Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: Sept. 28, 2006
Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. OBAMA (for himself and Mrs. Clinton):

S. 3969. A bill to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to assess and reduce the levels of lead found in child-occupied facilities in the United States, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Lead Poisoning Reduction Act of 2006. I am pleased that Senator Clinton is joining me in this effort.

Lead is a poison we have known about for a long time. Studies have long linked lead exposure to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and even death. Lead is particularly damaging to children because their developing brains are more susceptible to harm.

A study released last week found that children with even very low levels of lead exposure have four times the risk of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than normal and that childhood lead exposure leads to 290,000 cases of ADHD.

The major source of lead exposure among U.S. children is lead-based paint. In 1978, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recognized this hazard and banned leaded paints. But today, 30 years later, about 24 million older homes, and millions of other buildings, have deteriorating lead paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated dust.

We know how children are typically exposed. We know what the health effects from exposure are. And we know how to fix the source of the exposure. The one thing we don't know how to do is reverse the brain damage once it has occurred. So, otherwise healthy children wind up facing a lifetime of disadvantage because we have failed to eradicate this insidious problem.

Every day, millions of American parents drop their children off at child care facilities on their way to work. Nearly 12 million children under age 5 spend 40 hours a week in child care. And every day, many of those children in older buildings may be exposed to lead poisoning.

While many child care facilities have taken steps to ensure sources of potential lead exposure are eliminated, too many operate in older buildings that need repair or remodeling to ensure these sources are contained. These facilities may be in wealthy communities, but more often than not, they are in poor communities where parents have few choices for child care. I'm sure many of these facilities would fix the problem if they only had the resources.

The Lead Poisoning Reduction Act protects our children in two ways.

First, the bill establishes a five-year, $42.6 million grant program to help communities reduce lead exposure in facilities such as day care centers, Head Start centers, and kindergarten classrooms where young children spend a great deal of time. Communities could use the funds for testing, abatement, and communicating the risks of lead to children and parents.

Second, the bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency to establish regulations to eliminate sources of lead exposure in child care facilities, starting with new facilities in 18 months and all facilities in five years.

It's a straightforward fix to a straightforward problem. I hope my colleagues join me in helping to create lead-safe environments in all child care facilities.


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today, with my good friend and colleague, the senior Senator from the great State of Illinois, to introduce the Patriot Employers Act of 2006.

This measure is designed to help businesses and American workers seeking to compete in the global economy. By reducing corporate taxes for those firms that invest in America and American employees, the Patriot Employers Act rewards companies that, among other things, pay decent benefits, provide health coverage and support our troops by paying a full differential salary for deployed National Guard employees.

Too often we hear troubling news reports of American companies outsourcing jobs and exploiting corporate tax loopholes--by setting up incorporated offices, for example, in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Such companies fail to see that they are connected to the markets in which they operate, and by dodging their financial responsibilities, they are harming the very economy that they, too, will need to rely on in the future.

Recognizing these challenges, this bill says that we are going to align our corporate tax policy with the corporate practices we want to encourage.

The Patriot Employers Act cuts taxes for American companies that: maintain headquarters in the U.S.; pay at least 60 percent of employees' healthcare premiums; maintain or increase their U.S. workforce relative to their workforce located abroad; pay an hourly rate several dollars above the outdated minimum wage; provide either a defined benefit retirement plan or a defined contribution plan with an employer match; and provide full differential salary and benefits for National Guard employees called into active duty.

It is important that our American firms remain competitive and innovate, in part by investing in the long-term health of those workers and communities in which they operate and impact. Increasing corporate shareholder value and acting in the interests of the public good are not mutually exclusive goals, and this legislation recognizes that point. All of us have a stake in improving returns to all corporate stakeholders, including investors, managers, employees, consumers, and our communities.

To this end, I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill and I hope that it will renew attempts by lawmakers--both legislative and otherwise--to engage productively with the business community to address their long-term market concerns while promoting the well-being of American workers. Government does not create jobs; entrepreneurs and businesses do. The future of the American economy requires that American businesses continue to grow and improve their productivity and competitiveness. It requires that American companies have the very best workforce and infrastructure to compete and win in every market they enter.

Ensuring American competitiveness will demand new thinking from leaders in business, labor, education, and government: it will demand new responses and roles, new coalitions and collaborations, among these stakeholders. Long-term American competitiveness will demand bipartisan commitment to strengthening all parts of our economy and improving opportunities for all Americans.

The Patriot Employers Act is an important step in this process. Let's align business incentives with the investments we need in the future of the American workforce. Let's begin the conversation about how to ensure American competitiveness for the 21st century and beyond.

I urge quick support for this important legislation.



S. 3988. A bill to amend title 10 and 38, United States Code, to improve benefits and services for members of the Armed Forces, veterans of the Global War on Terrorism, and other veterans, to require reports on the effects of the Global War on Terrorism, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation that is significant both in the problems it seeks to address and the man it seeks to honor.

Since the day he arrived in Congress more than two decades ago, LANE EVANS has been a tireless advocate for the men and women with whom he served. When Vietnam vets started falling ill from Agent Orange, he led the effort to get them compensation. LANE was one of the first in Congress to speak out about the health problems facing Persian Gulf war veterans. He's worked to help veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and he's also helped make sure thousands of homeless veterans in our country have a place to sleep.

LANE EVANS has fought these battles for more than 20 years, and even in the face of his own debilitating disease, he kept fighting. Today, veterans across America have LANE EVANS to thank for reminding this country of its duty to take care of those who have risked their lives to defend ours.

I am very proud today to introduce the Lane Evans Veterans Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act of 2006. This bill honors a legislator who leaves behind an enduring legacy of service to our veterans. The legislation also is an important step towards caring for our men and women who are currently fighting for us.

Today, nearly 1.5 million American troops have been deployed overseas as part of the global war on terror. These brave men and women who protected us are beginning to return home. Six hundred thousand people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are now veterans, and at least 184,400 have already received treatment at the VA. That number is increasing every day. Many of these fighting men and women are coming home with major injuries. As a country, we are only beginning to understand the true costs of the global war on terror.

For instance, last week, the Government Accountability Office reported that VA has faced $3 billion in budget shortfalls since 2005 because it underestimated the costs of caring for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The VA wasn't getting the information it needed from the Pentagon and was relying on outdated data and incorrect forecasting models. We cannot let these kind of bureaucratic blunders get in the way of the care and support we owe our servicemembers.

To avoid these costly shortfalls in the future, we have to do a better job keeping track of veterans. That's why the first thing the Lane Evans Act does is to establish a system to track global war on terror veterans. The VA established a similar data system following the Persian Gulf War. That effort has been invaluable in budget planning as well as in monitoring emerging health trends and diseases linked to the gulf war. The

Gulf War Veterans Information System also has been important to medical research and improved care for veterans. The sooner we begin keeping accurate track of our fighting men and women in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, the better and more efficiently we will be able to care for them.

The Lane Evans Act also tackles Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mental health patients account for about a third of the new veterans seeking care at the VA. The VA's National Center for PTSD reports that ``the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the most sustained combat operations since the Vietnam War, and initial signs imply that these ongoing wars are likely to produce a new generation of veterans with chronic mental health problems.''

This bill addresses PTSD in 2 ways. First, it extends the window during which new veterans can automatically get care for mental health from 2 years to 5 years. Right now, any servicemember discharged from the military has up to 2 years to walk into the VA and get care, no questions asked. After that, vets have to prove that they are disabled because of a service-connected injury, or they have to prove their income is below threshold levels. Unfortunately, it can take years for symptoms of PTSD to manifest themselves. The time it takes to prove service-connection for mental health illness is valuable time lost during which veterans are not receiving critically needed treatment. The Lane Evans Act allows veterans to walk into a VA any time 5 years after discharge and get assessed for mental health care. This both extends the window and shortens the wait for vets to get care.

Second, the legislation makes face-to-face physical and mental health screening mandatory 30 to 90 days after a soldier is deployed in a war zone. This will ensure that our fighting force is ready for battle, and that we can identify and treat those at risk for PTSD. By making the exams mandatory, we can help eliminate the stigma associated with mental health screening and treatment.

Another problem veterans face is that the VA and DoD do not effectively share medical and military records. Older veterans often have to wait years for their benefits as the Department of Defense recovers aging and lost paper records. Under the Lane Evans Act, the Department of Defense would provide each separating service member at the time of discharge with a secure full electronic copy of all military and medical records to help them apply for healthcare and benefits. DoD possesses the technology to do this now. The information could be useful to VA to quickly and accurately document receipt of vaccinations or deployment to a war zone. The electronic data will also be helpful in future generations when family members of veterans seek information about military service, awards, and wartime deployment that goes well beyond the existing single-sheet DD-214 discharge certificate, which is all veterans currently receive.

Finally, the legislation improves the transition assistance that guardsmen and reservists receive when they return from deployment. A 2005 GAG report found that because demobilization for guardsmen and reservists is accelerated, reserve units get abbreviated and perfunctory transition assistance including limited employment training. VA should provide equal briefings and transition services for all service members regarding VA healthcare, disability compensation, and other benefits, regardless of their duty status.

Lane Evans dedicated his life to serving this country and dedicated his time in Congress to serving veterans. The legislation I am introducing today, honors both the man and his mission, and will continue his legacy to the next generation of American veterans.


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