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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - January 06, 2009)

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By Mr. KERRY (for himself and Ms. Snowe):

S. 77. A bill to amend title XXI of the Social Security Act to provide for equal coverage of mental health services under the State Children's Health Insurance Program; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, it is my great hope that Congress will move this year to see that the successful, bipartisan State Children's Health Insurance Program, SCHIP, is allowed the opportunity to fulfill its promise to the low-income children of this country. For over 11 years it has provided, along with Medicaid, the type of meaningful and affordable health insurance coverage that each and every American child deserves. Yet there is much work to be done to improve this program, and the reauthorization of SCHIP gives us the opportunity to expand these successful programs to many of the nine million uninsured children in the country today, starting with the 6 million that are already eligible for public programs but not yet enrolled.

While expanding coverage to the uninsured is our top priority, it is equally important to ensure that the types of benefits offered to our Nation's children are quality services that are available when needed. Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health coverage, that is too often not the case today. Therefore, I am introducing today, along with Senator Snowe, the Children's Mental Health Parity Act which provides for equal coverage of mental health care for all children enrolled in the State Children's Health Insurance Plan, SCHIP. This was passed as part of the SCHIP reauthorization last year, but unfortunately the bill was vetoed by President Bush.

I am encouraged by the passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in October 2008. It is now time to extend the same parity in mental health coverage to our children that we give to adults. Mental illness is a critical problem for the young people in this country today. The numbers are startling. Mental disorders affect about one in five American children and up to 9 percent of kids experience serious emotional disturbances that severely impact their functioning. Low-income children, those the SCHIP program is designed to cover, have the highest rates of mental health problems.

Yet the sad reality is that an estimated 2/3 of all young people struggling with mental health disorders do not receive the care they need. We are failing our children when we do not provide appropriate treatment of mental health disorders. The consequences of this failure could not be more severe. Without early and effective intervention, affected children are less likely to do well in school and more likely to have compromised employment and earnings opportunities. Moreover, untreated mental illness may increase a child's risk of coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. Finally, children with mental disorders are at a much higher risk for suicide.

Unfortunately, many states' SCHIP programs are not providing the type of mental health care coverage that our most vulnerable children deserve. Many States impose discriminatory limits on mental health care coverage that do not apply to medical and surgical care. These can include caps on coverage of inpatient days and outpatient visits, as well as cost and testing restrictions that impair the ability of our physicians to make the best judgments for our kids.

The Children's Mental Health Parity Act would prohibit discriminatory limits on mental health care in SCHIP plans by directing that any financial requirements or treatment limitations that apply to mental health or substance abuse services must be no more restrictive than the financial requirements or treatment limits that apply to other medical services. This bill would also eliminate a harmful provision in current law that authorizes states to lower the amount of mental health coverage they provide to children to just 75 percent of the coverage provided in other health care plans used by states.

Many of the leading advocacy groups have endorsed the Children's Mental Health Parity Act, including Mental Health America, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, The National Association for Children's Behavioral Health, the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, and the National Council for Community Behavioral Health care.

America's kids who are covered through SCHIP should be guaranteed that the mental health benefits they receive are just as comprehensive as those for medical and surgical care. It is no less important to care for our kids' mental health, and this unfair and unwise disparity should no longer be acceptable. As we debate many important features of the SCHIP program during reauthorization, I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to see that this important, bipartisan measure receives the support that it deserves.

By Mr. KERRY (for himself and Ms. Snowe):

S.78. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a full exclusion for gain from certain small business stocks; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, our economy is in the midst of the worst economic downturn since since the Great Depression. We all realize that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. During these difficult times, many small businesses are having trouble accessing credit which leads to a decline in job creation and innovation.

Many of our most successful corporations started as small businesses, including AOL, Apple Computer, Compac Computer, Datastream, Evergreen Solar, Intel Corporations, and Sun Microsystems. As you can see from this partial list, many of these companies played an integral role in making the Internet a reality.

Today, Senator Snowe and I are introducing the Invest in Small Business Act of 2009 to encourage private investment in small businesses by making changes to the existing partial exclusion for gain from certain small business stock.

Investing in small businesses is essential to turning around the economy. Not only will investment in small business spur job creation. it will lead to new technological breakthroughs. We are at an integral juncture in developing technology to address global climate change. I believe that small business will repeat the role it played at the vanguard of the computer revolution--by leading the Nation in developing the technologies to substantially reduce carbon emissions. Small businesses already are at the forefront of these industries, and we need to do everything we can to encourage investment in small businesses.

Back in 1993, I worked with Senator Bumpers to enact legislation to provide a 50 percent exclusion for gain for individuals from the sale of certain small business stock that is held for 5 years. This provision would provide a 50 percent exclusion for gain for individuals from the sale of certain small business stock that is held for 5 years. Since the enactment of this provision, the capital gains rate has been lowered twice without any changes to the exclusion. Due to the lower capital rates, this provision no longer provides a strong incentive for investment in small businesses.

The Invest in Small Business Act of 2009 makes several changes to the existing provision. This legislation increases the exclusion amount from 50 percent to 100 percent and decreases the holding period from 5 to 4 years. This bill would allow corporations to benefit from the provision as long as they own less than 25 percent of the small business corporation stock.

Currently, the exclusion is treated as a preference item for calculating the alternative minimum tax, AMT. The Invest in Small Business Act of 2009 would repeal the exclusion as an AMT preference item.

The Invest in Small Business Act of 2009 will provide an effective tax rate of 0 percent for the gain from the sale of certain small businesses. This lower capital gains rate will encourage investment in small businesses. In addition, the changes made by the Invest in Small Business Act of 2009 will make more taxpayers eligible for this provision.

I urge my colleagues to support the Invest in Small Business Act of 2009 which strengthens an existing tax incentive to provide an appropriate incentive to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

By Mr. KERRY:

S. 79. A bill to amend the Social Security Act to establish a Federal Reinsurance Program for Catastrophic Health Care Costs; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, my home State of Massachusetts is setting an example for the rest of the country by taking bold steps to provide quality health coverage for everyone. Now it is time for Washington to do the same by bringing meaningful, affordable healthcare to the uninsured, in Massachusetts and across America.

In Massachusetts the cost of health care is a major obstacle to the overall goal of universal coverage. The problem of the uninsured can't be solved unless the issue of skyrocketing health costs to families and businesses is also tackled. And fully reforming the healthcare system requires that the Federal Government begin shouldering some of the burden to help alleviate costs.

Healthcare costs are highly concentrated in this country. The very few who suffer from catastrophic illness or injury drive costs up for everyone. One percent of patients account for 25 percent of healthcare costs, and 20 percent of patients account for 80 percent of costs. To make healthcare more affordable, we must find a better way to share the immense burden of insuring the chronically ill and seriously injured.

Part of the reason that businesses and health plans today fail to cover their workers is an aversion to risk. Patients who are catastrophically ill or injured often face the tragic combination of failing health and financial peril. But there's a way to combat these costs.

Congress should make employers and healthcare plans an offer they can't refuse. It's called ``reinsurance.'' Reinsurance provides a backstop for the high costs of healthcare. The Federal Government will reimburse a percentage of the highest cost cases if employers agree to offer comprehensive health insurance benefits to all full time employees, including preventative care and health promotion benefits that are proven to make care affordable. This will result in lower costs and lower premiums for both employers and employees. If the Federal Government can help small and large businesses bear the burden of cost in the most expensive cases, we'll dramatically improve the access to health care for everyone.

That is why I am introducing the Healthy Businesses, Healthy Workers Reinsurance Act, to make the federal government a partner in helping businesses with the heavy financial burden of those catastrophic cases. Specifically, this legislation is designed to assist those catastrophic cases that cost more than $50,000 in a single year. Healthy Businesses, Healthy Workers will protect business owners from skyrocketing premiums, and provide more working families affordable, quality healthcare. With reinsurance, health insurance premiums for all of us will go down, by up to approximately 10 percent under this plan. This plan does have a cost associated with it, but the benefits will outweigh the costs. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year on inefficient and wasteful health expenditures. We need to make sure that these funds are being spent wisely to ensure that we can lower health care costs and improve coverage.

I believe that we must act now to address the health care crisis in America, taking steps that create real change and address both access to care and the cost of care. There is a growing bipartisan consensus that the Federal Government has a responsibility to help the catastrophically ill. As we take the next steps toward alleviating our nation's health care crisis, a commonsense partnership between employers, families, and the government to share the costs of the sickest among us will lay the groundwork for achieving our ultimate goal: meaningful health care coverage for every single American. I ask all my colleagues to support this legislation.

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By Mr. KERRY (for himself, Ms. SNOWE, and Mrs. LINCOLN):

S. 138. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal alternative minimum tax limitations on private activity bond interest, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today Senator SNOWE and I are introduce legislation to exempt private activity bond interest from the alternative minimum tax, AMT. My colleague from Massachusetts, Representative RICHARD NEAL has introduced similar legislation. Under current law, interest paid on private activity bonds is subject to the alternative minimum tax. This results in the bonds not being very marketable in these difficult economic times.

Making private activity bonds no longer subject to the AMT would help with the issuance of bonds. This legislation would assist in needed relief to State and local governments across the Nation. It would provide more buyers to the market, resulting in interest savings for issuers, and ultimately taxpayers.

Subjecting private activity bond interest to the AMT could cost an issuer 25 to 30 more basis points when issuing an AMT bond compared to a non-AMT bond. However, the recent freezing of the municipal credit market has led the difference to rise as much as 100 basis points. This results in increased costs for various infrastructure projects including airports, docks and other transportation-related facilities; water, sewer and other utility facilities; and solid and hazardous waste disposal facilities.

Last Congress, I worked on a provision to exempt the interest from private activity housing bonds from the AMT and this provision was included in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. The legislation Senator SNOWE and I are introducing builds on this provision by exempting interest from all private activity bonds from the AMT.

I believe this legislation will help spur the economy and create jobs. This legislation will provide better funding options for essential infrastructure projects and create jobs across the country. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this important legislation.

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By Mr. KERRY:

S. 142. A bill to amend titles XIX and XXI of the Social Security Act to ensure that every uninsured child in America has health insurance coverage, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

MR. KERRY. Mr. President, today I am introducing the Kids Come First Act, legislation to ensure every child in America has access to health care coverage. The Kids Come First Act is the first bill I am introducing in the 111th Congress because I believe that insuring all children must be at the top of the agenda this Congress.

Long-term health care reform is vital, but we must also do all that we can now to make sure our children have access to health care. That is why I have incorporated the Small Business Children's Health Education Act as part of Kids First this Congress.

The 111th Congress faces many challenges, from the economic situation at home to the continuing conflicts in the Middle East. But perhaps no issue bears more directly on the lives of more Americans than health care reform. Today, nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured, including 11 million children. Health care has become a slow-motion disaster that is ruining lives and bankrupting families all over the country. We cannot stand by as the ranks of the uninsured rise and American families find themselves in peril.

Children from low income households are three times as likely to be uninsured and more than 60 percent of uninsured children have at least one parent working full time. As we continue to face uncertain economic times we must do more for the children of this country who lack health coverage. Too many families are struggling with how to make ends meet. This is the time to take one worry off their plate and make health insurance available for all children.

The Kids Come First Act calls for a Federal-State partnership to mandate health coverage to every child in America. The proposal makes states an offer they can't refuse. The Federal Government will pay for the most expensive part: enrolling all low-income children in Medicaid, automatically. In return, the States will pay to expand coverage to higher income children. Under this legislation, States will save more than $6 billion a year, and every child will have access to healthcare.

I think it is unacceptable that in the greatest country in the world, millions of children are denied access to the health care they need. The Kids Come First Act expands health care coverage for children up to the age of 21. Through expanding the programs that work, such as Medicaid and SCHIP, we can cover every uninsured child.

Insuring children improves their health and helps families cover the spiraling costs of medical care. Covering all kids will help reduce avoidable hospitalizations by 22 percent and replace expensive critical care with inexpensive preventative care. Also, when children get the medical attention they need, they do better in school.

To pay for the expansion of health insurance for children, the Kids Come First Act includes a provision that provides the Secretary of Treasury with the authority to raise the highest income tax rate of 35 percent to a rate not higher than 39.6 percent in order to offset the costs. Prior to the enactment of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, the top marginal rate was 39.6 percent. Less than one percent of taxpayers pay the top rate and for 2009, this rate only affects individuals with income above $372,950.

In addition to expanding access to health insurance, we need to improve enrollment of eligible children. In February 2007, the Urban Institute reported that among those eligible for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, children whose families are self-employed or who work for small business concerns are far less likely to be enrolled. Specifically, one out of every four eligible children with parents working for a small business or are self-employed are not currently enrolled. This compares with just 1 out of every 10 eligible children whose parents work for a large firm.

We need to do a better job of informing and educating America's small business owners and employees of the options that may be available for covering uninsured children. To that effect, the Kids Come First Act includes a provision that creates an intergovernmental task force, consisting of the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Treasury, to conduct a campaign to enroll kids of small business employees who are eligible for SCHIP and Medicaid but are not currently enrolled. To educate America's small businesses on the availability of SCHIP and Medicaid, the task force will make use of the Small Business Administration's business partners, including the Service Corps of Retired Executives, the Small Business Development Centers, Certified Development Companies, and Women's Business Centers, and with chambers of commerce across the country.

Additionally, the Small Business Administration is directed to post SCHIP and Medicaid eligibility criteria and enrollment information on its website, and to report back to the Senate and House Committees on Small Business regarding the status and successes of the task force's efforts to enroll eligible kids.

Health care for our children is a top priority that we must address. I believe it can be done in a fiscally responsible manner. We must invest our resources in our future by improving health care for children.

Since I first introduced the Kids Come First Act in the 109th Congress, more than 500,000 people have shown their support for the bill by becoming Citizen Cosponsors and another 20,000 Americans called into our ``Give Voices to Our Values'' hotline to share their personal stories.

It is clear that providing health care coverage for our uninsured children is a priority for our nation's workers, businesses, and health care community. They know, as I do, that further delay only results in graver health problems for America's children. Their future, and ours, depends on us doing better. I urge my colleagues to support and help enact the Kids Come First Act during this Congress.

By Mr. KERRY:

S. 143. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide for a college opportunity tax credit; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today I am introducing the College Opportunity Tax Credit Act of 2009. This legislation creates a new tax credit that will put the cost of higher education in reach for American families.

According to a recent College Board report tuition is rising at both public and private institutions. On average, the tuition at a private college this year is $25,143, up 5.9 percent from last year, and the tuition at a public college $6,585, up 6.4 percent from last year.

Unfortunately, neither student aid funds nor family incomes are keeping pace with increasing tuition and fees. In my travels around Massachusetts, I frequently hear from parents concerned they will not be able to pay for their children's college. These parents know that earning a college education will result in greater earnings for their children and they desperately want to ensure their kids have the greatest opportunities possible.

In 1997, the Congress implemented two new tax credits to make college affordable--the HOPE and the Lifetime Learning credits. These tax credits have put college in reach for families, but I believe we can do more.

The HOPE and Lifetime Learning credits are not refundable, and therefore a family of four must have an income over $30,000 in order to receive the maximum credit. Almost half of families with college students fail to receive the full credit because their income is too low. In order to receive the full benefit of the Lifetime Learning credit, a student has to spend $10,000 a year on tuition and fees. This is more than $3,000 the average annual public 4-year college tuition more than three times the average annual tuition of a 2-year community college. About 56 percent of college students attend schools with tuition and fees under $9,000.

In 2004, I proposed a refundable tax credit to help pay for the cost of 4 years of college. Currently the HOPE credit applies only to the first 2 years of college. The College Opportunity Tax Credit Act of 2009 helps students and parents afford all four years of college. It also builds on the proposal I made in 2004 by incorporating some of the suggestions made by experts at a Finance Committee hearing held during the 109th Congress. My legislation creates a new credit, the College Opportunity Tax Credit, COTC, that replaces the existing HOPE credit and Lifetime Learning credit and ultimately makes these benefits more generous.

The COTC has two components. The first provides a refundable tax credit for a student enrolled in a degree program at least on a half-time basis. It would provide a 100 percent tax credit for the first $2,000 of eligible expenses and a 50 percent tax credit for the next $4,000 of expenses. The maximum credit would be $4,000 each year per student. The second provides a nonrefundable tax credit for part-time students, graduate students, and other students that do not qualify for the refundable tax credit. It provides a 40 percent credit for the first $1,000 of eligible expenses and a 20 percent credit for the next $3,000 of expenses.

Both of these credits can be used for expenses associated with tuition and fees. The same income limits that apply to the HOPE credit and the Lifetime Learning credit apply to the COTC. These amounts are indexed for inflation, as are the eligible amounts of expenses. This legislation is only for taxable years beginning in 2009 and 2010 in order to make colleges affordable during these difficult financial times. It will also give the Congress additional time to work on a permanent solution to help with the rising cost of a college education.

The College Opportunity Tax Credit Act of 2009 simplifies the existing credits that make higher education more affordable and will enable more students to be eligible for tax relief. I understand that many of my colleagues are interested in making college more affordable. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make a refundable tax credit for college education a reality this Congress.

By Mr. KERRY (for himself and Mr. Ensign):

S. 144. A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to remove cell phones from listed property under section 280F; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today Senator Ensign and I are reintroducing the MOBILE Cell Phone Act of 2009, Modernize Our Bookkeeping in the Law for Employee's Cell Phone Act of 2009. Last Congress, 60 Senators cosponsored this legislation which would update the tax treatment of cell phones and mobile communication devices.

During the past 20 years, the use of cell phone and mobile communication devices has skyrocketed. Cell phones are no longer viewed as an executive perk or a luxury item. They no longer resemble suitcases or are hardwired to the floor of an automobile. Cell phone and mobile communication devices are now part of daily business practices at all levels.

In 1989, Congress passed a law which added cell phones to the definition of listed property under section 280F(d)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. Treating cell phones as listed property requires substantial documentation in order for cell phones to benefit from accelerated depreciation and not be treated as taxable income to the employee. This documentation is required to substantiate that the cell phone is used for business purposes more than 50 percent of the time. Generally, listed property is property that inherently lends itself to personal use, such as automobiles.

Back in 1989, cell phone technology was an expensive technology worthy of detailed log sheets. At that time, it was difficult to envision cell phones that could be placed in a pocket or handbag. Congress was skeptical about the daily business use of cell phones.

Technological advances have revolutionized the cell phone and mobile communication device industries. Twenty years ago, no one could have imagined the role BlackBerries play in our day-to-day communications. Cell phones and mobile communication devices are now widespread throughout all types of businesses. Employers provide their employees with these devices to enable them to remain connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The cost of the devices has been reduced and most providers offer unlimited airtime for one monthly rate.

Recently, the Internal Revenue Service reminded field examiners of the substantiation rules for cell phones as listed property. The current rule requires employers to maintain expensive and detailed logs, and employers caught without cell phone logs could face tax penalties.

The MOBILE Cell Phone Act of 2009 updates the tax treatment of cell phones and mobile communication devices by repealing the requirement that employers maintain detailed logs. The tax code should keep pace with technological advances. There is no longer a reason that cell phones and mobile communication devices should be treated differently than office phones or computers. Last, Congress 60 Senators cosponsored this legislation. I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense change.

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