Serving on Four House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittees - in addition to Chairing the Veterans Affairs Committee
In January, the Democratic Caucus of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee met to select subcommittees for the 111th Congress. I am pleased to announce that I will serve on four of the subcommittees: Aviation; Highways and Transit; Railroads; and Water Resources and the Environment.
During the 111th Congress, although my prime responsibility is Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will deal with many important issues that directly affect people's lives every day. Serving on these four subcommittees will enable me to delve into important issues facing San Diego and Imperial Counties, such as the upcoming highway bill reauthorization, the next Water Resources Development Act, rail infrastructure and freight issues, and the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. I am eager to get to work!
Applauding the confirmation of VA Secretary Shinseki
The inauguration of Barack Obama as President brings me hope for the future of America's veterans. I believe the confirmation of General Eric Shinseki as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs goes a long way in restoring confidence in the VA.
Confidence in an agency must be earned, and will only come when there is accountability, transparency, and results. Over the years, little by little, veterans have lost faith in the VA. Now we need to reinvest in our veterans and prove to them that we will fight for them just like they fought for us.
Throughout Secretary Shinseki's long and distinguished career in the Army, he produced real results and proved that his character is of the highest caliber. I am certain that he understands the hard work and dedication necessary to make VA stand for Veterans Advocate,' instead of what many believe the VA has become - Veterans Adversary.'
I am excited to work with a new Democratic Administration, but as Chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, my role and responsibilities remain unchanged. Oversight of the VA will continue because the best interest of our veterans will continue to be my number one priority. Caring for our veterans should not be a partisan issue; therefore, I hope to work with all members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and Congress, to provide the needed resources for the VA to carry out this difficult job.
The ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan bring new challenges and new veterans. We must also never forget the sacrifice and service of our veterans from previous conflicts. General Shinseki will have his hands full from day one as he works to keep the promises that have been made to all veterans, but I am convinced that his knowledge and experience will bring actual results. I am eager to work with the new Administration on the challenges ahead.
Why California Needs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan
Just one week after our new President Barack Obama was sworn in with a call for "action, bold and swift" to get our economy back on track, Congress took the first step in delivering a job-creating plan to implement his vision.
Recently, the House passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, by rebuilding America, making us more globally competitive and energy independent, and transforming our economy for long-term growth; giving 95 percent of American workers an immediate tax cut; and investing quickly in the economy - with 75 percent of these job creating investments in the economy in the next 18 months.
America is facing an economic crisis greater than any since the Great Depression. A staggering 2.6 million American jobs were lost in the last year of the Bush Administration the culmination of a failed economic approach one that also nearly doubled our national debt in eight short years. The unemployment rate here in California has climbed to 9.3 percent. The need for a New Direction is clear. More than 140 economists all across the ideological spectrum - including 5 Nobel prize winners - have called for the recovery legislation to be enacted quickly.
To put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we are seeking to double our renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy efficient. The energy provisions of the plan will create more than 500,000 jobs by accelerating deployment of smart grid technology and the building of new electric transmission lines for renewable energy, spurring energy efficiency investment in our homes and schools to cut energy costs, offering support for the nation's governors and mayors to tackle their energy challenges, and spurring investment in renewable energy and more fuel-efficient cars for a greener future. We will harness the sun, the wind, and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.
To create jobs in the short-term and make us more competitive in a global economy, this economic recovery package invests in science and technology - the key to American innovation. The plan increases funding for critical research and development - putting us on the path to double our investment in scientific research over the next seven years. The package also makes investments in America's information technology infrastructure, including broadband, health IT, and a smarter energy grid. More than 100 high-tech CEOs and business leaders have endorsed these IT investments that will create more than 949,000 U.S. jobs, more than half of which will be in small businesses.
To reduce health care costs, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invests in bringing our health care system into the 21st century with health information technology - that is proven not only to reduce costs, but also to increase the quality of care, save lives, and create jobs. In addition, as millions of people are losing their jobs in this recession, they are also losing their health insurance. This package provides those losing their jobs new affordable options for maintaining their health care coverage. Also, to protect existing Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans, the package provides $11,069,212,000 here in California in additional federal matching Medicaid funds to help stave off cuts in health care in the face of massive state budget shortfalls.
Strategic investments in education are one of the best ways to help America become more productive and competitive - spurring long-term growth. This recovery package will make bold investments to provide children with a 21st century education. In California, this means $7,854,800,000 to prevent teacher layoffs and other cutbacks in education and other key services and $2,430,042,000 to modernize our schools and colleges, which will create good-paying jobs. It will also make college more affordable with improved Pell Grants for the 744,236 Pell Grant recipients here in California and a higher education tax credit for an additional 522,000 students in our state so that they can stay in college despite these tough times. This recovery package will save or create more than 250,000 jobs in the education and health care sectors.
To build a 21st century economy, we must create jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, building modern transit systems, and putting people to work cleaning up our air, water and land. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will make large investments to repair and modernize thousands of miles of roadways in the U.S., provide new mass transit options for millions of Americans, and invest in clean water infrastructure. These provisions would create about 1.5 million American jobs nationwide. For California, this will provide $4,695,000,384 to invest in these key infrastructure projects that are ready to go and will begin to create jobs for Californians right away.
As a down-payment on permanent middle-class tax cuts promised by President Obama, the plan includes tax cuts that will jumpstart the economy by returning money to the hands of 95% of American workers, including 12,570,000 families here in California with the "Making Work Pay" Tax Credit. Expanding the Child Tax Credit will help the families of 2,075,000 children here in California. The business tax cuts in the package will also spur new job-creating investments by businesses large and small, that will transform our economy for years to come, such as in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
In this economic crisis, high unemployment and rising costs have put a huge strain on many American families. The package contains a series of additional provisions to help, including helping workers train and find jobs, extending unemployment benefits for 505,923 people here in California, and increasing food stamp benefits for 2,399,000 people here in California. Not only will these steps provide relief to American families, they will help jumpstart our economy as these funds are spent quickly and have the most "bang for the buck" in creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
The Recovery Plan has unprecedented accountability measures built in - providing strong oversight and an historic degree of public transparency including a dedicated website, recovery.gov, which will allow citizens to track every penny and hold officials accountable for performance. This legislation does not contain any earmarked projects requested by a specific Member. These accountability measures are critical to ensuring the effectiveness of and the confidence in this package.
This package will make our economy stronger than it would be without any action. It will save or create an estimated 815,990 jobs by the end of 2010 and reduce the unemployment rate by 2.3 percent here in California, according to leading independent economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com.
It will take time to turn this economy around, but we are confident that if Americans work together, we can overcome the economic crisis, just as we have tackled other great challenges in our nation's past.
Calling for Fast Release of Border Security Funds
I recently called on the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), R. David Paulison, to release grants awarded but not received by the Imperial County Sheriff's Office and police departments in Brawley, Calexico, El Centro, and Imperial. The grants were awarded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Operation Stonegarden.
Our local law enforcement agencies play an essential role in securing our borders and making our communities safer. I asked Paulison to speed up the funding transfer and provide a point of contact to assist with the process. I look forward to his quick response.
The DHS funding, as part of Operation Stonegarden, assists local authorities with operational costs and equipment purchases that contribute to border security. The initiative also provides additional flexibility and allows for innovative, coordinated efforts by local, state, and federal agencies in border areas.
Backing the Bi-Partisan Bill to Provide Health Care for 11 Million Children
On January 14th, I joined a majority in the House of Representatives in support of bi-partisan legislation to provide health care to 11 million children in modest-income families. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Reauthorization Act was approved by a vote of 289-139. The bill is very similar to the legislation that President Bush vetoed twice in the 110th Congress.
No child in California or anywhere throughout our nation should ever go without medical care. I am proud to back a plan to help improve the health and chance for success for 11 million children, reduce the much more costly use of emergency rooms for primary care, and move us closer to providing every child in our nation with affordable, high-quality health care.
The State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was created in 1997 to provide health care coverage for children in families that earn too little to afford health insurance but too much to qualify for Medicaid for their children. This bill will give states the resources and incentives necessary to reach and cover millions of uninsured children who are currently eligible for, but not enrolled in, SCHIP and Medicaid.
This bi-partisan bill reauthorizes the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) through FY 2013 and preserves coverage for all 7.1 million children currently covered by SCHIP, including preserving coverage of more than 1.5 million children in California.
The bill also extends health care coverage to 4.1 million additional low-income children, who are currently uninsured.
Covering more eligible children is not only the right thing to do - it makes good economic sense for taxpayers who will not foot the bill for costlier problems down the road. In addition, a healthy child is better prepared for learning and success.
With rising unemployment, this children's health bill is more critical than ever. "In this recession, more and more American parents are losing employer-sponsored health care for their children. The need for this legislation is growing every day!
I hope this critical bill will be one of the first bills signed into law by President Obama. After three years of fighting for this legislation, an additional 4 million low-income children finally receiving health care coverage really is the change America needs.
Voting to Send the Paycheck Fairness Bill to the President
Late last month, I voted to give final approval to legislation that will begin to close the gender pay gap in this country by reversing a Supreme Court decision that has kept women from pursuing pay discrimination claims. The bill now goes to President Obama and will likely be the first major piece of legislation he signs into law.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would clarify that each discriminatory paycheck or compensation constitutes a violation of the Civil Rights Act. As long as workers file their charges within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck, their charges would be considered timely. This was the law prior to the Supreme Court's May 2007 decision.
This issue is as basic as it gets. You should not be paid less because you are a woman. You should not be treated differently because of the color of your skin or your religious beliefs. The Supreme Court has tried to roll back the clock on this issue of basic fairness, but Congress will not stand for it.
The Ledbetter decision has already been cited in hundreds of discrimination cases. Not only have pay discrimination cases been adversely impacted, but protections guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act, Title IX, and the Eight Amendment have also been affected.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would apply to workers who file claims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, national origin, religion, age, or disability.
Despite claims from critics, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2007 that since the bill would essentially return the law to where it stood before the Supreme Court ruling, the legislation will not lead to an onslaught of costly new litigation.
At a time when too many workers are seeing their jobs and wages slashed, we've got to make sure that all Americans are paid fairly for their hard work. The new Congress is committed to rebuilding our economy and strengthening our middle class. This legislation is a critical start.
Reintroducing a Bill to Honor Our Fallen Heroes from Vietnam
I recently reintroduced legislation to honor the service and sacrifice of many members of the United States Armed Forces who fought in Vietnam, the "In Memory Medal for Forgotten Veterans Act" (H.R. 671).
Those so recognized are veterans who died as a result of their service in the Vietnam War but who do not meet the criteria for inclusion on The Wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund "In Memory" program raised money to place a plaque near The Wall. The plaque honors "those who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service." No names are on the plaque, but all names are recorded in the "In Memory Book" at a kiosk near The Wall. Families can order a copy of the book.
Through introduction of this legislation, I hope to further honor our fallen heroes by presenting their families with the "Jesus (Chuchi) Salgado Medal" issued by the Secretary of Defense. Chuchi Salgado was an outstanding individual who lived in my Congressional district and died after the war as a result of exposure to Agent Orange while serving his country in Vietnam. His family still resides in my community.
Because of the eligibility restrictions governing which veterans' names may be placed on The Wall, Chuchi and many, many other Vietnam veterans are not honored in this manner. While we are working on improving care for our newest veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, we must also continue to do right by veterans of Vietnam, along with those of other past wars and conflicts. It is critical that we remember those who fought courageously and sacrificed their lives for our freedom!
Keeping the Promise: A Veterans Agenda for the 111th Congress
On Tuesday, January 27, 2009, with both Democratic and Republican Members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in attendance, I held a meeting with 34 veterans service organizations to discuss priorities for the 111th Congress.
We recognize the benefit of a new start - the Committee has new Members, the country has a new President, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has a new Secretary. Working together, we have a remarkable opportunity to make progress this year and I look forward to working closely with veterans service organizations to help veterans.
I started the discussion by listing the Committee's top priorities which include providing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with sufficient and timely funding, fixing the disability compensation system, improving mental health treatment, improving health care access for women and rural veterans, and continuing vigorous oversight of the VA with a special focus on the implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. I also discussed the need to improve the transition process from service member to veteran, noting that cooperation between the Department of Defense and VA has improved but has a long way to go.
Participants related how the general economic downturn is affecting the veteran community and called for investment in vocation rehabilitation programs and labor training. The lengthy wait for some veterans' disability claims has contributed to financial problems and a domino effect that can result in economic turmoil from which some veterans never recover. Additional issues addressed included caregiver needs, Agent Orange veterans, Gulf War Syndrome, preventing homelessness, and the need for greater VA outreach campaigns to alert veterans of available benefits and programs.
We are truly grateful for the work that these veterans service organizations do and for their dedication to improving the lives of our Nation's heroes. I asked them to continue reporting to Congress what they see and what they hear. We learn from them and we need their assistance as we demand accountability and work towards solutions. We have a new excitement and a new commitment to honor our veterans that have so bravely served our country and we will continue to work for progress.
Urging More Veterans Spending in Stimulus Package
I urge this Congress - House of Representatives and Senate, Democrat and Republican - to support reinvestment in America's veterans. After years of funding neglect, the needs of veterans are great.
We must work to stabilize the economy, create jobs, and provide economic development in local communities throughout our country. We can accomplish these goals while also honoring our veterans. We can invigorate the economy by modernizing the 153 existing VA medical facilities, repairing veterans' cemeteries, constructing new VA hospitals, addressing the claims backlog, and investing in vocational rehabilitation for our returning combat veterans.
The House of Representatives included $1 billion in veterans spending in the economic recovery plan. The Senate plan for economic stimulus includes $3.94 billion in veterans spending. I favor the Senate plan and will continue to work with my House and Senate colleagues as this process moves forward.
Reintroducing the Fair Taxes for Seniors Act
Last month, I reintroduced the Fair Taxes for Seniors Act, H.R. 674, which will provide a one-time increase in the capital gains tax exemption on the sale of a home for citizens who are 50 years of age or more.
The Fair Taxes for Seniors Act would give many seniors the additional money they need for nursing home care, medical costs, and other retirement expenses. As a result, family members and, in many cases, the government will be relieved of the burden of caring for these individuals as they grow older.
The Fair Taxes for Seniors Act doubles the current exemption by providing a one-time increase to $500,000 for a single person and $1 million for a couple, which can be excluded from the sale of a principal residence for taxpayers who have achieved age 50.
Celebrating the San Ysidro Centennial!
I recently celebrated the Centennial of San Ysidro - the gateway to America and home of the world's busiest land border crossing. The Mariachi Diamente de San Diego performed at the celebration.
Please join me in this year-long celebration!
San Ysidro Centennial Celebration
Pictured here with me are members of the band (from left): Christopher Faustino, Erick Morales, Joel Manjarrez, David Rodriguez, Jessica Orozco, Juan Zamarron, and Andrew Rodriguez.
Constituent Mail Bag
From National City:
With the recent outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter now added to the long list of unsafe and deadly food recalls in our nation, I urge you to consider implementing real food safety reforms and to pass comprehensive legislation overhauling the Food and Drug Administration now.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety of most of the food we eat -- both food imported from countries like China, as well as food produced here in the U.S. But the FDA is failing to protect consumers, and needs significant reform as well as more money and authority to get the job done.
Congressman Filner replies:
Thank you for contacting me about the importance of food safety.
I wholeheartedly agree that it is essential that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take steps to ensure the safety of our entire food supply. In the 110th Congress, I co-sponsored the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would provide the FDA with the regulatory tools to recall products, and the authority to penalize companies for knowingly selling tainted products. I plan on co-sponsoring this bill once again, and will work with my colleagues for the most stringent standards for consumer protection!
I appreciate your advocacy on this important issue.
Cool Website: The Smithsonian Presents Black History Month
February is Black History Month. The Smithsonian Museurms 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: