Maria's Monday Memo
Fighting for Our Nation's Veterans: American Heroes Deserve Quality Healthcare
Washington state is home to about 670,000 veterans of our nation's armed services, and today, thousands of Washingtonians are stationed abroad as part of the American military. These Washingtonians have served our nation proudly, and the least the federal government can do is make good on its promises to these brave men and women.
That's why it's simply unacceptable that, today, more than 1,000 Washington state veterans are being told to wait to get the health care services they needthe same services the federal government promised them. The problem is, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) simply doesn't have the funds to keep up with the growing demand for health care services. This is particularly true in the Pacific Northwest, where the VHA's caseload is growing the fastest of any area in the country, as many troops return to our region from Iraq and Afghanistan .
Last week, I joined with Senator Patty Murray to try and secure the federal resources necessary to make sure that our growing population of veterans in Washington state and across the country would get the health care services they need. I was proud to cosponsor her amendment to federal spending legislation that would have reduced the VHA's patient backlog, provided dedicated funding for new veterans that have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, helped address emerging veteran mental health issues, and shortened the time our vets have to wait to see a doctor.
Unfortunately, the amendment failed on a very close vote, but Sen. Murray and I are committed to keep fighting for the resources needed to provide healthcare for our nation's veterans. While our country may be facing tight fiscal times, the men and women who risk their lives for our country deserve better than to be stuck on a waiting list for a doctor's appointment.
Gas mileage: When close enough just doesn't cut it
With some estimates that gas prices will reach $3 per gallon this summer, I know that all Americans are looking for ways to save on fuel costs. New hybrid cars boasting great gas mileage are consistently selling out at car dealerships, and it's a safe bet that fuel efficiency is one of our greatest assets as we look to solve the energy problems of the 21 st Century.
Car dealerships display government-approved gas mileage numbers on price stickers, but unfortunately the cars' new owners soon discover that the numbers often amount to no more than hopeful fiction. Gas mileage numbers that appear on today's new and used cars inflate vehicles' true fuel economy performance by anywhere from 10 to 30 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency wrote the formulas for gas mileage decades ago - and today, even the agency admits they provide an inaccurate estimate. Federal government laboratory tests rely on out-dated procedures and false assumptions. For example, they assume that people drive 48 miles per hour on the freeway and never use their air conditioners.
Today, I introduced my "Fuel Economy Truth In Labeling Act," which directs the EPA to update the way it calculates gas mileage to reflect today's real-life driving conditions. Last Thursday, I also won a key commitment from leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee, on which I serve, to consider my legislation in upcoming transportation legislation.
We need to make sure consumers are given accurate information, so they can make smart choices about the cars they buy. American drivers spent hundreds of dollars more on gas last year than they thought they would - because of the inaccurate information they got when they bought their cars. We expect the federal government to make sure consumers get the right information from the labels on everything from food to prescription drugs. With gas prices going through the roof, we need to make sure the federal government is providing consumers with accurate data about their cars' fuel efficiency.
Fair competition for America 's aerospace workers
Last week I teamed up with a bipartisan group of senators to call on European governments to reject unfair subsidies for Airbus, the European aerospace giant. Success in the aerospace industry should come from the product a company makes, not from government handouts.
The Senate unanimously passed our resolution, which supports the president's authority to take action to protect American aerospace jobs. Our domestic companies and their workers should not have to compete against the backing of European governments and their deep pockets, which distort the global marketplace. In particular, Airbus has benefited from a unique subsidy known as "launch aid," which is risk-free, low-cost government funding to back the development of new lines of aircraft. The company only needs to repay the loans if a new product succeeds. If a new aircraft is a bust, European governments forgive Airbus its government-backed loans. That means Airbus remains unfettered by the realities of the marketplace when launching new jetliners, while American companies must assume typical levels of commercial risk to develop new product lines.
Obviously, this puts our domestic manufacturers at an unfair competitive disadvantage. What we want to see in aerospace is competition that drives opportunities for consumers, and a level playing-field for American workers. The aerospace industry has created about 11 million U.S. jobs, including two million tied directly to the commercial aircraft sector--jobs that pay an average of $47,000 a year. But over the past 15 years, with European subsidies in place, the U.S. has lost some 700,000 of these aerospace jobs to foreign competitors.
The Senate made a strong statement by passing our resolution and standing up for our aerospace workers. Now the European Union needs to get the message.
Visiting Washington , D.C. ?
Are you planning to visit Washington , D.C. ? If so, I would welcome the opportunity to meet you. On Thursday, April 21, at 8:30 a.m., I will host one of my regular coffees for constituents in my Washington , D.C. , office. If you will be in the nation's capital and would like to attend, please call my office at (202) 224-3441, or fill out a reservation form online by visiting my web site at http://cantwell.senate.gov/services/coffee.html .