we get past the hot button, the headline issues of Iraq and immigration and the like, people are concerned about education for their kids and they are concerned about health care for themselves and their parents. They are concerned about security and quality of life issues in their community to make certain that there is going to be green space and there are places where can take their kids.
I was sitting in my office and I had to come down and join you. These are not Republican issues or Democrat issues, these are American issues.
They're issues that I think all of the House can rally around. And you mentioned the health care issue, and as a physician, I understand as well as anybody I suspect about the importance of being able to provide health insurance for families.
We live in a world now where jobs aren't constant. It used to be that your dad and my dad and other folks, they'd get a job and they'd be with that same company 25, 30, 35 years, and they'd get a gold watch and they'd move on and they'd take that health care with them. Now, that's not the case. Our children will have 7, 8, 9, 10 different jobs, 10 different employers and oftentimes having themselves as being self-employed.
Mr. KIRK. One solution would be to have the government take over everyone's health care and to make sure we take action that breaks the link between you and your physician and insert a large bureaucracy that currently runs the post office and now put it in charge of your health care.
Many of us think that that may not be the way to go. The way to go is to make sure that for many Americans, they like the health insurance plan that they're on, and then they would like to carry that through the five to seven jobs that they will have in the 21st century.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Exactly. And that hits the nail right on the head. People want to know that their health care is going to be consistent and they have the ability, along with their physicians, to make health care decisions, which is why the Health Insurance Portability Act that Congressman Dent is reintroducing is so important.
It makes it so, as I understand, that if an individual changes jobs, that they're able to provide that COBRA insurance for as long as needed. So it makes it so they can continue that COBRA insurance for a much longer period of time, to tide them over until they're with another employer or they can be able to provide for individual insurance on their own.
It's not the be-all-and-end-all, but it is a particularly important piece of the puzzle that makes it so that people can maintain their own health insurance, and I know that you agree with that.
Mr. KIRK. The need here is to remove the fear that somehow a loss of a job or discovery of a preexisting condition will deny Americans and their families health care insurance. What we want to make sure is you already have a right under Federal law to extend your health care insurance for 18 months. Now, we're not talking about extending it indefinitely, because when an American reaches age 65, you're going to be covered by Medicare, and if you fall below the poverty line, you're going to be covered by Medicaid.
But for large numbers of people, especially looking at an unsure job market, we want to have them assured by this piece of legislation that there's always a safe place for their family to be covered.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Exactly, and that gets to the number of uninsured that we have in this Nation. There are 45, 46, 47 million individuals who at some point during this calendar year will be without health insurance. Those aren't the folks that are on Medicaid. Those aren't the folks that are on Medicare. Those are the folks that are between jobs oftentimes, who are unable to continue the COBRA insurance that they ought to be able to, and this is what this bill would do. It would really, really solve one of the major problems that we have with working Americans who do indeed want to provide health insurance for families.
So I commend you for your leadership on this issue and so many others.
The Senior Safety Indignity Act is extremely important. I served in the State legislature, as I know many folks in this chamber did, and every single year we would hear horror stories about problems of health care workers in the nursing home or extended care facility arena.
And in Georgia what we tried to do was a similar kind of thing to make certain that background checks were available, and this would provide that kind of security and that kind of important information for individuals in the senior centers so that we know that the folks who were going to be assisting seniors and caring for seniors have the appropriate skills and the appropriate background in order to do that.
Mr. KIRK. The gentleman is one of the most respected physicians here in the Congress. The difficulty before this country is that the baby boom began when the troops came home in 1945. So, for an American born in that key year, you're going to be collecting a retirement check in 2009 when you hit your 65th birthday. There are so many Americans that then enter the retirement cohort and that may need nursing home care. That is the critical reason why this Congress may have to work on fewer bills naming post offices and designating roads and more on making sure that we maintain quality senior care as the baby boom generation retires.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. I appreciate that, and the point that you're making is so vital for all of us in this chamber to appreciate, and that is, that we've now been in session 5 1/2 months, and we've passed and sent to the President about 28 to 30 pieces of legislation. Almost the majority of those are naming a building or naming a post office or renaming a building or renaming a post office.
And these issues here, if you look down the list of those seven issues, from the gang elimination to teacher and student safety, to other education issues with 401 Kids Family Savings Act or the Health Insurance Act that we talked about, the Deleting Online Predators Act, open space, Senior Safety Act, these are the issues that are of vital importance to the American people all across this Nation. These are issues that, frankly, ought to get the vast majority of Members of this chamber on both sides of the aisle's support so that we could move forward with real legislation for real people.
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. And you're right. The incident at Virginia Tech was so astounding and so horrific for all of us to witness, and our hearts and our prayers still go out to those families.
But I understand, as I know you do, that there were individuals who were reticent to bring that out into the open before it happened, bring that individual who apparently committed that awful, awful tragedy out into the open for fear of potential liability.
That's no way for a Nation to live. That's no way for a responsible people to have to operate, to have to think in the back of their mind, well, can I do what's right or do I have to worry about an attorney, do I have to worry about a lawsuit.
This is the kind of legislation that we, as a Congress, if we adopted these seven items, I suspect that the American people would say this is a Congress that has acted appropriately, and we would all be able to stand proud and with that poster and present it to our constituents and say this is a responsible agenda for the American people.
My concern right now over the next three weeks, as you well know, we're entering appropriations time. It is very likely that none of these things, none of them, will be even brought to the floor during this period of time and that we'll get bound up in the process of spending hard-earned taxpayer money, trying to be responsible in that endeavor. But these issues that are supported by 60, 70, 80 percent of the American people, we ought to be able to take those off the table right away.
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. We have similar experiences in the city of Atlanta and then in the surrounding area. I don't represent any of the city of Atlanta itself. My district abuts the city of Atlanta, but I have small cities, some as small as 8- to 12,000 residents. I have some as large as 80- to 100,000, and then some unincorporated county areas.
But the resources that they have with which to fight gangs aren't the kind of resources that large metropolitan cities have, large urban areas have, and this bill, introduced by Representative Dave Weichert who himself is a hero in the law enforcement arena, having been the sheriff out in Washington State.
Mr. KIRK. With the Green River killer.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Apprehended the Green River killer, and such a hero he is, and we ought to as a House of Representatives and as a Nation recognize that this Act, this would allow police departments and law enforcement officials all across this Nation to know that there are resources being brought to bear to identify, like MS-13, to identify those gangs that are the greatest threat to our communities, the greatest threat to our constituents all across this Nation, that there is a unified strategy that is going to be brought to bear in order to make it so that we prevail in this war.
Mr. KIRK. I'm particularly worried because in the recent failed Senate immigration bill there was an amendment put forward to deny documented members of international drug gangs the chance to enter the pathway to citizenship that the legislation proposed. That amendment failed.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. This immigration bill that was just in the Senate last week, many of us had great concerns over, but are you telling me that there was a portion of the bill that it would allow gang members who had been convicted of a felony, that if they were found to be illegal, that they couldn't be deported; is that what you are saying?
Mr. KIRK. The proposed amendment would have denied any documented member of an international drug gang from the chance to apply for the pathway to citizenship that it proposed, and that amendment was defeated 51-46.
When we came together and proposed the Gang Elimination Act, we at least looked at the several hundred thousand documented gang members in the United States and said how do we deal with this problem.
Sometimes I have to have the concern that this Congress may take action in which that number would increase, making the problem even worse by action of the Federal Government. That's why I think refocusing our work for actions beyond naming of post offices to looking at how small suburban communities are being overwhelmed by large gangs with international links, some of whom may add to members if the wrong legislation should pass the Congress, that is an issue that should be squarely put before this Congress.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. I couldn't agree more, and there was such great promise for this new Congress, this new majority, not of which we're a part of, but this new majority that was swept in and began in January and all sorts of wonderful promises about great legislation and being responsive to the concerns of Americans all across the Nation. And what we've had is a legislative agenda that hasn't done that.
And so you and I stand here tonight inviting our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to embrace this suburban agenda, embrace an agenda that 70, 80 percent of the American people would support with common-sense pieces of legislation that address security, that address health care, that address education, that address caring for our seniors, that address green space. It just astounds me that we can't get that kind of support on both sides.
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Mr. KIRK. The Internet was largely invented in 1996 after you and I had both completed college. But this is part of our children's growing up. I think this calls for congressional action.
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. I appreciate that. It's not that the Internet is bad, it's just that this is a different world, and the Internet is now like Main Street of 20 or 30 years ago, where you would have to be wary of strangers, and our parents told us about strangers on Main Street and how to deal with them. It's much more difficult when those strangers are able to come literally into your own home and entice young people who may not have their guard up as much.
We have story after story, time after time you will hear law enforcement officers talk about the challenges that they have in even getting young people to admit that, in fact, they have been susceptible or been approached by this kind of behavior. But it is rampant out there. It's absolutely rampant. There is not any reason that we ought not to be able to pass some commonsense legislation like the Deleting Online Predators Act like you have introduced in this House of Representatives, which is something that ought to be supported by 70, 80, 90 percent of our colleagues here, something that ought to go, frankly, in front of the appropriations battles we are about to wage over the next 3 to 6 weeks as we work as diligently as we can to responsibly spend hard-earned taxpayer money. But this is something that we ought to be able to coalesce behind.
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. That's the kind of perpetuation of business as usual here in Washington, that the folks at home just say what on earth are you doing when an individual can be convicted of a felony, and continue to get their pension, they just shake their head. They throw their hands up in the air, and they say, what are you doing? Why can't you do something responsible, which is why this positive agenda, suburban agenda, which is all things again that the vast majority of Members of this House ought to be supporting, which is why we ought to be pushing that forward.
I, for the life of me, I can't answer why we ought not to be able to deal with these things before we launch into the battles over the appropriations bills.
Do you have any sense as to why the majority party won't allow these kinds of bills to come to the floor?
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Not only fallen short, but I would suggest to my good friend from Illinois that the majority party has seemed to raise hiding and decreasing transparency and accountability in a very important area to a huge degree, and that is the area of earmarks, the area of special projects, pork projects, special projects for Members.
What we have just learned in the past week or so is that the Appropriations chair has said well, we won't be debating any of these earmarks, these special projects on the floor of the House. We won't be debating them. What we will do is parachute them in, air drop them in a conference committee so that there can be no light, no sunshine on these earmarks.
That's the kind of priority that concerns me about this majority party, that they have a priority for decreasing transparency and decreasing accountability for spending, but they also, by the same token, will not address the concerns of the vast majority of Americans all across our Nation.
In the area of security, in the area of education, in the area of health care, in the area of senior security, in the area of green space in our communities, a wonderful, positive agenda that we have put before this Congress and, in fact, it's getting no visibility here on floor of the House.
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Wouldn't that be wonderful. What a grand legacy. The bill you are referring to is H.R. 87, primary sponsorship by Judy Biggert. It's something that's near and dear to our hearts in Georgia. As you may recall, Senator Paul Coverdale, the late Paul Coverdale, served in the United States Senate. One of his goals was to make certain that there was an ability by all families to be able to afford a college education for their children. He fought as hard as he could during his tenure in the United States Senate to make certain that happened.
This is an extension of that. This is a wonderful, would provide a wonderful opportunity for families to put aside a little money in a tax-free mechanism to be able to cover college education for their children.
Mr. KIRK. In the State of Illinois, under section 529, which is a charter that allows States to set up college savings program, we call them Bright Start accounts. What does Georgia call its college saving program?
Mr. PRICE of Georgia. We have the HOPE Scholarship savings plan in Georgia, which is remarkably successful. But there is no reason we ought not extend it because what we provide in Georgia is you can't use that money out of state.
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. Absolutely. What a great template to use. What a wonderful model with the 401(k) program, which is familiar to millions, tens of millions, if not over 100 million Americans, who have some type of 401(k) program. They understand how simple it is, how easy it is, how almost painless it is to be able to plan for the future to put that money aside, and to have a vehicle that models itself off of that, after that, as the 401Kids program would do, to allow moms and dads all across this Nation to be able to put a little money aside on a regular basis. When Junior grows up, they will recognize at the age of 15 or 16 that he or she indeed will be able to have the ability to go to the college of his or her choice and realize their his or her potential and their dreams.
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. What a wonderful vision and what a wonderful dream. We've all heard the stories of the entrepreneur individual with a significant amount of resources who went into a community and said to a high school or a middle school class that normally wouldn't necessarily have the resources to go to college, any of you that complete your high school education in a way that would allow you to enter a college, I'll fund that college education. This would transfer that, and those kids then do extremely well, so much better than their peers in other classes who haven't been given that assurance.
This is the kind of program that would give that assurance to every young child all across this Nation, to allow their parents to be able to put aside a little bit of money, a little resources over the lifetime of their child so that they can then afford the college education and open the dreams for each and every child.
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Mr. PRICE of Georgia. I know that our time is short, but I just want to commend you once again for your you leadership in this area. These are issues that concern all Americans, issues of education, issues of safety, issues of security, issues of health care, and they are issues that the vast majority of us ought to support.
So I challenge our friends on both sides of the aisle to step forward and support a positive agenda for the American people. It's outlined right here.
I want to commend you for your leadership, and I appreciate the opportunity to join you tonight.
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