Congressional Update for April 29, 2005
Every two weeks I send out an update on the work I am doing while representing the people of the 5th Congressional District. Your interest in and comments on the issues that Congress is debating are important to me as I weigh the merits of the legislation that comes before me. Thank you for your thoughts and interest in the legislative process.
Headlines from the Hill
Congress Agrees to Trim Budget, Reduce Deficit
This week Congress passed a spending blueprint for Fiscal Year 2006 that will help reduce the deficit and keep the economy growing. As a member of the House Budget Committee, I worked to make sure our budget cuts the deficit while continuing the policies that have led to economic growth, such as tax relief.
Additionally, we have provided more money to protect our homeland, and have increased defense spending to ensure our men and women in uniform have the resources they need to complete their missions.
Some highlights of the budget include:
* Increases spending for national defense needs by 4.8 percent
* Homeland Security funding increases by 2.3 percent
* Slows growth of non-defense discretionary spending
* Directs Congressional committees to find savings in mandatory spending programs
* Keeps us on the path to cutting the deficit in half by 2009
* Shores up solvency of retirement system
* No Veterans Administration cuts, increases above President's requests for veterans
As we look at this quarter's economic numbers, it is clear we must act in a way that continues to encourage and not hinder economic growth. Tax relief has played a major role in fueling our economic growth over the last two years. This budget allows us to avoid tax increases so that we can keep our economy pointed in the right direction.
House Passes Energy Plan
We have endured soaring energy costs over the last several years, whether at the gas pump or to heat our homes. Energy costs have even affected prices at the checkout line. In the Northeast, we have survived an electricity blackout. Clearly our country's energy system is stretched to the limit. Now is the time to put a long-term plan in place to meet our energy needs.
To that end, last week the House passed a comprehensive, long-term energy plan with my support. Producing more energy in an environmentally sensitive way is critical to continuing economic growth in America.
Some highlights of the House-passed plan include:
* Promoting a cleaner environment by encouraging new innovations and the use of alternative power sources, such as geothermal, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity. The plan also launches a state-of-the-art program to enable hydrogen fuel cell cars to compete in the marketplace by 2020.
* A ban on the fuel additive MTBE after 2014, and creates a new funding category to clean up tank-related released of oxygenated fuel additives, like MTBE.
* Improving our nation's electricity transmission capacity and reliability. The plan provides for enforceable mandatory reliability standards and incentives for transmission grid improvements. These improvements will ensure the reliability of our nation's electricity grid in order to stop future blackouts.
* Providing leadership in conservation by creating new mandatory efficiency requirements for federal buildings.
Spikes in energy costs put pressure on families and businesses, and they threaten the stability of our economy. This plan now goes to the Senate for action; we should encourage them to act soon so that we can put this plan in place and bring relief to consumers.
Improvements in Border Security Needed
This week concerned citizens from across America converged at the Capitol to draw attention to the need for improved border security. Protecting our borders is key to ensuring our homeland security. The House Homeland Security Committee has just agreed to a plan authorizing 2,000 additional border patrol agents that were called for in the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act passed last year. Now we must ensure the Administration follows Congress' lead and hires the additional agents. Recent reports indicated that the Administration is only willing to pay for 200 more agents, in spite of Congress' action to authorize hiring more agents.
Additionally, Congress is working to finalize legislation to prevent misuse of drivers' licenses and U.S. asylum laws, and to strengthen deportation laws. The plan, called the REAL ID Act, implements many changes recommended by the 9/11 Commission that were not included in the Intelligence Reform bill enacted late in 2004.
The terrorist hijackers on September 11th had multiple driver's licenses and IDs, which they used to board the planes they used that day, and we know that terrorist groups abuse our asylum laws to stay in the United States. The REAL ID Act will fix those problems, make it harder for terrorists to enter, travel, or stay in our country, and help secure our borders.
Protecting Young Women
Everyday, American moms and dads are asked to sign permission slips and waivers for their children to go on class trips and participate in after-school sports, and in some cases even to take an aspirin. Yet in many states, those same parents are asked for consent to allow the same child to have an abortion. Only 34 states have parental notification laws, leading many young girls to cross state lines to receive an abortion. The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which the House passed this week with broad bipartisan support, makes it illegal to transport minors across state lines for abortions if the purpose is to evade state parental notification laws. I supported this legislation.
Deadline for Congressional High School Art Contest Approaching
My office is still accepting entries for the Congressional High School Art Competition, but the deadline for entries is fast approaching. This contest is a great tribute to young artists, and I encourage high school students to participate. The first place winner will have his or her artwork displayed at the U.S. Capitol along with other winning art from around the country. The second place winner will have his or her piece displayed for a year in my Washington, D.C. office, and the third and fourth place pieces will be showcased in my district offices. Every high school in the Fifth Congressional District has received a copy of the application form as well as the release form necessary for students to compete. You may also contact my Newton office at (973) 300-2000 for more details. The deadline for entries is May 7.
Facts of the Week - Small Businesses Fuel New Job Growth and Innovation
In honor of National Small Business Week, this week's focus is on job growth and innovation spurred by small businesses:
* Over the past decade, small businesses generated between 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually, including 75 percent of the 3.4 million net new jobs in 2000.
* Historically, the bulk of breakthrough products emerge from small firms.
* Small firms produce 13 to 14 times more patents per employee than large businesses.
* More than 97 percent of high-tech firms are small businesses and they employ 39 percent of all high-tech workers.
Recent Events Back Home
Last week I spoke to the Paramus Chamber of Commerce Government Luncheon on current proposals before Congress on energy, taxes and health care.
The Week Ahead
This weekend I'll be attending the West Milford National Day of Prayer Breakfast, as well as a Day of Dedication event for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, hosted by veterans groups in Saddle River. I will also be meeting with local small business owners next week to hear their concerns.