Thornberry Previews Agenda for the New Congress
February 4, 2005
Following the State of the Union address by President Bush, U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry (TX-13) today outlined the issues he expects to be considered in Congress over the next two years.
Noting that the first job of the federal government is to defend the country, Thornberry pointed to the importance of winning the Global War on Terror. Iraq has become the central front in that conflict, and Thornberry said that progress is being made there despite great difficulty.
"The elections last weekend provide tremendous hope, not just for the Iraqi people, but also for the people of the United States and all people across the world who cherish freedom," Thornberry said. "Spreading democracy is the best weapon we have against terrorism. Free people do not attack each other."
Congress will soon vote on a supplemental appropriations bill to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Intelligence is also a critical element of our national security infrastructure. Thornberry described the "9/11 Bill" Congress approved two months ago as "a good opportunity to make our intelligence community stronger." As the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's new Subcommittee on Oversight, Thornberry said he will work to make sure the reforms contained in the Bill are implemented correctly.
With the presence of Sheppard Air Force Base, Pantex and Bell Helicopter Textron, Thornberry said he is "proud of the important role that the folks of the 13th District play in national security."
During Thornberry's time in office, Congress has approved over $175 million in military constructions funds for Sheppard. In the 2005 Defense Authorization Act, Sheppard received more military construction funding than any other U.S. Air Force Base.
"I will keep working to make sure Sheppard gets everything it needs to fulfill its unique responsibilities," said Thornberry.
He also vowed to continue his efforts to make sure the projects at Pantex and Bell Helicopter receive proper funding. Pantex is the only facility for assembly and disassembly within our nation's nuclear weapons complex. Bell Helicopter is the home to production of the V-22 Osprey and H-1 upgrades and, of course, will now become a key point in building the presidential helicopter.
Thornberry believes that we cannot wait any longer to address the issue of strengthening retirement for future generations of retirees. Estimates are that the cost to make Social Security solvent will go up by $600 billion if action is delayed even one more year.
On Social Security, Thornberry said, "It is important to look at the facts and deal with them. We cannot afford to ignore them and do nothing."
Projections show that Social Security is on a course to bankruptcy. It is wonderful news that the average life expectancy is longer than it has ever been, but that also means that the average length of time people spend in retirement will increase. With the Baby Boom generation beginning to retire in 2008, very soon payroll taxes will not be sufficient to pay for benefit obligations.
The ratio of workers paying into the Social Security system versus the number of beneficiaries receiving payments is rapidly dwindling. While the ratio was at more than 40 workers to every 1 beneficiary in the early years of the program, today the ratio is down to 3.3 to 1. Over the next 30 to 40 years, it will drop to 2 to 1.
"I know of no serious proposals that would change the way Social Security operates for today's seniors," Thornberry said. "Any changes would be only for younger workers. Even then, it should be their option on whether to direct a portion of their payroll taxes into personal investment accounts."
Thornberry also said that Congress must respond quickly to address trouble spots in our immigration policy. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the need for better controls over immigration has become recognized as a national security concern as well as an economic concern.
Congress needs to enact stronger anti-terrorist measures in areas such as documentation and asylum, according to Thornberry. He noted that the House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on legislation authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner. That legislation, known as the "REAL ID Act," would make states accountable for verifying the legal residency of people applying for driver licenses. The REAL ID Act would also remove obstacles that hamper the government's ability to deport people identified as terrorists.
Thornberry said that he opposed amnesty for illegal aliens, in part because amnesty has shown in the past to encourage others to break the law. He hopes that Congress and the President can agree on strict border enforcement and a legal way for people to enter the country as guest workers, earn a living, and then go back to their home country.
Congress has teamed up with President Bush to cut taxes in recent years. But Thornberry said that Congress must proceed with the effort to overhaul the entire tax system in order to both simplify it and to further reduce the tax burden imposed on American citizens.
Thornberry noted that President Bush has created the bipartisan Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, a nine-member group headed by former Senators Connie Mack and John Breaux. The Advisory Panel is scheduled to issue a report on its findings and proposals no later than July 31 of this year.
Along with the Panel's work, Congress will hold hearings and study a variety of tax reform recommendations during the next several months, said Thornberry. He added that a vote on tax reform is expected sometime in 2006.
Finally, Thornberry said he looks forward to his committee assignments. He will continue to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees all matters related to the nation's defense including the defense budget, military operations, personnel training and weapons procurement. He will serve on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats, and Capabilities Subcommittee.
Thornberry will also continue to be a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He was chosen last week to chair the new Subcommittee on Oversight.